When Steve was reviewing Louisville restaurants, he mostly wanted to remain anonymous. While that practice (along with the profession) is dwindling today, during the decade-plus he was writing reviews, Steve shunned chefs and took pride in his Zelig-like ability to escape notice even when they did meet him as a diner.
Now, as Editor of Louisville’s edition of Eater.com, Steve is supposed to hobnob with all sorts of industry folks—something he’s still a bit uncomfortable doing after all those years of anonymity. But hobnob he has, getting to know and be known by many area chefs including Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia, Milkwood, Top Chef, Iron Chef and Smoke & Pickles fame. (Before meeting through Eater, Lee actually served Steve food several times without ever recognizing him as a reviewer. Zelig!)
Steve and Edward now stay in semi-regular touch, their most odd conversation possibly the one involving pig milking and Steve perhaps watching Edward do this thing. Lee recently sent Steve a copy of Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey, a new cookbook written by Lee’s friend, Chef John Currence, noting the shared interest in porcine pursuits.
We perused the volume and found many dishes we want to try. This braised pork belly recipe particularly stood out both for its main ingredient (belly, duh) and because we happened to have one in the freezer. We substituted local sorghum for the Steen’s (cane) Syrup favored by Louisiana native Currence, wanting to be locavore and allow a shout-out to our friend and sorghum expert, Rona Roberts. (Besides, we didn’t have any Steen’s.)
The syrupy yet not-too-sweet belly made a lovely dinner, quite possibly because, as Currence says: “Pork belly is a magical thing when handled the right way.” Thanks for the cookbook, Edward!
SORGHUM-BRAISED PORK BELLY
(adapted from John Currence’s Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey)
- 3 TB salt
- 3 TB dark brown sugar
- 1 TB pepper
- 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 5-lb. slab pork belly
- 3 TB olive oil
- 1-1/2 c. thinly sliced onions
- 2 TB chopped garlic
- 1 c. peeled and diced carrots
- 1 c. diced celery
- 2 TB fresh thyme leaves
- 10 c. meat stock (we used veal)
- 2-1/2 c. sorghum molasses (or cane syrup or honey)
Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Trim the meat into a rectangle, removing any excess surface fat. Rub spices on the meat, top and bottom. Place on a baking sheet, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove meat from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Rub off any excess spice mix from the meat. Sear on both sides in a large pan with a little bit of olive oil. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a braising pan large enough to hold the meat. Sauté onions until wilted, then add garlic, carrots and celery. When vegetables are soft, add thyme leaves. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan and lay meat in the middle. Add stock and sorghum. Bring to a simmer, then cover with foil and braise in the over for about 3 hours or until tender.
Let meat cool briefly. Then, remove the meat from the pan and rest at room temperature.
Strain braising liquid through a fine sieve into a saucepan, pressing the solids with a wooden spoon. Discard solids. Bring strained sauce to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat to simmer. Skim off the fat on the surface and discard. Turn heat back up and reduce sauce until it thickens. Season if needed.
Cut meat into equal portions and arrange on a serving plate. Pour sauce over and garnish with thyme sprigs.