Braised pork belly, with optional figs
An unctuous, and savory delight. We only let ourselves make braised pork belly once every six months or so. It’s wonderful served over rice, or as a component of the Normandie Wedding Banh Mi. Braised pork belly is a special treat, made with fresh figs in the summer. It ends up sticky, and slightly sweet — kind of like a pork jam. At another time of year, you can substitute coconut juice or guava nectar for the figs, and add a little bit of caramel for flavour.
This is a hybrid recipe, somewhere between Fuschia Dunlop’s red braised pork, and Vietnamese fish-sauce braised pork shoulder. As such, you can borrow liberally from either tradition. We add cinnamon, sometimes, or slices of fresh ginger, or star anise. Or sometimes with no spices at all. For the meat, you can use all pork belly, or all shoulder. We use half-and-half. Pork belly, of course, renders more fat, and turns into a slippery, sticky, gooey, heavenly mess. Pork shoulder braises well, and adds a bit of substance.
An important note about terminology with the finished dish. We don’t call it “fat”, or “lard”, but “sauce”. As in, “Please, can I have a little more sauce, drizzled over my rice?”
– 1.5 lb (700g) pork belly, skin on.
– 1.5 lb (700g) pork shoulder
– 3/4 c (180ml) fish sauce.
– 500 g figs
– 4 c (1l) coconut juice
– 1/4 c (50ml) caramel
1 stick cinammon
2 star anise
2 inch piece ginger, sliced thickly
1 or 2 dried chilis
4 boiled eggs, peeled
Cut the meat into cubes about 1.5 inch (3cm) to a side. Marinate it for at least half an hour in the fish sauce, together with whatever spices you decide to use. (Yes, it’s stinky. Deal with it.)
Put the meat into a big pot big (if you have a thick-bottomed pot, use that). Stir over high heat, until it starts to brown. Add the figs, or juice, and the caramel sauce (if using). Cover, and cook for 60-90 minutes — until the figs are falling apart, and the meat is very tender. Uncover, and add the eggs (if using). Reduce the liquid, until the meat is swimming in fat, I mean sauce. Stir frequently to avoid sticking, but carefully to avoid breaking the eggs.
It’s done when the meat is tender. But you can cook it until almost all of the water has boiled off, and the meat is sticky. Serve it immediately, or it stores pretty well in the fridge, as a kind of confit.