BBQ’d Pork Belly

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Pork Belly is one of my top ten favorite foods. I would call it a guilty pleasure but there’s absolutely no guilt involved. It’s pure pleasure.

If you’ve never experienced pork belly, it’s really not scary – especially compared to other delicacies like snails or brains. It’s just a fatty chunk of a pig’s belly. If you eat bacon, it’s not too different except that bacon is cured.

Up to now I’ve only had pork belly in restaurants, so I’m excited to make my own. I didn’t realize my local butcher shop sold it until I was purchasing pig skin for my slow-roasted pork experiment, and he was wrapping pork belly around a pork loin to sell. (Yum!)

Pork belly can be grilled over coals, slow roasted in the oven, and even braised. It’s a matter of cooking the meat of the belly, sometimes by poaching first, but then crisping the fatty side by roasting or pan frying.

I’m not terribly adept at the grill, plus I dislike being hot while cooking, so I decided to cook the pork belly inside. With the weather disgustingly hot warm, and the appeal of ice cold beer, I though a barbequed version sounded perfect.

Barbecued Pork Belly

2 pound slab of skinless pork belly
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon ground Ancho chile pepper
1/2 tablespoon ground Chipotle chile pepper

Bring the pork belly to room temperature, and make sure it’s dry.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Mix together the seasonings, then season both sides of the pork belly. Rub in well.


Wrap the belly tightly with heavy-duty foil. Place into a roasting pan, with the fat side up. Cook in the oven for 5 hours. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator.

Unwrap the foil, discard, then re-wrap the pork belly with foil, covering the bottom and sides, leaving only the fat side exposed.

Brush with barbecue sauce; my favorite is Head Country brand – both original and hickory. Trust me, I prefer to make my own barbeque sauces, but this brand is of exceptional quality.

Roast the pork belly in the oven until it’s nice and browned, brushing more sauce if desired. This will take about 10 minutes.

You can see and hear the sizzling! Remove from the oven and either let cool and slice, or let cool and refrigerate.

I served the pork belly with a simple potato salad in a vinaigrette.

Summer on a plate? I don’t know, but it was an exceptional meal.

Just a note – my fatty side was not crispy cracklin’ like pork belly can be, because I brushed it with sauce. But that was okay. When I made the slow-roasted pork shoulder with pig skin, I discovered I wasn’t really fond of cracklings.

If you want the serious cracklin’, omit the barbecue sauce, roast the fatty side, and just serve the sauce on the side.

Spatchcocking

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I haven’t spatchcocked a chicken in almost 3 years. I know this because I discovered an old post on one from early in my blogging career. It was deleted because, like so many others, the photography was dreadful in those “early” days. But there’s also another reason.

Before, when I made a spatchcock chicken, I used a wonderful pan called a mattone. It was a flat-bottomed shallow clay pan with a glazed interio and a heavy flat lid. It was perfect for a small spatchcock chicken or poussin.

Sadly, though, the bottom cracked, and I can’t find a mattone anywhere online.

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But I found a really heavy press with a handle that I thought would solve the problem.

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Even after removing the chicken’s backbone, which is the whole point of a spatchcocked chicken, it can pop up instead of staying flat. This defeats the whole concept of cooking a uniformly thick chicken. It needs to lay flat – on its own or with weight on top.

So I set out to try out my new gadget. To spatchcock a chicken, get a good, whole chicken. Then to remove the backbone, use really good poultry shears. You first have to figure out what side of the chicken is the back, because I made that mistake once. The best hint is the little tail sticking out!

Cut up one side of the tail along the backbone, then do the other side.

Turn the chicken over and flatten it with your hands. You’ll hear a little crunch.

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There are many different ways to cook a spatchcock chicken, like outside on the grill, on the stove, or in the oven. Outside was out for me, with a heat index of 105 degrees. So I decided to do the browning on the stove, and finish the cooking in the oven at 350 degrees. 325 degrees would also work.

I first seasoned the chicken well, after patting the top and bottom dry with paper towels. I decided on duck fat, and melted some in my large flat griddle, and added some freshly cut thyme and rosemary.

I turned the heat to the highest setting and when the duck fat was hot I added the spatchcock chicken. Then I used my lid. Ingenious!
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After about 4-5 minutes, I turned the chicken over, replaced the lid, and browned the other side.

