Until I saw a large slab of it at my most favorite local co-op. Look at that meat to fat ratio, people! The clincher was it's local, organic, pasture-raised pork and I wasn't going to take a pass on that.
All I know about pork belly is this: It usually has a very high fat to meat ratio; has become de rigueur in many fine restaurants; bacon resides therein.
Here's what I observe about pork belly: The fat is mostly around the meat, not really in the meat.
Deduction: Braising must happen.
So I went merrily on my way, winging this recipe. I must tell you now that today I actually looked up the methods used to braise pork belly and almost all of them instruct to cover the meat in a liquid. Hmmm...
Didn't do that. I thought with so much fat around the meat the slow cooker would render it into liquid and the liquid fat, along with the aromatics, would make the pork tender.
I got most of that right, but you know what they say about horseshoes... Turns out that after 4 hours the pork was actually cooked through but really tough, the liquid covering only about half of it.
That's when I punted, set the slow cooker on Low for 8 more hours (12 total) and every few hours turned the belly over and occasionally basted the top with the juices. After 12 hours it was pull-apart tender yet still slice-able, and very, very tasty.
Now let me tell you about the liquid: It's good. It's Really good. A combination of rendered fat, juices from the meat, the spice berries, bay leaves and gin. I have no idea what inspired me to use that combination of aromatics, they just sounded good. When I got to the juniper berries is when I jumped to gin; seemed like a good idea and I'm happy with it. Mr CC is too. Use a good gin for this: not too dry, not too floral.
The fat? As I said, the meat to fat ratio in this particular belly was high on the meaty side. Also, I'm not so worried about a moderate amount of animal fat when I know the source and this comes from an organic, sustainable farm about 60 miles from my kitchen, Alexandre Farm. If you're going to eat meat, you should know whence it hails.
Slow Cooker Braised Pork Belly
Christine's original recipe
3 pounds lean pork belly
8 allspice berries
8 juniper berries
3 fresh bay leaves, crushed
Generous amounts of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup good gin (could use more)
- If silver skin is present, remove as much as you have the patience for, using a sharp boning knife.
- Season the meat all over with the kosher salt and cracked black pepper then place in the bottom of a slow cooker large enough to hold the meat without touching the sides too much. I put the fattier side down first then turned it over later.
- Sprinkle the spice berries over the meat and put the crushed bay leaves around the edges.
- Pour the gin around the sides of the meat so it gets underneath.
- Turn the slow cooker on low for 10 - 12 hours and walk away, returning occasionally to turn the meat and baste it.
- When the meat is fall-apart tender, remove from the crock pot and allow it to rest for a bit before serving.
Thinly sliced over a salad of garden greens. Use some of the juices to make a vinaigrette.
Dice small, sear briefly in a hot pan, sprinkle on scrambled eggs.
Warm, thick slices over green lentils (leave out the duck). (You may want to prepare this when most of the US is not experiencing the heat of this particular summer.)
Place warm slices with juices on a sturdy grilled bun, top with favorite condiments, garden lettuce, sliced tomato.
Store the pork belly in its juices in a covered container. Refrigerate.
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