Friday, January 18, 2013

The Longest I've Ever Waited for a Bowl of Soup

Ramen with pork belly and a 66˚C (151˚F) egg.

We made pork belly once before, plain, just to taste it.  And it IS fatty.  It is tender.  It is intense.  And it clearly is made to be a vehicle for flavor, the lynchpin of a dish, rather than the center.  (Does that even make sense?)

What did make sense.  Advice to cure the pork belly, to roll it to keep the meat tender - surround the meat with the fat during the sous vide so it doesn't dry out*, and to slice it thin in soup.  But the majority opinion for the rolled pork belly is Japanese flavors - for ramen, which is umami and sweet and salty (predominantly).  Now I'm not complaining, but some smoky, and spiced and crispy appealed to me as well.  So off the rails I went.

For 2 lbs of pork belly:

the cure was -
1/2 C salt
1/2 C brown sugar
1 Tbs chinese 5 spice (less if you make it fresh)
and 1 tsp black pepper

Actually not a stretch at all for a pork belly cure,
just a little different for a ramen destination. 
coat the piece and make it look crusty

Pop it in a zip top bag, 

and use a sophisticated assortment of items to weight it down in your fridge for 3 days.

Then wipe it off well with a few paper towels (you could even rinse it, I suppose.  I didn't because I'll be slicing it thin.)  Tie it up all nice with string - butcher's twine - and pop it into a sous vide appropriate bag, and vacuum away.

I threw in a few garlic cloves and a dried aji amarillo chile
a medium, fruity chile - because it sounded good.
 And then 36 - 48 hrs at 142˚F.  (I saw temps ranging from 136˚F - 155˚F.  I cook my pork tenderloin at 140˚F**, so 142˚F sounded like a good spot for me.)  36 hours seems to be good, but that meant getting up at 2am (due to when I had gotten things going) and that wasn't on.  So I let it go until about 6:30 am the next morning.  Close enough.

Into the fridge.  This was another piece of good advice.  DO NOT open the hot rolled pork belly and expect to do anything.  All you will make is a mess.  Check.

So that piggy cooled down all day while I had my life.

When school was over and we were all gathered and dinner prep commenced, I opened the package, tossed the expended garlic and chile, and gingerly peeled off all the porky gelatin and reverently set it aside.  This was so concentrated it had the texture of gummy bears. 
I cut the roll into thirds, and froze two of them for later.  The last is going on to soup tonight.

Some assembly required.

Cut the pork belly into slices.  (Next time freeze it first?)  I couldn't cut the whole roll as thin and I wanted, so cut the roll in half and when from there.

Cut up radish, scallions, lettuce, and sous vide 1 egg per person at 151˚F, or go old school and soft boil or poach it.

Bring  6 C chicken broth (or one of those 4 cup carton thingies + 2 cups of water) and add the porky gelatin.  I guess I could have made "real ramen broth" but I'd already waited nearly 6 days!  Come ON!  Have you seen Tampopo?!

While this is going on, find a large slab of cast iron and torch the dickens out of your pieces of pork belly - 1 side, then the other.

Old School:  heat up a cast iron fry pan rocket hot
and crisp the surfaces quickly.

Bring it all together - noodles, slices of pork belly, scallions, radishes, lettuce, egg (my son went for kamomboko - Japanese fish cake - instead of egg).  Pour on the hot broth.  Eat messily.

Best bite of the meal:  Egg yolk, pork belly, scallion and noodle.  Whoa.

*Warning: science and/or trivia.
How can meat in a sous vide dry out, especially at those comically low temperatures?
If too much lubrication - collagen, fat, blood and any other connective tissues are melted away from the muscle fibers during the cooking process and into the porky gelatin, the muscle fibers will, in fact be dry.  This is why sometimes chicken IN chicken noodle soup or beef IN beef stew can somehow be dry.  All the things that feel unctuous or juicy to our mouths has been dissolved into the broth leaving none on the muscle fibers.

**Multi-tasking win.  Since this was taking awhile, I used the 142˚F water to sous vide the meat for another dinner the day I started the pork belly.  Totally allowed.

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