Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Eggplant and Pickled Fennel
- ACTIVE: 1 HR
- TOTAL TIME: 5 HRS
- SERVINGS: 4 first-course servings
Paul Virant swears by a very slow, four-hour method of roasting pork belly to render a lot of the fat and make the meat superbly succulent and tender. Seasoning the pork liberally with a mix of salt, pepper, smoked paprika and herbes de Provence before cooking results in an amazing crust.
- One 1-pound square piece of fresh pork belly, skin removed and top thick layer of fat scored
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
- 1/2 teaspoon each of black peppercorns, yellow mustard seeds, fennel seeds and coriander seeds
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 1/2 pounds)—cored, trimmed and thinly sliced on a mandoline
- 1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, very thinly sliced
- 1 small red chile, very thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon mixed small mint and flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus 2 tablespoons each of chopped mint and parsley
- Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the pork belly fat side up in a shallow baking dish. Season the pork all over with salt, pepper, the smoked paprika and the herbes de Provence. Roast for 1 hour. Reduce the oven temperature to 200° and bake for 3 hours longer, rotating the dish a few times, until the pork is very tender and richly browned. Remove the pork from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and coriander seeds over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder and let cool completely. Grind the seeds very coarsely.
- Return the ground spices to the saucepan. Add the water, vinegar, sugar and salt and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Spread the fennel slices in a large, shallow, heatproof dish in an even layer. Pour the pickling liquid over the fennel and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- In a colander, toss the eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Set a small plate on the eggplant and let stand for 1 hour to release the bitter juices. Pat the eggplant dry.
- In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, about 4 minutes. Add the shallot and chile and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the mint and parsley leaves. In a small bowl, toss the chopped mint and parsley with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil and season with salt.
- Spoon the eggplant onto plates. Using a serrated knife, cut the pork belly into 1/4-inch-thick slices; set the slices next to the eggplant. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pickled fennel to the plates. Garnish with the chopped herbs and serve.
This pork belly is so ultrarich that it needs a red wine with lots of tannins to help clear the palate and make it even easier to reach for another bite. Try a Syrah from Washington state; the cool climate helps create structured, intense wines.