Boiled Belly And Lentils

This dish celebrates the not quite meat, not quite fat, quality of pork belly. There’s nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves.

I had thought that nothing was going to surpass the affection I felt for the Duck Legs And Carrots recipe I made a few weeks back. It was the first thing I had made from Mr. Henderson’s cookbook, and–sentimental feelings aside–it was damn tasty. I felt like the king of the world when those lovely duck legs were placed in front of guests, me knowing that the diner was about to be wowed.

Boiled pork belly has managed a coup d’état for my heart, and won handily.

Last week I made the sister to this dish, and the allure of cooking with lentils again beckoned to me. I do apologize if you have a small bout of déjà vu because of it. However, I am very, very happy to report that this time the lentils were even better than last. I can be taught!

The pork belly brined for more than a week in my container, Bertie. I flipped the meat over halfway through the brining process to ensure that it would properly season on both sides.

Into the pot went to pork belly with leeks, celery, carrots, garlic, onions studded with cloves, some peppercorns and a bouquet garni. Water was added until everything was covered. This was brought to a boil, and then simmered for a couple of hours.

The lentils were cooked exactly the same as the last update, except I added another 20 minutes of cooking thanks to my wife’s boss, Ken Seeber, the gourmet manager at Grapevine Market in Round Rock, Texas. He was our guest for the evening and his experience and knowledge really helped make the lentils fantastic this go around.

Once the allotted time for the pork belly’s cooking had expired, I foolishly tried to pull it out of the water with tongs. After such a lengthy period in the simmering water, the fat and skin had turned to barely solid state. The tongs ripped right through the flesh, with chunks falling off here and there. I thankfully managed to rub two brain cells together and fished the belly out with my spider. It was damaged, but slicing would thankfully hide that fact.

Belly and lentils plated.

Now, I could go on and on about how amazing the fat tasted when it hit your tongue, or how it melted almost in an instant when you began to chew, leaving an incredible mouth feel. I might be inclined to fawn over the creamy and delicious nature of the lentils thanks to Mr. Seeber’s gentile guidance. I’m not going to do either though. What I will be doing is this:

If you have even the slightest curiosity about how this meal might have tasted, I beg of you to go and buy the cookbook and get yourself to the closest Asian market. Buy the pork belly and the lentils and everything else you need and make this as soon as possible. Share it with someone you know will be receptive to eating food a little out of the ordinary, and then enjoy yourselves. It’s really that good.

One down, one hundred and twenty nine to go.

Poached Salted Duck Legs

This is a dish you have to think about a week ahead.

Following Mr. Henderson’s advice, I did think about making this a week prior. If you look back to the Brined, Roasted Pork Belly, you can see where I dropped the duck legs for this recipe into my brining bucket Bertie with the pork belly.

Once seven days had passed, I took the legs out of the brine and gave them a thorough rinsing.

The duck legs were then dropped into a pot along with carrots, leeks, onions, bay leaves, a whole head of garlic and a bundle of parsley, rosemary and thyme. Thankfully I’m just one herb away from a terrible Simon and Garfunkel joke, so consider yourselves lucky. The pot was filled with water, brought to a boil and then simmered until the duck was nice and tender.

Mr. Henderson instructed me to serve the duck legs with lentils, which up until this point I have sadly never eaten, nor cooked. They were the real reason I chose this recipe for the week. Mr. Henderson passionately explains in the book how the lentil can really be quite lovely if they are prepared correctly.

It’s amazing what simple salt and pepper do to the flavor of lentils–they make lentils of them.

Olive oil was added to a “largish” pan, and an onion, a leek, some carrots and a nice amount of garlic were sweated until everything was soft and fragrant.

The lentils joined the vegetables for a short period of time before water was added.

When it was added, another little bundle of herbs joined in.

The lentils managed to soak up all of the water I had placed in the pan, so I had to keep adding more. Visions of burned peas danced in my head, so I became vigilant in watching their progress. Once they were finished a copious amount of salt and pepper was added, along with a big handful of chopped curly parsley and a massive splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

The duck had a very salty, intense flavor to it which paired perfectly with the dour lentils. As a first time lentil eater, I can see how they can be seen as a soothing, homey addition to meals. I’ve already picked up another bag of them for the brined pork belly I have sitting in the fridge. As silly as it sounds, I’m very grateful that in my amateurish attempts to make all of the items from this cookbook, I’m learning and enjoying things I’d never have tried otherwise.

One down, one hundred and thirty to go.

Weird has become normal

On Friday, I managed to pick up a frozen hog’s head from the supermarket. Quite a coup as I had feared that finding them would be as hard as finding a sheep’s stomach. Once home it was deposited in the freezer, and a plan to shock my wife was hatched.

Upon her return I asked her to put some frozen food away I had just pulled out seconds before she entered the kitchen. Without missing a beat she opened the freezer, placed the items where she could considering the darn thing is full of piggy parts, and then closed the door.