Then I put the griddle in the oven, and used a probe. I removed the chicken from the griddle after 155 degrees was reached, according to the probe and placed it to cool on a cutting board. See? Nice and flat!
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Using a large knife or cleaver, cut the chicken into pieces and serve.

You can see that the chicken is juicy, but also nicely browned.

I served it with a rosé, and it was a perfect combination. Although, I’ll probably not purchase this rosé again. It was a bit too sweet.
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note: I really love my oval Le Creuset skillet, found here on the Williams-Sonoma website. Sometimes you just need oval, and not round!

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

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I’ve rarely made the same dish twice since I began cooking. Thus my motto: “so much food, so little time!” I truly live by this only because there is always something new to make, or variations to try. It’s just fun for me to cook and eat that way.

My husband really enjoys it, I think, because he grew up with the Monday night meal, the Tuesday night meal, and so forth. Seven meals, exactly the same, every week. Not fun.

There are a few dishes that my kids request when they visit home. One loves my black bean enchiladas, the other loves my salads with salmon, but even these are never the same because I don’t follow recipes. But one thing both of them enjoy and request often during the warm months, is this cilantro garlic shrimp.

In this shrimp appetizer, cilantro adds a wonderful freshness, and pairs so well with fresh garlic. So this shrimp is wonderful in the spring and summer, for any kind of get-together.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

Cooked shrimp, tail or no tail, preferably poached
Olive oil, about 1 cup
Fresh garlic, 5-6 cloves if you want a sharp flavor
Fresh cilantro, a whole bunch
Salt

Spread out the cooked shrimp on paper towels to dry if necessary, then place in a bowl and keep refrigerated.

To prepare the marinade, pour the olive oil into a blender jar. Add a generous amount garlic cloves, fresh cilantro, stems and all, and a little salt.


Blend until smooth, then pour over the shrimp and toss. Don’t overdo it – you just want the shrimp coated, but not drowning in the marinade. If you have any left over, keep it for chicken. It’s fabulous!
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This shrimp can be made the day before, and kept refrigerated, but take it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving, so the olive oil doesn’t remain coagulated.
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If you like the addition of lemon juice in this cilantro and garlic mixture, do not let the shrimp sit for long. In fact, serve as soon as possible. The lemon juice will cook and mush up the shrimp.

note: You could marinate cleaned, raw shrimp in this cilantro-garlic mixture, and then grill them, but it’s never quite the same. Some liquid always leaks out of the shrimp and they can’t be grilled properly. So that’s why I use pre-cooked shrimp. That way you’ve got perfectly cooked shrimp, coated with the lovely “marinade.”

My Favorite Barbeque Sauce

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Barbeque sauce never passed my lips until I moved to Dallas, Texas, for my first job after college. I moved a lot as a child, but never lived in any barbecue states, so to speak. I’ve lived in California, Washington, New York, and Utah, plus France, and barbecue was unheard of in these places, at least growing up.

When I first tasted barbeque sauce, I wasn’t that impressed. It was probably because I also wasn’t impressed with the meats with which they were served. Especially ribs – they’re so fiddly and messy to eat. And I thought brisket was dreadfully stringy. But looking back, I can see why many barbeque sauces didn’t appeal to me. Some are overly sweet, some are overly tangy, some are overly smokey.

Then I started making my own. Of course, some of them weren’t quite traditional, like adding rum and plums or whatnot, but it seemed to me that it was pretty darn easy to make a good, basic barbeque sauce. I especially detest the over-sweetness of purchased barbeque sauces, but that’s something you can definitely control in your own kitchen.

So now I have my own favorite barbeque sauce. I don’t know really how it began, but it evolved over time, just like all of our favorite recipes we customize as home cooks. It’s a little bit different, but I warn you it is delicious and addictive. Here’s to sharing recipes!

My Favorite Barbecue Sauce

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 – 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon, strained

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar.

Then add the seasonings.

I just wanted to point out my favorite garlic pepper. I’m not fond of the smell of most garlic powders, so I use this brand for some extra garlic punch.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or so over low heat, uncovered.

Add the vinegar and stir to combine. Simmer for one minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

It’s really good with grilled chicken or slow-cooked ribs, but it’s especially good with spicy, smoked brisket!