I had been wanting to do something like this dish for a while now. Danika’s Dad has always liked those crappy cans or pork and beans in tomato sauce, to the point where it is a bit of a family joke. I mentioned to Danika a while back now that I wanted to do a bit of a play on the whole pork and beans thing.
Originally I wanted to do something with a lot of the neck and face meat (including tongue) – maybe roll it together, braise and then roast it (French Laundry style). However, I know that if Danika’s parents asked what it was I was I cooking for them, there would be no way in hell they would eat it. A big shame really, because tongue, jowl and so forth is really bloody tasty.
So, I decided to step it back a bit to good old pork belly. As we all know, this cut has had a bit of a rival of late, and is springing up on restaurant menu’s all over the place. And rightly so. If you get pork belly from a good breed of pig, that has been properly pasture raised the results are spectacular. It is quite possibly my favorite cut of pork. The only bugger is that because it is pretty much 50% fat, I don’t want to eat it everyday! I like being skinny.
There is so much to like about it. Its flavor for one – it is just really porky. I like that. Next of course is texture. The fat just melts. Its a beautiful thing. The meat just falls away, and again melts so nicely in the mouth. And finally, the serving size. You only need a small amount of pork belly. It is really sodding rich. This makes for a great photo, because you don’t have this honking slab of meat on a plate that is really hard to photo.
Well, that is the cut of pork down, now to choose the beans. I really wanted to do some classic runner beans, but they aren’t quite in season yet (and I am not sure if you can even get them here in Seattle, I think maybe so.. ). My parents have always grown runner beans, and to me they are a complete star. You buy a beaner – which is really just a little tool that juliennes the beans, boil them, and job done. Still crisp, very bright, and bursting with bean flavor. Especially when got straight off the vine.
But, alas, no runner beans. Walking around the farmers market at the weekend, I happened across Dragons Tongue beans. They are a pale bean, with purple streaks and splotches – and about the same size as a regular green bean. They looked spectacular. The farmer suggested I taste one, as she reckoned it was the best tasting bean ever. Well, I would have to pretty much agree with her. It had excellent flavor, and because it has no string, was decidedly lovely eaten raw. Well, that was decided then, dragons beans it was. The woman did warn me however that upon cooking the brilliant purple in the bean gets lost. Bastards.
I also picked up some fava’s from the market as well.. As anyone who reads this blog often knows, I am rather addicted to fava beans. They are a pain in the arse to prepare, but every little gem of a bean is worth it.
My final conundrum was just how to make pork belly seem light enough for a hot summers day. Braised meat doesn’t exactly say 80degree weather that’s for sure. The solution I came up with was to find something that would cut the fat of the pork a little. Calvados (apple brady) is rather good for that I have to say, but I didn’t have any so had to think of something else.
A little moment of inspiration came (I won’t say what I was doing at the time, but a lot of my good ideas are thought up in that one room..). Vinegar I thought. The sharp acidic note of a good red wine vinegar would do the job rather nicely. That got me on to thinking about pickling a vegetable. I used to eat pickled onions all the time when I was a lad, so I thought I would do something similar – some shallots, thinly sliced and pickled with some thyme and black peppercorns. Bloody perfect.
And so it was. The Wrightfood version of pork and beans. It turned out great I have to say. Certainly light enough for a hot summers day.
Oh – and where do I get my pork from in Seattle.. Well, this time it was from the excellent Skagit River Ranch. I love their beef, and their pork is equally as good. They care about their animals, raise them humanly, and never give them antibiotics or chemicals. They are raised outside, and free to muck around as pigs do. What is more, their prices are pretty fair for the quality of the meat you are getting.
A quick note on the sauce: The sauce I did for this was just a reduction of the braising liquid (strained), with some butter whisked in. The results would be spectacular if you added a splash of Calvados to the braising liquid, just before reducing. I will have to give that a go next time.
Braised Pork Belly, Dragon’s tongue and fava beans, pickled shallots,, braising liquid sauce. (serves 4)
1lb of pork belly
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 leek, cleaned and chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 clove of garlic (peeled and chopped)
4 large sprigs of thyme
small handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
3 sage leaves
2 large handfuls of dragons tongue beans (or green beans)
2 large handfuls of fava beans (in their pods)
1 glass of white wine
FOR THE PICKLED SHALLOTS:
4 large shallots, peeled and finely sliced
1/2 cup of red wine vinegar
10 black pepper corns
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
Start by making the pickled shallots. Into a small saucepan add the vinegar and sugar, and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add the other ingredients for the pickled shallots into the pan, mix and allow to cool. When cooled down transfer to a jar with a tight fitting lid, and store in the fridge. These taste best if made at least a day before you need them.
Preheat oven to 325F
Take the pork out of the fridge, and let it get to room temperature. In a large pan sear the pork belly fat side down, until it gets a little color, and some fat is rendered off. Take the pork belly out of the pan, and keep warm. Add in the onion, leek, celery carrot and garlic. Cook in the pork fat until softened. Turn the heat up to high, and deglaze the pan with the glass of white wine. Warm the chicken stock in a small saucepan.
Put the pork in a roasting dish. Pour the vegetables in around the pork belly. Pour in enough of the chicken stock to come about 3/4 the way up the side of the pork belly. Stuff the parsley, thyme and sage around the belly. Cover this loosely with foil. Bung it in the oven, and let it cook for at least 2.5 hours, or until the meat is really tender. Keep an eye on this bad boy – you don’t want it to dry out (do as I say, not as I do!!!).. The the liquid levels look low, top em off with more stock.
Remove the fava beans from their outer pods. Get a large pot of water boiling, throw in some salt – at least 2 tablespoons. Whenever blanching vegetables I go by Thomas Keller’s law.. Make sure you use a lot of water, and quite a lot of salt relative to the amount of vegetables. This helps it not go off the boil when you add the beans in, which in turn helps the color stay in the vegetables.
Prepare an cold water ice bath. Cook the fava beans for 2 minutes in the boiling water, then immediately put them straight into the cold water ice bath. Let them sit there until completely cool. Once cool, peel off the skin from each bean.
Cook the dragons tongue beans in the same water, making sure not to overcook them. I have heard tales that if you cook them really slowly they won’t loose their color. Personally, I think that is bull.. I tried both fast and slow, and nothing helped. When they are just cooked through, put them into the ice bath too. Let them sit there till cold.
Strain the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve a few times. Pour this into a saute pan, and get it boiling. Reduce by about half. Toss in beans to heat through. Remove the beans to a side plate, and whisk about 1 tablespoon of butter into the sauce.
When you are ready to put the dish together, melt a little butter in a saute pan. Cut the pork belly into 4 pieces. Sear each piece quickly in the butter, just to crisp up the fat a little.
To serve. Put a small pile of beans in the center of a plate. Top with the pork belly. Pour over a little of the braising liquid. Top the pork belly with some of the pickled shallots (being careful not to include the thyme or peppercorns!).
There will be more shallots than you need. No problem, they go great in just about any sandwich I can think of! They are also really great served alongside cold meats and cheese.