This dish represents a pretty great amalgamation of Things I Love: modernist cooking and pork bbq.
The obligatory explanation: Pork belly, cured for 2 days in a salt/chipotle cure, is cooked sous vide and seared. It’s topped first with spheres of pickled carrots, cucumber and red capsicum, then is encased in a brittle, thin, “bbq candy” shell. It’s served atop a bed of mascarpone cheese polenta, and garnished with fresh marjoram. The pork belly is fall-apart tender, which you discover after cracking through the exterior BBQ; it’s like eating a giant, warmed BBQ M+M or something. It’s a little bit amazing.
Finding pork belly isn’t as trivial as rolling into Safeway and snagging some off the shelf. My beloved Berkeley Bowl didn’t carry it, nor did Whole Foods. After a bit of calling around, I found it at a butcher up on College Ave called Ver Brugge, as well as at the Market Hall butchery. I only needed a small bit of it. When I went to Ver Brugge, they told me their bellies were frozen. It was cheaper, but I didn’t know if the freezing bit suggested that it wasn’t all-the-way fresh, or if that even mattered. So I bought a bit, then went down to Market Hall and bought another bit there, which was fresh from the day before. It cost nearly twice as much, but I wanted to see if the pre-freezing meant a flavor/texture difference.
Normally I’d go into the usual detail here about how the experience of making this was. This time, though, Sarah and I prepared something a little different. Sarah’s been on a jag for months to shoot a video, so I borrowed a small Canon T2i from a friend at work that’s capable of shooting HD video. For a weekend, I cooked and Sarah filmed, neither of us knowing much of what we were doing. She’s done all the editing and grading. Here’s how it turned out:
In the end, the meat difference was negligible. The length of cooking time and the fat content meant there wasn’t a big difference at all. One thing I noticed was that the Ver Brugge (frozen) meat had some odd dark bruises in the finished product. I don’t know what this indicated, though it was a little offputting. The Market Hall meat, though more expensive, was flawless.