Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Pork Belly Redux (AKA That Rocked My World)


My beloved pork belly was reincarnated thanks to a mixture of my laziness and curiosity. The gargantuan pork roast we made one weekend was still lingering in the fridge a couple of days later, albeit in a smaller but no less formidable chunk. Hesitant to just slice and re-heat I opted to test my ingenuity and exhaust other leftover bits and bobs.

The result was superb. Cooking like this makes me think sometimes we take recipes and our attitudes in the kitchen way too seriously. Don't misunderstand, this isn't about not thinking about the food -- quite the contrary. You think and care so much about the time you took into it, you feel obligated to respect it to the very last morsel. This is serious passion. Worrying is an optional addition. Gratuitious waste is an all too accepted sin.

Most talented cooks I know stand out for two reasons: 1.) They usually don't cook with recipes. And 2.) They are sorceresses with leftovers.

But the true success of this recipe -- and a certain degree of vindication -- only comes when The Voracious One actually eats the damn thing. He-who-normally-eschews-and-curses-leftovers downed every shred of braised pork LEFTOVERS.

He even ate the leftovers of this reincarnated leftover. Victory. It tastes mighty fine.

Braised Left-Over Pork Belly in a Cupboard Sauce

Thankfully, this is the type of dish that really doesn't - shouldn't - come with a recipe. The name doesn't allude to the taste of the dish, rather the contents of. I literally looked in my fridge and added it to my chunk of pork belly I placed into my enameled cast iron pot:

approx. 2/3 cup stale Virgil's Root Beer * 1 cup of cold black coffee from earlier that morning * the last bit of life squeezed out from a tube of tomato pasta * a lone yellow onion peeled and cut in half * a tablespoon each of Domori Apurimac cocoa powder and ground almonds * a teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander seed, sichuan peppercorn and a touch of ground cinnamon * a bay leaf from my little potted tree * and some of the remnants of the packaged chicken stock sitting for God knows how long in my fridge (it passed the smell test)

I mixed it up as it came to a boil so that the liquid was somewhat uniform, reduced the heat and covered it to let it do it's thing for about three hours. Then I forgot about it for another hour. And when I remember it again, I uncovered the pot and used a fork to flake away the tender strands of meat into the deep, earthy sauce.

The moral of my leftover story:  Every little bit can contribute flavor, especially in a braise. I have a feeling that what we know as mole (forgive me, but I cannot figure out how to get the accent over the "e" on my new keyboard) is a result of frugality, an interesting pantry and a love of flavor.

The ingredients are only OPTIONS, not the rule. Play around with some liquid, some seasoning, maybe something for texture. Have it swim up half way up a piece of meat, bring it to a boil, cover and give it a steam room treatment. The aromatic bubbles should appear only once in a while -- no vigorous boiling however small the bubbles.

I've had great luck with a small hunk of beef, onions I caramelized and some veg broth mixed with water to create enough volume in the pot. After a few hours, I had what I can only call French Only Pot Roast. Heavenly with buttered noodles. Remind me to tell you about that one ...

So, tell me. What are some of your leftover tricks?