Thursday, May 28, 2009

Caramel Pork Belly - Understanding Unctuous Unctuousness

The only thing more popular than pork belly is using the word "unctuous" to describe it. If you're not familiar with the word, it has several definitions, but in a foodie context it's used to describe something rich, luxurious, and fabulously fatty - think bone marrow, foie gras, and of course, pork belly.

If you're a food writer, and you're doing a review or article about pork belly, you have to use the word unctuous or unctuousness whether you understand what it means or not. Ironically, another meaning for the adjective is, "Characterized by affected, exaggerated, or insincere earnestness."

I wasn't really sure I understood the true essence of unctuousness, but after eating this caramel pork belly I'm
pretty sure I get it now. Each bite was pure pleasure. I'm usually a very fast eater (aka former line cook syndrome), but I tried to eat as slowly as I possibly could. It was just so unctuous.

While I used a very intense Asian-influenced sauce to compliment the rich pork, this same technique could be used for many variations. Once the pork is cooked and crisped-up, I can think of dozens of other sauces that would be stellar.

By the way, if you are concerned about eating that much fat, don't be. The piece of pork belly I used made two fairly modest portions, about 3 1/2-ounces each, once cooked. That's about three tablespoon of fat. That Chicken Caesar salad you had last week because you wanted "something light" had way more fat than that, so relax and enjoy!



If the Vimeo Player isn't working, here is the YouTube version:



10-oz slab of pork belly (Berkshire pork if you can get it)
1 bunch green onions
salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp ginger juice
4 cloves sliced garlic
4 whole dried red chilies (unbroken)
1/2 cup water

Foodie Note: I almost used this recipe from Michael Ruhlman for Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar, which looked and sounded incredible! Maybe next time.

41 comments:

Úlfar said...

My mouth is overflowing with saliva.
This is something I'll have to try.

texichan said...

Mini-spoon strikes back!

Looks absolutely luxurious and... unctuous. I'd love to give this a go, and certainly will if I come across pork belly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef John, I'm a local sous chef working here in SF. I love visiting the site and benefiting from your experience and talent. I've successfully executed many of recipes. Can you tell me where in Japantown I can buy some Berkshire? I simply must have it, thanks.

Susanna said...

This is so close to that famous Chinese dish "Dong Baw Rou" except it would have the pig skin attached. Hey, and I WANT your freakishly small wooden spoon, that's just sooooo cute!

Stewart said...

This recipe looks awesome, but I have one suggestion for not only this video recipe but some others I have seen in the past. It would be nice to see what the inside of the meat looks like, i.e. the juiciness, texture, etc. I think it would make the video even more "sexy" and in this video's case, would possibly show even moreso how unctuous the meat is, going beyond just words. Just an idea. It may not work for all recipes like this, but I would think some would benefit. Thanks.

Chef John said...

I got it at Nijiya Market

Anonymous said...

Ooooh. Pork belly is BACON. Well heck, I'm not afraid of bacon. Not even a little! Bacon gooooood. I am learning so much from you!

Asian Malaysian said...

Wow, that really looks good. The sauce sounds a lot like something my mum would do but I looove the way you slowly roasted the pork and think your teriyaki sauce would be great with it.

CollegeGourmet said...

Yes! The little wooden spoon makes a cameo!
This looks like something I have to try! Mmm pork fat.. My fave. =)

Ngoc Thach said...

Without knowing it i drooled a little when the pork was browning in the pan. It hit me when i felt the drool dripping. I will definitely try this. Maybe i'll serve it on a bed of watercress.

Chef John said...

the spoon is a star

Chef John said...

this is great with any assertive greens

anugrah15 said...

looks sooooooo delicious, chef john!!!....and I totally agree with stewart about showing the inside of the meat after its been cooked...i can almost taste it....and yes, I'm DROOOOOOLING!!!

The_Brain said...

Gosh I just had lunch like 10 minutes ago but I absolutely have to taste this. It's so attractive...

Anonymous said...

Took me awhile but I finally made the pork belly. Was so good. Had it over some rice, it was wonderful.

Kamran Siddiqi said...

Could the veggies be cooked en Papillote?

Chef John said...

sure!

Kelly said...

Looks like a wonderfully decadent dish, but... um, despite the fact that guys like Bourdain use the term "unctuous" to describe food, whenever I hear it, it always reminds me of that line of Inigo Montoya's: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

If you actually look it up, among its several possible meanings there is nary a one that is positive. It means oily, smarmy, insincere, overly suave, slick... Think stereotypical used-care salesman.

It's just one of those words that sounds cool, and people started using it to describe rich, fatty food without really knowing what it meant. A lot like the way some people will say "hoi pollois" when referring to the rich, when it actually means "the common people."