Hog’s head? How mundane.

Rolled Pig’s Spleen

People venting their spleens has been bad press gastronomically for the organ. Please do not be deterred; spleens are a joy to cook with and eat, and the texture is not dissimilar to liver. Beautifully symmetrical, not wobbly and unmanageable, they are the perfect organ to give offal a good name. In fact they are often used in terrines, their presence overlooked in favor of more glamorous ingredients. This recipe goes a small way to redress the balance. Eat with very thinly sliced raw red onion and cornichons.

I know that I had promised to update on Friday, but a combination of work and a few other things have kept me very busy lately. The lesson learned here is to stop promising to update on certain days. It seems like Murphy’s Law kicks in every time I do.

This is another one of Mr. Henderson’s very simple dishes with a grand total of four ingredients (if you don’t count salt and pepper). Again, I must thank the absolutely wonderful MT Supermarket in Austin for their amazing meat department actually stocking pig spleen. Considering how hard it is finding offal from other animals, it’s a fantastic comfort knowing that I can find almost any piggy part I need at one local place. I’ll detail the frustration of trying to find sheep pluck for Haggis later this month.

The recipe calls for one pig’s spleen per person. I remember my wife walking the door after buying two for dinner and exclaiming, “We have to start eating more offal because it’s so cheap!” Cost for both spleens: $2. After pulling them from the bag, my first impression was that we had purchased two gigantic water leeches.

Laying both spleens out on a plastic sheet, I seasoned them liberally with salt and pepper. Bacon and sage leaves were placed on top.

The pig spleens were tightly rolled up and skewered with toothpicks.

I placed the spleen rolls into an oven safe dish and covered them with chicken stock. I dropped the whole thing into the oven and started cleaning my mandolin so I could get some nice thin onion slices. It was used the night prior for french fries.

The final product sliced into cross sections and plated with the suggested raw red onions and cornichons. On first bite, I was shaken. This was the dish I had be waiting for. While I have tried to enjoy offal in other forms before, it took pig spleen to really open my eyes. The meat was fantastically tender with a delicate, liver-esque flavor enhanced by the smoked bacon and sage; the onions and cornichons pairing perfectly.

Mr. Henderson has himself yet another convert.

One down, one hundred and thirty one to go.

Brined Pork Belly, Roasted

A delicious and cheap cut of pig.

Firstly, I’d like to apologize for not updating last week. A combination of the holidays, family commitments and a little bit of illness killed my chances to sit down and write, but I managed to set aside some time for cooking. I’ve finished two recipes in the past few days, so I’ll update twice this week. The first of the two dishes being Roasted, Brined Pork Belly.

When looking over the recipe, I envisioned a dish similar to the pork belly one could find in a nice dim sum restaurant. After making it, I’m happy to say that my assumption was right on. I only wish I had a little bit of black bean sauce on hand. Sigh.

Mr. Henderson is quite right about the cheapness of the pork belly. My current supplier for offal and other lovely cuts of meat, MT Supermarket, charged a whopping 7 dollars for a 4 pound piece. Considering some thick cut steaks cost that much it’s a great deal. He’s also correct regarding the delicious aspects, but fails to mention how simple it is.

Here’s the pork belly in all it’s piggy glory. The supermarket has been kind enough to remove the hair on every porcine piece prior to butchering.

Mr. Henderson asked for the bones to be left in for this dish. The fat webbing around the ribs took on an interesting color after brining.

The corning brine that is used for most recipes. After reading it so many times, I’ve got it memorized.

The pork belly and a few duck legs sitting in my brining bucket, Bertie. The belly needed to soak for only three days.

Here’s the fat webbing change I mentioned above. I’d be lying if I said I expected the webbing to turn a blue-ish tint.

I scored the rind, covered it with just a dash of olive oil and then sprinkled on a healthy pinch of sea salt. Underneath the belly is a bed of roughly chopped onion. The onion helped flavor the pork just a little bit and kept the meat from touching the pyrex and burning. I dropped the belly into a medium hot oven and let it sit for a little while.

After the allotted time, I pulled the pork belly out of the oven. I checked the internal temperature of the meat and it was done, but the skin on top hadn’t completely crisped up. I would have finished it under the broiler, but this was a perfect chance to use the butane torch my wife got me for Christmas. After a little trial and error I managed to brown the skin to a nice crispy consistency.

Here’s the finished recipe. I cut the meat off the rib bones and then sliced it into manageable pieces. When it was served, my wife immediately commented on skin, calling it “incredible.” I totally agree with her. Mr. Henderson really hit a homerun with this dish. Crispy skin, moist flesh and a delicious rich layer of fat. The short time in the brine gave the belly a nice amount of flavor without turning it too salty.

I’m still working on the artistic aspects of photography.

Here is teaser picture for Friday’s update: Rolled Pig’s Spleen.

One down, one hundred and thirty two to go.