My mom is visiting right now.Cooking for my family is tricky—it all depends on who is visiting.If it is just Mom, too spicy is out but braised and rich is in.If Dad is with her, strike those and make it kind of plainer and hearty.If it is just Dad then spicier is in but in a healthier way. (I don’t know why this should be, but they are each more adventurous without the other.) If Josie is visiting—well forget about predicting.Although my sister and I have a lot of our culinary tastes in common, she is really moody about food and doesn’t like smelling anything cooking before it is served to her.If my brothers are visiting, scratch everything Asian—not that they insist, but I know it isn’t their thing.The moral of the story is that as much as I love having my family to visit, I like cooking for them individually more than all together.
So Mom is visiting and I have been wanting to try something out of Daniel Boulud’s Braise, which I purchased with Christmas gift money.It seemed like a good time because she was without Dad, she enjoys fattier cuts of meat, and as long as I kept it on the mild side, I was pretty sure she would be ok with something more exotic.Boulud’s book is distinguished from other braising books by its international approach, so all of the recipes are at least a little exotic.
When I saw the Oaxacan Braised Pork Belly it looked perfect, especially since Mom and I love pork with fruit, and I have been on the lookout for something savory with apples and cinnamon for Ma che ti sei mangiato…’s An Apple A Day Blog Event.I must apologize to the hostess however, as the event is meant to celebrate stroke prevention, and I am afraid this recipe does anything but.But it does have apples, cinnamon and tomatoes, 3 of the required ingredients!
I have never made pork belly before.I am glad I did since I learned something, but honestly I think this recipe would be ok with shoulder or any other good pork braising cuts.I would not go too lean, but I am not sure the extra fat in pork belly did a lot for me.However, since a lot of the fat and gelatin melted into the sauce, which was excellent, maybe I am wrong.But given the health implications, I would certainly be willing to try a less fatty cut—and maybe add a pig’s foot for the gelatin.
This dish, like many other braised, one-pot dishes, did not make for good pictures.Plus I was distracted with my mom visiting.So I apologize for the pictures, which are not the prettiest.I served it with fried plantains (in for a penny, in for a pound), garden salad and corn tortillas.It turned out a little spicier than I intended (unpredictable variation in dried peppers), but my mom liked it enough to eat it despite this fact, so I know she liked it!
One other note on this recipe: I think that chefs do not include enough veggies (and fruit) with braised meat—that the dishes are too meat heavy.Well I added a lot more fruit than this recipe called for, but then I decided the 6 lbs of meat was too big, even for my 7 qt Le Creuet French oven, so I cut the meat in half—which of course meant that I ended up with too much fruit and sauce.If I were to make this again, I will cut the meat in half and leave the sauce as called for, with maybe a little more pineapple.The recipe below is my adaptation of how I would make it next time.However, don’t be surprised if in the upcoming week you see a chilaquiles with Oaxacan braised fruit and scramble eggs dish from me!I am determined to not waste the scrumptious sauce.
Oaxacan Braised Pork Belly with Apples, Pineapple & Cinnamon
Adapted from Braise, Daniel Boulud
5 ancho chile peppers
6 guajillo chile peppers (I could not find so I subbed New Mexico chiles)
6-8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
8 large tomatoes or 1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes, depending on season
3 small pineapples or 2 small pineapples and one can of pineapple rings or 1 large pineapple and 1 can of pineapple rings (I did the middle option), roughly cut into chunks
2 t dried Mexican oregano
3 bay leaves
1 2 inch stick of Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon, also goes by name Canela)
1 cup water
1 3-4 lbs piece of fresh pork belly, bone-in if possible (I was unable to get bone-in)
salt to taste
3 ripe plantains sliced into 1 inch slices
2 large onions, peeled and sliced into wedges
3 small or 2 large tart apples (Granny Smith, for example), cut into 8 wedges each
The day before you serve the dish, cover the dried peppers with boiling water and let sit at least 20 minutes.Drain well and place in a large blender.Add the water, cider, garlic, tomatoes, ⅔ of the pineapple chunks (reserve one small pineapple worth to add later), the oregano, the bay leaves and the cinnamon to the blender.Blend until smooth.Boulud would push the sauce through a sieve, as would many other trained chefs.I used to do this until I realized I never push Thai curry pastes through sieves and they come out just fine.I like my food rustic and some bits of dried pepper skin do not bother me—if they do you, then by all means push the sauce through a sieve.
Rinse and dry the pork belly.Score the top of the meat into a one inch diamond pattern.Season it with salt.Place it in a large dutch oven and cover it with the sauce.Place a lid on the pot and refrigerate it overnight.
The next day, remove the pork belly from the pot, gently shaking it off and setting it in a bowl.Add everything else to the pot except the onions and stir it all into the marinade.Place the pork belly over the marinating fruit.Cover the meat with the onion wedges.Cover tightly with a heavy lid and braise in a pre heated oven at 275 F for 5 hours.
After the 5 hours, raise the heat to 300 F and remove the lid.Make sure all of the fruit remains submerged as it may burn (according to Boulud).Let it braise an additional 1-2 hours uncovered in the 300 F oven.
One note about method—I changed or simplified a lot of Boulud’s method; it is my personal opinion that braising is extremely flexible and forgiving; it is one of the reasons I like cooking meat this way (that and the absolutely falling apart texture).If you have a method for braising that you like better chances are it may work for this recipe.As long as it the heat is very low and you leave it alone for a long time, it will all melt into itself no matter how it is arranged in the pot.
Served with warmed corn tortillas for wrapping.I also found it delicious with crumbled queso fresco the next day.