But, I suppose if enough people start using unctuous to describe rich food, eventually it will become an accepted usage. Sigh...

Mike said...

I love pork belly!
Would you please post some more sauce ideas?

Copperjohn said...

I prepared this last night.
It is the best thing that I have ever cooked!!

I had pork belly at Michael Symon's restaurant in CLE on Thursday and this was better!

Tina said...

Hello Chef,

Can you please post how to make the rice with baby bak choy? Do I blanch the bak choy first then add it to the cooked rice? Do I cook white rice the way you do (with butter and salt) for added flavor? Looks like the main dish has tons of it already...

busy busy busy mom

Adrian said...

This is absolutely fab! Soooo tasty! It does take a long time to brown the pork, so leave enough to do it good and proper. THANKS!

Adrian Lucas

Jeffrey said...

I made this once and it was very good. But i did encounter one problem. I gotnthe pork nice and crispy, even without the frakishly small spoon. But when i added the sauce and water, it softened up the pork more than I thought it should. I am going to try it again tonight to see if i can get it crispier this time.

Jimmy said...

I am making this right now! It looks so delicious and reminds me of the famous Chinese comfort food that my grandmother would make, hong shao rou.


Also, I just wanted to say, even though I am just shy of a year too late, in response to Kelly, the word "unctuous" does mean oily, smarmy, etc, but when applied to food or drink, it means rich, savory, etc.

Mich said...

I've made this recipe twice now and it is SO delicious! Thank you for the fabulous and easy recipe!

Anonymous said...

Hello chef-
Great post, but a quick question (which may be for next time, since I'm just about to put my foil-wrapped, green onion-layered foil package into the oven after I finish typing): did you use skin-on, or skin-off pork belly?!?! Mines skin-on, so I'm going with it, but would be helpful for next time if this preparation doesn't work out. Thanks!

Chef John said...

no, no skin on mine. enjoy!

eXtreme said...

I accidentally used 2 pound instead of 10 oz...would the roasting time be different???

Chef John said...

will be fine!

Adam said...

I've made this twice now – incredibly good. Thanks! Maybe you can help with one small issue I'm having. While the more marbled parts of the pork truly are 'unctuous', the meatier parts are coming out tougher and a bit dry. I'm slowly browning each side over the course of about 15 minutes over medium heat to make sure everything is nicely golden, but maybe that is too long? should I do it quicker over higher heat? Or maybe I'm just being unreasonable to expect every bite perfectly tender? As it happens I got my pork at Nijiya market also, so I don't think it has to do with differences in cuts or anything.

Chef John said...

Not sure! I'd have to taste.

Awkward Casanova said...

I made this tonight and my knees were weak with pleasure. It was both a pity and a blessing I had no one to share it with.

Karyn said...

I have never had pork belly before and now that I have seen your video I am definitely going to make it this way... and soon!

Nepenthe said...

My pork belly is in the fridge waiting to be caramelized tonight and I can't wait! The only thing that worries me is that I noticed it has skin on it. Skin can only be good, right?

Chef Dru said...

Chef to Chef- awesome recipe! My girlfriend and I made this for dinner tonight and it's absolutely fantastic. One note: we added some sesame oil when steaming the bok choy to add just that extra hint of flavor. So good! This is definitely a repeat recipe. Thanks Chef John!

Dianna Fielding said...

Hi Chef John,

Is this cut of pork what could also be called "side pork?"

Thanks!

Chef John said...

sorry, never heard that term before.

Greg Schell said...

Side pork was a term that was used for uncured bacon where I grew up. It was sliced like bacon.

CorrosionX said...

Oh wow that was all kinds of awesome. I nearly burned my caramel sauce at 2:45 but it was fine in the end (tasted a little burnt but it's allright)... the texture is out of this world though!

Anything other amazing sauce you'd recommend with pork belly?

CorrosionX said...

Yesterday I did a second pork belly. This time it had skin on it and it was a pain to remove so I just left it there to cook. It was a lot easier to take off after but the top texture didn't look like the first one (obviously) and it also leaked out a lot of gelatin... Any idea what I could do with it? I'll try making pork rinds with the skin.

Signor Tenore said...

"Unctuous" only means what you infer to the uneducated, end of story… You can say "oh that such a wonderful excremental desert" like it's complementary and people who have poor vocabulary will be impressed, but the rest of us will know it means derived from feces. It's like Tyler Florence saying ROOmoulade instead of rémoulade… It just shows the unfortunate ignorance of the person speaking. Why would anyone want use a descriptor for food that offends any portion of the population?