I was nervous about making pork belly at Beast because a lot of people shy away from how fatty it is. In a restaurant where customers eat a set menu, serving something they might not like is a risky proposition. However, I shouldn’t have worried, because this is now one of my most popular dishes, and everybody who tastes it loves it.
This dish is all about balance—the sherry glaze brings an acidic touch that cuts through the richness, and the toasted levain bread that it’s served on soaks up some of the porky juices.
This recipe takes 3 days to complete, and although most of the time is passive, you do need to plan ahead. Because of the time it requires, I don’t recommend halving the recipe, even if you’re only serving four. If you don’t serve all of the pork belly, you can freeze the remainder for another use, such as slicing into strips and pan frying them for a glamorous BLT or cutting into chunks for tossing into a breakfast hash).
A note about the brine: Most of my brines are 5 percent salt by weight, but this one is 7 percent salt because the belly really needs it. At 5 percent, it tastes underseasoned, so follow the measurements carefully.
- Yield: 6 to 8 Servings
- 1 (3½- to 4-pound) pork belly, kept cold
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Flaky finishing salt
- 4 juniper berries
- 4 allspice berries
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
- 4 fresh or 8 dried bay leaves
- ½ head garlic, halved crosswise
- 6 cups water
- 0.125 cup plus 1 tablespoon salt
- ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
- 3 pounds ice, or 6 cups water (see weighing ice for wet brines)
- 2 (750-ml) bottles white cooking wine (a dry yet inexpensive Riesling)
- 2 cups homemade stock or other high-quality stock
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 4 fresh or 8 dried bay leaves
- PREP THE PORK BELLY While the pork belly is still cold, place it, fatty side up, on a cutting board. With the tip of a knife, create a ⅛-inch-deep crosshatch pattern across the entire surface of the fat. Don’t cut through the muscle; the idea is to make shallow cuts in the fat, which will help it render as it cooks, giving you a beautiful crispy surface (see photo).
- Place the pork in a Dutch oven or stockpot that’s only slightly larger than the belly itself. Make sure the vessel fits in your refrigerator and that it’s deep enough to fully submerge the pork in the brine.
- MAKE THE BRINE In a black steel pan over medium heat, toast all of the spices except the bay leaves. Cut a 1-foot square of cheesecloth and fold it over once. Place the spices, bay leaves, and garlic in the middle of the cloth, gently roll it lengthwise into a small sachet, and tie both ends with kitchen twine (like a wrapped candy).
- In a large stockpot, combine the water, salt, sugar, and sachet and bring to a boil. When the salt and sugar have dissolved, turn down the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and let steep for another 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop and deepen. Add the ice to cool the brine to room temperature.
- Pour the brine over the pork. The pork should be completely submerged. Place a piece of parchment over the belly and weight it down with a heavy plate or other heavy object, cover, and refrigerate for 24 to 28 hours.
- Day 2 Remove the pork from the brine, place it on several layers of paper towels, and dry well. Discard the brine. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Heat a black steel pan over high heat until very hot. Add the oil and heat until rippling but not smoking. Add the pork and weight it down with a plate to achieve an even sear across the surface. Check it frequently—once the first side is evenly golden brown, flip the belly and continue to cook, moving it around in the pan as needed to ensure even coloration. Cook until both sides are a deep chestnut brown, about 6 minutes per side.
- MAKE THE BRAISING LIQUID Transfer the seared pork to a nonreactive (enameled cast iron or stainless steel) Dutch oven and add the wine, stock, onion, carrots, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves; the liquid should cover the pork by at least ½ inch. Cover with a lid or parchment paper and aluminum foil and cook in the oven for 4 to 5 hours, until the pork is completely fork-tender. Remove from the oven, then uncover and let the pork cool in its braising liquid for at least 30 minutes or for up to 2 hours.
- Using two spatulas, carefully remove the pork from the liquid without letting it fall apart and place it in a shallow baking dish. Top it with a smaller baking dish and weight the second dish down with something heavy, like a large can of beans. (The weight helps press the pork into an even shape for later portioning.) If you don’t have a baking dish that fits inside the first one, use a small baking tray (from a toaster oven) or other flat object that can be evenly weighted down; a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil will work in a pinch. Refrigerate the pork with the weight overnight. Strain the leftover braising liquid into a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or for up to 24 hours.
- The next day, skim the solid fat from the top of the braising liquid and discard. Set aside ½ cup of the braising liquid for finishing the pork belly and reserve the remainder for braising something else or for mixing with stock to use as the base for a rustic soup.
- Day 3 MAKE THE GLAZE In a small nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Boil until slightly thinner than honey, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. After cooling, the consistency should be slightly thicker but still brushable; if the mixture thickens too much after cooling, rewarm and add a splash of sherry vinegar.
- GLAZE THE PORK BELLY Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and make sure no vegetables or peppercorns are stuck to it. While it is still cold, slice it into eight 2-inch squares. Reserve any leftover scraps for another use (see recipe introduction).
- Heat a black steel pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork squares, scored side up, and the reserved ½ cup braising liquid and cook until the liquid starts to bubble slightly, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat, then brush glaze over the top of the pork with a pastry brush. Try to paint it on in a single thick layer that doesn’t spill down the sides of the squares, as it will burn on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the top of the pork with finishing salt, then place the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and check to be sure the braising liquid has not evaporated (add more liquid or a splash of water if necessary). Brush another layer of glaze on the pork, sprinkle with more finishing salt, and return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes more.
- MAKE THE TOAST While the belly is glazing for the second time, cut the bread into ¾-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice into a 2½-inch square, leaving crust on one side if possible. Brush one side of each bread square very lightly with some of the oil and arrange the squares in a single layer on a small baking sheet.
- Remove the pork from the oven, brush with glaze for a third and final time, and place the pork and bread in the oven for a final 5 minutes. When the bread is light golden brown but not hard and the pork is hot all the way through, place a square of pork belly on each square of toast. (Leftover glaze will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks, and can be used in a marinade or vinaigrette.)
- To serve with Fresh Corn and Summer Vegetable Succotash and herb salad as shown (see photo), cut the vegetables for the succotash and store them in separate containers for up to 8 hours. Prepare the succotash about 20 minutes before serving, just prior to glazing the pork for the first time. Leave the succotash in its sauté pan off the heat while you finish glazing the pork. Just after putting the toast and the pork with its final glazing in the oven, warm the succotash over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, until just heated through. Spoon about 1 cup of succotash onto each serving plate, set the pork belly–topped toast on top, and place a small tuft of herb salad alongside.