Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The first annual pork belly-off, part four: me!

For my pork belly entry, I wanted to try something truly seasonal. I've been craving watermelon, but it just never seems practical to buy a whole one just for myself, and I try my best not to buy anything that's been chopped or prepped ahead of time, when it can be helped.

So, I made Nick carry one to the car for me at the market, and we were off and running.

A couple of years ago, I went to Degustation (a nifty restaurant in the East Village with only 12 seats) and had a delicious little egg dish topped with pickled jalapeño. Ever since then, I've been looking for the perfect way to showcase the slices of tart, tangy, hot deliciousness in a dish of my own, and pork belly with watermelon salad seemed the perfect candidate.

I rubbed my slice of belly on all sides with salt and pepper and braised it for about an hour in chicken stock. Meanwhile, I mixed up a salad of cubed watermelon, lime juice, and some torn mint and basil. I put that to marinate in the fridge and set to work pickling the jalapeños.

Finally, when everything had swum in its respective juices long enough, I seared the pork belly, topped it with a few slices of pepper, and put it on the plate and surrounded it with some chopped cucumber. I strained the liquid out of the watermelon salad, tossed it with some fresh, finely chopped mint and basil, and piled it onto the belly.

Pickling is pretty basic - you blanch the veggies (a step I actually forgot about last week, which resulted in washed-out peppers) to help keep the color and prep them to absorb the pickling liquid. Then you cook up a quick formula (some combo of water, vinegar, sugar and spices) and poor it over the veggies. Canning is a whole other art; however, even without true canning, these pickles should keep in the fridge for at least a month, if not longer.


Pickled Jalapeños

1/2 to 1 lb. jalapeño peppers
1 c. water
1 c. white vinegar
1 c. sugar
1 tbs. salt
1/4 c. assorted peppercorns (white, black, pink, green - whatever!)
1/8 c. coriander seeds
1 tbs. mustard seeds
1 bay leaf

Set a medium saucepan of water to boil and fill a medium bowl with water and ice. In the meantime, slice the jalapeños cross-wise into 1/8 to 1/4 inch rounds, discarding the stems. Blanch the peppers in the boiling water for about a minute, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water to cool. Once cool, use the slotted spoon to transfer them to a clean, 1 liter Mason jar.

Rinse the saucepan (watch out - the steam is full of jalapeño oil and can sting your eyes) and return to the stovetop. Add the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring till the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear.

Add the remaining ingredients to the vinegar mix and stir for about a minute. Turn the heat off and ladle the liquid and spices into the mason jar, covering the jalapeños. Allow to cool on the counter for about an hour before sealing and storing in the fridge.

The jalapenos are great with pork belly and watermelon salad, but also on sandwiches or homemade pizza, in guacamole, or as a tiny, tart, spicy snack!

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