What I love about this dish is that though it’s a very slow cook, you can pretty much walk away from it for most of the time. Better still, I made this the day before and did the final 1/2 hour crisping the next day before a dinner party, to use as a starter. And that part was truly easy.. just put the braised, tender pork belly and veggies on a baking sheet with some tinfoil, pop in the oven for 20 minutes or so til crispy and browned, cut the veg and pork into bite sized pieces put on a pretty serving dish et voila, starter is served!
The richness also led to the citrus aspect, the fresh-squeezed tangerine juice. And that in turn inspired the crushed coriander seed, which has its own lemony note. The tangerines I have coming out of my ears this year, so I had also made some marmalade of them with Serrano peppers, & I actually added a bit of that too. And the coriander was collected from by cilantro plants that had gone to seed - so much more aromatic.
I think you could use almost any root vegetables in this dish. I like the sweetness of beets, the celery flavor that celeriac imparts while still holding up to a braise, and fennel root for the perfumed flavor that complements everything. The one thing I stayed away from was potatoes, because the pork belly is so utterly decadently rich that I wanted something in the braise that lightened things up a bit. But I could see some potatoes on the side, either as a light mash, or boiled with a little butter, salt and chives.
Serves up to four as a main course, or six as a starter
Ingredients & Recipe
2lb piece of boneless pork belly, whole
2 large golden beets, peeled & cut into about 8 wedges
1 largish celariac (celery root), peeled & cut into about 8 wedges
1 head fennel with stalks & leaves. Strip away the most exterior covering on the fennel root & cut into about 8 wedges; stems, chop fine, along with the ferny leaves
1 cup of red pearl onions, peeled and whole
2 cups of fresh squeezed tangerine juice with the bits or a combination of juice and tangerine marmalade, if you like
2 bottles of beer, something rich but not too bitter - I used a decent Weiss beer, but a spicy darker beer would work well too
Water as needed
Sea salt & ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of crushed coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of oil for cooking
1/2 cup chives, chopped fairly fine for garnish
-Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
-With a sharp knife, score the fat on top of the pork belly with diagonal cuts in two directions about 1/2” apart to form a crosshatch or diamond pattern. Cut all the way down through the fat, stopping at the meat. This is easy with a sharp knife and has the added benefit of making you feel very chef-y 😉
-Liberally salt and pepper the pork, getting into those grooves as much as you can
-Heat up an braising pan with a lid big enough for the whole piece of meat ( I used a 5 qt Le Creuset braiser) & add just a splash of oil to pan. Brown the pork, fat side down, until nicely colored, then do the same with the other sides
-While the pork is browning, prepare the vegetables as above
-Remove the nicely caramelized pork from the pan and drain off almost all of the excess fat, leaving a couple of tablespoons. Um, I saved the fat to brown some rabbit in because rabbit and that bacony flavored fat = goodness!
-The coriander, the red pearl onions and the chopped fennel stems/leaves go into the pan to get sautéed for a little color
-The pork then goes back into the pan fat side up, along with the beer, tangerine juice and enough water to bring the liquid level up to the pork fat. I also added about half of the celeriac at this point to cook in the braise for flavor
-Once this mixture is at a simmer, cover the pan with lid and put into the oven. Braise for approximately 2.5 hours, then adjust as needed for salt & add the remainder of the veggies to the pan - beets, celeriac and fennel. Braise for another 1 to 1.5 hours, until the pork is tender and fork soft
At this point you can go one of two ways:
1. Remove the pork and vegetables from the pan and reduce the braising liquid on the stovetop until it creates a rich sauce, skimming the fat. Put the pork, fat side up, and the veggies on a baking sheet lined with foil then place into a hot oven, 400-450 degrees, for 20-30 minutes until the fat is crispy and the vegetables are nicely browned and getting crispy. Then add everything back into the pan with the reduced braising liquid. Sprinkle with lots of chopped chives and you can serve from the pan with whatever sides you like, maybe some crusty bread to soak up the braise sauce.
2. Remove the pork and about half of the veggies from the pan and reserve the liquid with remainder of the veggies for an amazing soup (recipe to follow!) and then place the pork, fat side up,the beets, fennel & celeriac on a baking sheet lined with some foil. Place into a hot oven, 400-450 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the fat is crispy and the vegetables are nicely browned and getting crispy. Remove from oven, cut everything into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with lots of chopped chives & plate on a pretty serving dish. This method works well for a starter.
Normally, with this kind of dish, you might crisp up the meat at the end separately and reduce the braise then re-combine the meat and the sauce. Because I wanted to do this as a starter, I crisped the pork and some of the vegetables together without the braising liquid, which I reserved along with some of the veggies for a delicious soup. A good way to get two meals from basically one prep...but that’s another post!