Pork Belly with Bunashimeiji Mushrooms and Fennel Salad
Asians, from north to south, love pork belly. What’s not to love? Properly prepared, the belly, like other fatty cuts of the pig, tastes like pork. It’s not “the other white meat.” It’s bacon, before it becomes bacon. This dish is for my dad. Recently, he called me to ask if I was familiar with “fusion cuisine.” How cute is that? Anyway, dad, this one’s for you. The anise scent of fennel dressed in lemon juice, and pungent fennel pollen, lend a modern Italian character to this dish; the fatty pork belly grounds the dish in the cultures of Asia.
Two things about the crackling. One, you need to plan ahead because the secret to golden crisp crackling is a combination of dry pork skin and high heat. Second, to remove as much moisture as possible from the skin, score it or at least perforate the skin with a sharp knife, and rub kosher or sea salt into the skin, working it into the perforations or scorings. Then refrigerate uncovered. Don’t worry about drying out the meat – the amount of fat in the belly will ensure that it stays moist despite its short air drying.
2 lb slab of pork belly, skin on and bone-in
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
4 sprigs thyme
24 hours before roasting, score the pork skin on the diagonal at 1-cm intervals. Rub 1 teaspoon of the salt into the scorings. Combine the remaining 2 teaspoons of the salt and the sugar and coat the pork belly meat evenly. Place the belly in a pan atop 4 sprigs of thyme and refrigerate, uncovered, until 1 hour before roasting time.
After 24 hours, remove the belly and, using a clean kitchen towel, remove as much salt as possible from the skin (most will have been absorbed and the skin should seem quite dry). Oven 450F/230C.
Place the belly in the smallest possible roasting pan. Do not cover and do not place on a rack. Roast in the 450F oven for 45m(35m convection). Reduce the heat to 225F/105C and roast for another 1h 45 mins.
Five minutes before removing the belly, turn on the broiler and monitor the belly to ensure that the skin crackles without burning.
Turn off the oven, remove the belly and let it rest about 10 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, slice off the bone and set aside, probably for a snack. The belly will be fall-apart tender. Slice into 1.5″ chunks.
1 lb bunashimeiji and oyster mushrooms, washed well
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grappa or dry sherry
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
several sprigs thyme, leaves only
salt (black truffle salt is great) and pepper
Place a deep, heavy pan over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add the mushrooms, browning well.
Add the grappa to the pan and cook until the mushrooms absorb the liquid; repeat with white wine. Finish with lemon juice, thyme, and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Fennel bulb, shaved with mandoline or benriner (Japanese ceramic mandoline)
juice of one lemon, strained
pinch fennel pollen, or crushed fennel seeds
salt and pepper
Dress the shaved fennel with a little lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and fennel pollen.
To plate: Plate the mushrooms, top partially with fennel salad, and then a chunk of braised pork belly. Garnish with chives and fennel pollen.