Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One for Me

Another year has passed and now I find myself facing yet another birthday Wednesday. This year I decided to create a special for me, though I'm sure that you guys will like it too!!

I have been mulling over the idea of offering a pork belly entree as a special for a long time, but with the popularity of my medium-sized pork belly plate that adorns both brunch and dinner menus I had to make sure that it was pretty damn good to compete with that dish. So I took my time developing it - making sure that each component was in harmony with the other. Finally, when I felt that it was right I realized that I was just in time to debut this beauty during my own birthday week.

Normally, as is the case with the pork belly dish on the menu, I like to just use quality ingredients without too much fuss and allow them to shine, but here I used the same belly from Carlton Farms but instead of adding just enough water to keep the meat moist until it releases it's own juices and slowly cooks in them, I had to inject as much flavor into the belly to make it stand apart so I drowned two slabs in apple cider along with herbs and aromatics and slowly stewed them in the oven for over four hours until perfectly cooked and infused with the apple. I pressed the two bellies under weights while still hot and allowed them to cool in the fridge that way so that they would have an even thickness from end to end and be firm when heated, not wobbly.

I clarified the resulting liquid that's full of apple and pork flavor like a consomme' with a process called a "raft" which consisted of finely chopped onions and carrots, bay leaves, egg whites and their crushed shells. Once the liquid is boiling I float the vegetable and egg mixture on top and allow it to simmer for an hour which collects all of the impurities in the broth, leaving it crystal clear.

To balance that subtle sweetness left from the apple cider I chose to finely chop some local mustard greens that have a lot of body and some bitterness to them; one of my favorite greens for exactly that reason. I saute them in a little butter, onions and garlic just until wilted.

As accompaniments I first cooked cut pieces of carrots in chicken stock that I had simmered with a ton of fresh ginger and thyme so that it would infuse the flavor into the carrot. Then I added a taste of summer by dropping in several fresh red and black currants for their tartness and texture. I finished the dish with a spoonful of yellow and black mustard seeds that I reconstituted in hot apple cider which added a lot more to the dish than just aesthetics. How much?? Come and see for yourself!!

For some reason, whenever I think of my birthday I think of when I was young. It's probably because when you're a kid there's something so special, so magical about that day. It's like the world is about to stop just for you.

When I was a kid, we had a cherry tree on the side of our house that I always considered was mine. I guess that it was because it always gave fruit right around my birthday. Back then, cherry was my favorite flavor of candy (now it's apple...) and I would pick cherries by the bucketful and eat myself sick.

So to bring together that taste of young with a taste of something a little bit mature I made a cherry sangria by soaking freshly pitted cherries in brandy, pure cherry juice and just enough simple syrup to draw out some of the flavor from the fresh fruit. Finished with cold Burgundy wine it had the perfect balance of fruit, wine and punch!!!

With Love,


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