Friday, January 30, 2009

Before it becomes bacon

I'm long overdue on the belly update, so sorry. We ate it a fortnight ago, anyway. Wish you could have been there. We had enough left over to eat it twice.

Here's how it ate: a bit on the salty side, but not terribly so. Underneath, a sweetness redolent of the cure (half salt, half sugar). The fat - and there was a goodly bit of it - did not melt into the plate as it did at the cute little Japanese restaurant in New York where I learned the high art of pork belly. OK, it did a little.

There's nothing to doing a belly. Few days in the brine, couple hours in the oven, done. Employing Fergus Henderson's trick of lining the bottom of the dish with onions, I sliced a fairly small one, chunked it into the pan, laid the belly on top. I should have done two onions. They were the cream of the dish, turning to caramel in the soak of cured fat that dripped from the would-be bacon.

We ate it in slices with green lentils. It was a meaty slab, moreso than I anticipated. You can't really tell until you cut into it. The meaty streaks tuck themselves into the white fat and don't come out until cooked. When cooked, what emerges is a softness that still has enough tooth to require knife and fork. (That Japanese belly went down with a spoon.) The meat is gorgeously tender and ferociously flavored. Once you get past the fact that you're eating the cut of gut, that you're tucking into chunks (versus slices) of bacon, you're stunned by how delicious it is. Belly relishes a deep glass of cabernet, by the way.

Of course, you shouldn't be. It's bacon, for goodness sake!

As I've said, I think, belly is pretty tame fare for Fergus. Next up - meaning, now occupying a spot in my brine buckets: ox tongue and pig's head. For the latter, it'll be a table of one, I fear.

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