Three cooks, one afternoon, a half pound of pork belly - what could go possibly be bad about that?
Nothing, as it turns out.
I'm spending the week in Ohio, visiting my friends Nick and Louisa, and just generally enjoying driving in a car that isn't a cab, playing with their (adorable) dog, and sleeping till 8:30 every single morning (late enough to fee luxurious, early enough not to feel lazy). When I got off the plane on Saturday afternoon, they promptly informed me that we would be making at least one stop before heading home - Cleveland's West Side market, where we would be buying provisions for the week.
The West Side market is great - huge, full of good (if not always local or seasonal) produce, and the inside is a sea of butchers, fishmongers, bakeries and prepared foods vendors. You can find whole lambs, whole goats, liver, chicken, Cornish pasties, hummus - you name it.
Louisa mentioned that we should be on the lookout for pork belly, since a recipe for it figures heavily into the novel she's working on right now (She's a romance novelist - cool, right?). When we did find the pork belly, we suddenly thought, hey - why not really go to town? It was decided that each of us would get a portion of pork belly to experiment with, plus an additional piece for Louisa to play with for the book-related dish. We each had totally different takes on the belly, and when we got home, we got down to business.
First up, Nick's version.
When he was growing up in California, Nick's mom would make a breaded pork chop dish that he just loved, loved, loved. Couldn't get enough. And he still loves a breaded chop - wiener schnitzel, veal milanese, you name it. So Nick decided to do a riff on a traditional milanese.
He braised the pork belly in chicken stock for an hour and a half, then seared it on sides. Served alongside was a tomato and arugula Napoleon. He sliced the tomato, sprinkled it with a bit of salt, some sugar, topped each slice with a pat of butter and lightly broiled them. Next, he brushed them with some reduced balsamic and stacked them, alternating tomato slices with leaves of baby arugula. The topmost tomato slice was sprinkled with bread crumbs and broiled once more to make it nice and brown and crispy. (Get it? The bread crumbs replaced the breading typically found on the veal!)
Finally, to incorporate the traditional lemony dressing, he made a lemon compote with some toasted cracked black peppercorns stirred in.
It was a gorgeous dish - beautifully presented, and really very tasty. We decided the bread crumbs could use a bit more binding, and that the lemon compote (which was super-tart and VERY lemony) could be used more sparingly. But, for a first outing, a phenomenal job.
Next up, Louisa's candied, boozy take on pork belly.