I was walking throughout the dining room last weekend and saw a nice looking African American couple sitting at one of the high tops in the bar (I only mention race as it comes up in the story later). As I talked with them the woman mentioned that she had been considering the pork belly but was not sure. I gave her a description and she mentioned that belly had been long used in the African American community (see I told you it would come up). I knew that this was the case and talked a bit with her about the way in which belly had been used in her family as opposed to how we were using it.
She had always seen it as a flavoring or fat adding component, think greens or beans. We are using the belly more as a stand alone main component in an appetizer. I offered to bring them one on the house and they were game. After it went out I checked back and they had really enjoyed it and were pretty happy. (I would like to throw in that their server, who shall remain nameless had actually dissuaded them from getting the belly. He is not a fan of the texture. As I was having coffee at Cup 'o Joe in German Village The unnamed server accosted me in an ernest attempt to "clear the air" . He was concerned that some how I had known he was dissuading folks from ordering the belly. Of course I had no idea of this until he told me. This reminds me of two lessons. First always follow your own interests when ordering and do not let someone else's bias move you off that. Servers can be great guides through the restaurant, but they arrive at the table with goals and biases. Also sometimes it is better not to clear the air as you may be the only one walking around with a cloudy view.)
So Pineapple Glazed Pork Belly with Pineapple Gastrique and Red Pepper Syrup is not something that we sell all that much of. On Saturday Eugenio told me he had six orders and asked if I would cut him a few more. I replied in all my wisdom, that we would not sell more then that. He was unconvinced and offered to bet that we would be selling more and did I want to put Ten Bucks on it. Now it was his first night on the station and I expedite more than anyone else in the place. So I see every plate go by and I am positive that there is no way we are going to sell that many Bellies. Oh Chef hubris is thy name. So we shake on it and and by 9:00 we have sold the 6 we had and there is debate as to if the bet was that we would sell 6 or 7. My feeling was that I am not really OUT until I need to cut more. The debate was immaterial since we sold 11 that night.
On Sunday I paid my debt. Happily. When i was a young Line cook at the Montgomery Inn at The Boathouse my Sous Chef, who was named Hollywood and I bet a hat on the Ohio State-Michigan Game. Well the Bucks pulled it out but Hollywood never paid up. I have never forgotten that. When you are the boss it is vital that the line be able to trust your word.
So anyway this whole thing is an intro to how we make belly at Milestone.
This is Polo. He does most of the Prep in the morning at Milestone. He is a great man very dependable and he makes really good tasting food. Polo came over from CBC. He has been with CBC for eight years I think. That is the kind of longevity you rarely see in our industry. I am ashamed to even think of the number of kitchens I have worked in over the past eight years. When I was his age, I was changing every year.
Anyway, when Polo comes in he seasons the bellies and sets them aside for an hour or two depending on what he has going into the oven.
Pork Bellies come into us from the Folks at Michael's Finer Meats and Seafood. Jerry Miller to be exact.
Think of this as fresh bacon if you will. To turn this into bacon you brine or dry rub the bacon. I prefer a dry rub. Then you smoke it. We are not per se "curing" the bellies, but rather just seasoning them. Bacon like many great things was, I imagine originally developed as a preservation method. Then we, as humans are want to do, made it taste good and kept tinkering with it until today.
We rub the Bellies simply with kosher salt and brown sugar. This whole thing is I should say, what I call a "Modified Momofuku" method. If you want to read a really good, simple discussion of how to prep belly along with a great restaurant story, get The Momofuku Cookbook by David Chang. So after we season it and let it sit at least an hour, and don't tell the folks from the health department but i really want to leave this out at room temp while it is seasoning, we are ready to get cooking.
So at this point I think lots of folks would rinse off or at least brush off the bellies and discard the liquid that has accumulated. I know Mr. Chang wants me too. I am tossing them in the oven.
Those are my sweet ass Blodgett convection ovens that we cook almost everything in. Some folks get excited about Sous Vide or emersion circulators (yes I am looking at you Chef Aaron) but we are really happy to have been granted the great fortune to have received these two ovens in the build-out.
The bellies cook at 220 for about five hours. When they come out they are tender to the touch, the pan is filled with fat and Pork Love Juice.
What is Pork Love Juice? Well I am glad you asked. See that bowl of jello down there.
Well this along with the fat are byproducts of cooking Bellies. You will also get both these things from roasting shoulders. The flavor is intensely sweet, salty and porky. In and of itself, I am not sure you will want to eat it. I am happy to taste the Pork Love but we really use it as a magical additive to soups, sauces and all things porky. When we pull the pork for the Three Little Pigs this juice along with a bit of fat and some Wickers (just to keep Dougy happy) goes into the shredded pork before it is portioned for the sandwiches.
After the roasting the pork is pressed and cooled. The pressing is important because the fat wants to expand when you are roasting and it comes across better when it is tight and compact. We cut it into cubes, trying to use the meatiest parts for the app and saving the fattiest parts for the sandwich.
The pineapple is expressed as both the gastrique (very simply a reduction of vinegar, but here is complicated into a reduction of pineapple juice, rice wine vinegar and a touch of honey), and also as a chutney (pineapple, garlic, onion, ginger, red and jalapeño peppers, rice wine vin and cilantro). The RPS is there for a bright splash of color and that is it all in all pretty darn simple.
Thank you Columbus. Love, Christian