Get in My Belly, Pork Belly

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This week I had a birthday.  The big TWO-NINE! Jesus christ that number is crazy, right?

Twenty-eight was a nice, even number, it’s even kind of cute sounding! Thirty is… well, we all know what thirty is. While it has all sorts of negative connotations at least it’s a number that registers on people’s radars. But twenty-nine is a giant void of a number in the larger spectrum of getting older and creeping towards thirty,  (otherwise known as Armageddohmygodimalmostthirtydon.)  This is the year that marks the end of my carefree twenties and it’s a really dumb number.  Here I sit at twenty-nine, awaiting my destiny as thirty is peaking its ugly little head around the corner and I am doing everything in my power to shove it away, “Back into your hole!” I say to thirty.  And twenty-eight is just laying there all smug-like, perfectly aware that I am no longer blissfully far away from thirty.

In the past I believed that I would have a huge problem with getting to this age.  That perhaps I would feel ‘old’ and unsatisfied with my life.  But I am 100% young and 100% satisfied with my life and after yesterday’s birthday festivities– I think I am beginning to be okay with twenty-nine. Amen to that.

The truth is that I can’t complain, things are looking pretty good.  I have a boy named Udi who loves me to the ends of the universe and back, I have friends that make me laugh, I live by the sea in a dreamy garden landscape, I get to bake cookies and scramble eggs for a living, I make friendship bracelets and build things in my free time. Which is why I will try to cherish all of this so that when I do hit 30 and it all goes away in an instant I can remember it fondly.  That’s what happens, right?

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With the help of my housemates and friends we rang in both my birthday and the beginning of what feels like a super hot summer in the most acceptable fashion; bbq.  We bbq’d hard.  With gusto.

Truthfully, we also slow braised in the oven, (if you want to get super technical about it.)  The reason being that I made spare ribs and pork belly, and while there are many ways to cook these delectable proteins, I just love what they do when they bubble away in the oven for a few hours before being hit on the grill for their final caramelizing moments.

But the bbq was the main event for sure.  With whole roasted cauliflower, elote corn, monster eggplants, halloumi cheese, chicken satay skewers all getting their turn on the little charcoal engine-that-could.  There were also piles and piles of salads, wonderful contributions from friends throughout the day.  Bulgur and cinnamon beets, couscous and fresh herbs, broccoli and raisins, cauliflower and tahina, lentil sprouts, guacamole, pico de gallo, all made their way to the table.  Oh!, and the giant plate of freshly baked cookies filled with chocolate pop tart pieces that were devoured in seconds.  The whole day was a giant eating parade.

In typical ‘me’ fashion, I was running back and forth to the kitchen trying to get things ready in a timely manner (albeit a little too tipsy to be doing anything in a timely manner).  When all the other food was charred and served to the masses we stoked the grill one more time and finished off those ribs with some fire and a slicking of sticky sauce – just to show the food gods that we were on their side.

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But all of this doesn’t even begin to describe the belly.  The belly was brined overnight in a solution of salt, sugar, star anise, cinnamon sticks and then sat in the oven for 3 hours until it was brushed with some raw honey and broiled for a matter of minutes.  This buttery, soft, salty treat made very happy. So much so that I selfishly reserved a big piece of it to keep for myself for leftovers (I knew that there would be NO food left standing with this group. If it was out on the table, it was consumed, for sure.)  I just wanted to make sure there was something left to play around with the next day! You can’t blame a girl for loving her pork belly, can you?
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After yesterdays eating marathon I thought I would wake up today still full; craving only the healthiest of vegetables to help cleanse my gut.  But, come on,… hidden away in a tupperware was this succulent pork belly…waiting for me, calling to me from inside the refrigerator (such a creepy thought, I know).  Throughout the day I entered the kitchen knowing it was in there and did everything in my power to not fall into its trap.  Eventually there was no stopping myself, I was going to eat these leftovers, no, I was DESTINED to eat these leftovers.  This was like the kind of fate that Nietzsche felt humans were conditioned to experience, a will to power, in which I could only strive for my highest ambition if I did naughty things with this leftover pork belly. So I did what I was destined to do. I made a delightful dish of bok choy and kale and fennel and carrot and tossed the pork in at the end to warm it up and give it some sauce and I ate it with a big birthday smile across my face. Twenty-nine is already off to a pretty decent start.

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*For those of you who live in Tel Aviv you are probably thinking “kale? where in the world did she find kale?”  Well, over the last 6 months I’ve found it in a few places, but never more than once. Once in the shuk, once in shufer sal (super sal), and yesterday in Tiv Tam.  But I can offer no guarantees regarding the whereabout of illusive kale.  For every time I have returned to one of these places to purchase more it is vanished. Like a ghost.  Extra note: It can also be expensive.

Naughty Pork Belly

BRINE

2 kilos of pork belly (or 2 pieces each about 5 inches long)
3 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup white sugar
water/chicken stock
1 tablespoon honey

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The Rest

3 cloves garlic smashed
2 shallots chopped
1 carrot sliced
1 bulb fennel sliced
handful kale
handful bok choy
sesame oil
1 tablespoon canola
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 squirts siracha
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
splash of water

Start the night before by combining all the ingredients for the brine and pouring it over the pork belly in ziplock bag. Place inside a big dish and pop in the fridge for the night.

The next day preheat your oven to 240F.  Remove the pork from the brine and place fat side up in a baking dish. Pour some chicken stock n the pan so it has some liquid to cook in. Cover tightly with foil and slide into the oven. Leave it there for at least 2 hours.  At the 2 hour mark remove the foil and brush some honey of the tops of the pork. Leave the foil off and turn the oven to broil. Watch it so it doesn’t burn, but let it get a little caramelization on top.  I would suggest only leaving it on broil for about 6 or 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and let it rest.

Heat a wok until it is nice and hot and add a glug of sesame oil and a glug of canola oil.  Add your garlic and shallots, being sure to move them in the wok so nothing burns.  Once they become fragrant you can toss in the fennel and carrot, After about 2 minutes they should be beginning to soften, soy, oyster, siracha, sugar and splash of water. Stir to coat the vegetables.  Toss in the kale and bok choy, give them a minute to soften warmed through.  If you are using the pork from the day before (like me) add it now so it gets a chance to warm through. If it is fresh from the oven you can skip this step and just get it slice nice and thin and lay it over the finished stir fry

I served this over couscous that I treated like fried rice, but it would be delicious with rice spiked with fennel seed or rice noodles.