Friday, August 19, 2016

Warm Spinach Salad with Roasted Pork Belly

My brother-in-law Peter is quite the character. I have so many brothers-in-law that I love and admire but Peter holds a very special place in my heart because he was one of my best friends before I fell in love and married his identical twin. Some of my fondest memories of college involve Peter and his shenanigans.

Peter would often be seen around Notre Dame's campus in all types of weather wearing flip flops. He had a pair that I swear were glued to his feet. He would be all bundled up in his ski jacket but always wearing that same pair of flip-flops. As a member of the Notre Dame Cycling team, he could also be seen strutting around in his spandex biking uniforms sporting freshly shaved legs. I was, in fact, quite jealous of his shaving technique because he could flawlessly maneuver over the tricky bumps and curves of the ankle area with incredibly skilled precision. Paul used to be so worried that people on campus would mistaken Peter for him - and he most certainly did not want people to think he wore spandex and shaved his legs. Paul also used to joke about how embarrassing it was for him to listen to his identical twin discuss leg shaving techniques with his girlfriend.

Obviously a quirky fellow, Peter has always had a fondness for Asian cuisine and culture. In fact, he owned a fancy rice cooker long before most of us could afford a decent haircut.  He also took a semester of Chinese despite a rigorous schedule of engineering courses and no foreign language requirement to fulfill. He chose the name "Showw-shing" (I am totally butchering the spelling and I'm sure I will hear an earful from Petey about that later) because it translates into "Little Whale." It was always grand entertainment sitting in the common room of Peter's dorm and listening to him practicing his Chinese vocabulary out loud from the confines of his bedroom.

Although he has long since abandoned his attempts to study the Chinese language (he has since been immersing himself in the study of German and is now quite proficient), Peter still loves Asian cuisine. Peter now resides in Los Angeles, a far cry from his remote Montana roots. One of the things he enjoys most about LA is the variety of restaurants at fingertips, particularly the ethnic cuisine. Right before Lucy was born, he was enjoying Korean restaurants the most and had become quite fond of a particular soup. He sent me a recipe for it so I could try to re-create it at home (in our small town we are nowhere near a Korean restaurant) but I was too fat and lazy from my pregnancy at that point to get myself to an Asian grocer and track down all the weird ingredients needed. Well, three weeks later, Lucy arrived and about three days later so did Peter. The following weekend, he and Paul went on a hunt for all the ingredients to make that Korean soup and came home with a lot of fairly interesting ingredients - including dried anchovies, whipped tofu, and...about 20 pounds of pork belly.

My kids are little porkers, but that's a lot of premium-quality pork fat even for them!

Peter went about making the soup and our kitchen smelled rather fishy for the duration of the evening. When he finally served the soup, it was the most interesting bowl of food that I have ever gazed upon. In other words, it looked completely unappetizing - almost as if someone had gotten sick and served it as the main course. However, it was pretty darn tasty. Paul and I enjoyed it so much and slurped down the leftovers for days afterwards. I would love to try the dish in an actual Korean restaurant sometime!

However, of the twenty pounds of pork belly we purchased for the soup, Peter maybe used about half a pound. The rest went into my freezer where it was completely forgotten about until this summer. Foodies would declare this absolutely sinful, since pork belly is considered a very cherished ingredient in the culinary world. However, I really didn't want to cook with it since 1) there was so much of it, 2) pork belly is so incredibly fatty, and 3) Paul had been talking about making bacon out it. While struggling to make room in my freezer for some groceries, I came across the large slab of pork belly and decided that it was high time we cooked the darn thing.

I threw a brown sugar and salt rub on the defrosted pork belly and let it sit in the fridge for about 24 hours to cure. Then, I slow roasted it so the fat cap would begin to melt and naturally baste the rich meat as it delicately cooked. Once removed from the oven, the fat was drained into a cast-iron skillet and used to fry the fat cap on the belly, leaving it perfectly crisp. The pork belly was then put aside to rest and drain while I prepared a basic wilted spinach salad. I used some of the fat from the belly to make a hot dressing. I poured the hot dressing over fresh spinach, mushrooms, and red onions and tossed until the spinach began to wilt. We plated each salad individually and topped the plates with a generous portion of pork belly and a runny egg. It was pretty rich, mighty tasty, and incredibly filling. We did not use all the pork belly in the salad, but rather saved the majority of it for use in eggs, tacos, and other meals throughout the remainder of the week.

If you happen to have many, many pounds of pork belly left to consume, consider this simple roasting method for preparing it! Or, if you have a hankering for a really strange but tasty Korean soup, I know a cute, German-speaking, rice-loving, Camry-driving, Othello-winning, computer engineer who can make it for you!

Warm Spinach Salad with Roasted Pork Belly

For the Roasted Pork Belly:
1 (3-pound) skin-on center-cut fresh pork belly, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
Vegetable oil

For the Dressing:
3 Tablespoons Reserved Pork Belly Grease
3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 teaspoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 dash Salt

For the Salad:
5-6 hard-boiled, fried, or poached Eggs
1 whole Red Onion, Small
1 package Mushrooms, sliced thinly
8 ounces, weight Baby Spinach, Washed Dried And Stems Removed

Using sharp chef's knife, slice pork belly lengthwise into 3 strips about 2 inches wide, then make 1/4-inch-deep crosswise cuts through skin and into fat spaced 1/2 inch apart. Combine 2 tablespoons salt and brown sugar in small bowl. Rub salt mixture into bottom and sides of pork belly (do not rub into skin). Season skin of each strip evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place pork belly, skin side up, in 13 by 9-inch baking dish and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to lightly greased wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Roast pork belly until meat registers 195 degrees and paring knife inserted in meat meets little resistance, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.

Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to large plate. (Pork belly can be held at room temperature for up to 1 hour.) Pour fat from sheet into 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Set aside three tablespoons of the fat to use in the dressing. Add vegetable oil as needed to equal 1 cup and transfer to 12-inch skillet. Arrange pork belly, skin side down, in skillet (strips can be sliced in half crosswise if skillet won't fit strips whole) and place over medium heat until bubbles form around pork belly. Continue to fry, tilting skillet occasionally to even out hot spots, until skin puffs, crisps, and turns golden, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to carving board and let rest for 5 minutes. Flip pork belly on its side and slice 1/2 inch thick (being sure to slice through original score marks).

While the pork belly is resting, prepare the spinach salad.

Add 3 tablespoons bacon grease, vinegar, sugar, and Dijon to a small saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk mixture together and heat thoroughly.

Add spinach to a large bowl. Arrange onions, mushrooms, and bacon on top. Pour hot dressing over the top; toss to combine. Arrange salad on individual plates. Arrange chopped pork belly and sliced hard-boiled eggs on top. Serve!

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