Monday, September 20, 2010

Alvin's invention test recipe - Caramelised pork belly with chilli vinegar and saffron rice

I gave up eating pork in my early 20s. 'Why?" I ask myself now. It has become one of my favourite meats. When properly cooked it is moist, succulent and full of flavour. I absolutely love it! I find pork chops a great quick, weekday meal and really enjoy a rolled roast pork cooked on the BBQ. I particularly like Black Berkshire pork, also known as Kurobota, which produces a very rich and sweet meat due to it's higher fat content. I first tried this in Japan a few years ago, and it is becoming increasingly available here.

Now onto pork belly, which is seen more frequently on restaurant menus. More often than not it is the other half's dish of choice if it's available when we eat out. Having never cooked it before I was inspired by to give it a try by Alvin's invention test recipe on MasterChef - Caramelised pork belly with chilli vinegar and saffron rice

This is the second time I've made this recipe and I have mixed feelings about it. Firstly, let's talk about the MasterChef effect and gouging. I'll start by stating that I think MasterChef is great for getting people to try new dishes and cook with ingredients that aren't normally on their radar. My favourite local butcher shop shows episodes of the show and seem to watch it when it's on. I can go into the shop the with a vague recollection of a cut of meat cooked with the previous night and they will know what it is.

When I first made this recipe it was at the height of the MasterChef frenzy. I paid $20 a kilogram for unboned pork belly at a butchers I don't normally shop at. The second time I bought the boned pork belly at Coles and paid $12.50 a kilogram. Today I went into my local butcher and they had Otway organic pork belly for $10.99 a kilogram. Yep, I was gouged that first time.

Secondly it takes a long time. It takes me over 3 hours by the time I've prepped everything, cooked and assembled the dish.

Thirdly, it makes a bit of a mess, a lot actually, particularly when you fry the pork cubes in the peanut oil - watch out! The oil splatters everywhere when the pork is added. It's a war-zone. And I'm not that convinced that this step should be included at all. How does it add value to the dish, except for calorific value? The pork to me is perfectly delicious just after it has been braised, at the end of step one. Why fry it? I'm interested to know the reason for this. If anyone knows drop me a line.

Perfectly cooked at the end of a good braising - just right for a Cuban sandwich

In the episode when Alvin made this recipe, Gary Mehigan picked up the dish and pretended to steal it away from the other judges. I'm not sure why. The end result was tasty but it didn't have the 'wow' factor for me. Not enough to make it again. I will keep searching for and trying out pork belly recipes. Even though I don't think I will make this recipe again, it has given me the the confidence to cook with this cut of meat. And that is a plus.

The braising has given me an idea though for preparing a rolled piece of pork for barbecuing, by braising it in the stock first and then using the caramel sauce for as a marinade to be brushed on as it's being cooked.

If you make this recipe and can't find all the ingredients, here a couple of possible substitutes:

shaoxing wine - sherry
karamel masakan - dark corn syrup
black sesame seeds - toasted sesame seeds

Any pork belly recipes welcome!

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