I know, I know. Who really slow-braises ANYTHING during the summer right? But, this was a recipe that was always worthy of redemption.
You see, I was on a recipe redemption. I had tried this recipe about two years ago (during the Fall as braises start to become more common obviously) to an epic fail. At the time, I went all throughout our city in Nashville looking for pork belly. I couldn't believe that I couldn't find it anywhere! I mean, Nashville is the south right? Isn't pork belly supposed to be a staple there? I even trekked all the way to Whole Foods and was informed that they do not carry pork belly. Okay, well what about pork cheek? That's supposed to be a good substitute right?
"We do not carry pork cheek as it is inhumane." Said the guy behind the butcher counter.
"Really? How is that possible? Wouldn't it be inhumane to not use ALL of the pig after slaughtering it?" Hmmm... okay. Well a Boston Butt slow braised shouldn't be that bad.
Wrong. Very, very wrong, and this all had to happen at a dinner party I was hosting. Nothing like a full mouthful of pork that tasted like pure Bourbon. We are talking straight up shot of bourbon, not cooked out at all bourbon. Horrible. I was bummed. How could this have happened? Well, I knew the reason. My substitution of something other than pork belly was the reason.
Which led me to this recipe being prepared here in June 2011. This recipe has forever been filed in the back of my mind as a comeback. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when I was at the farmer's market here in Richmond that I remembered this wonderful recipe. I knew it was destined for greatness.
As I'm grazing the vendors, I walked right by a vendor who was selling pork and chicken products of all kinds. Chorizo, eggs (both of which were the star of my recent post Chorizo Potato Hash) sausages, whole chickens, even honey (Holla! Shout out to another beekeeper!) Those are just to name a few. The name of the vendor was Ault's Family Farm and the one thing that stuck out on their menu, the main reason that I stopped was that pork belly. There it was staring right back at me. Pork belly, available. It was as if I was meant to walk by and look over at that very exact moment. I immediately remembered that recipe. I remembered that I had a bottle of Maker's Mark in my liquor cabinet and I remembered that this recipe deserved redemption.
Redemption is what it got. Call it recipe and ingredient perfection. Amazing pork belly, amazing flavor pairings. It made braising something on a hot Richmond day, a day where our air went out in the morning by the way, so worth it.
Let's not forget about these grits either. Creamy perfection and absolute heaven as it helped sop up all the lovely juices from that pork belly. I like to think that maybe there was a reason why I couldn't find that pork belly, it was meant to be that I stumbled upon this couple's family farm as their pork belly was some of the best I could have come across. However, do not be deterred if you don't live anywhere near Richmond to pick some up from Ault's, this dish is so worth it. Enjoy!
Bourbain Braised Pork Belly with Stone Ground Grits & Garlicky Kale
Recipe adapted from The Blackberry Farm Cookbook
For the belly:
2.5 lb. slab of pork belly
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup bourbon
1 cup vegetable broth
For the grits:
2 cups milk
2 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup stone-ground grits
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the kale:
1 bunch kale (any variety) coarsely chopped or sliced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 cloves minced garlic
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1. To make the belly, sprinkle all over with the salt and sugar; place on a rimmed baking sheets, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to one day.
2. When ready to cook the belly, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rinse the belly briefly under cold water to remove the excess salt and sugar and then pat it dry. In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat and cook the belly for 6-8 minutes, turning it once, until browned on both sides.
3. Transfer the belly to a large casserole dish and add the bourbon and stock. Cover with foil and bake for 4-4.5 hours, or until the belly is fork tender. Remove the belly from the cooking liquid and let it sit on a cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
4. About 1 hour before the pork is to be served, make the grits. In a large saucepan, bring the milk, 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon of the salt just to a boil over medium- high heat. Whisking constantly, very slowly whisk the grits into the milk mixture. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the grits until the liquid returns to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the grits from scorching and sticking, should be done in about 45 minutes. However, depending upon what kind of grits you use they may cook in less time. The finished consistency should be that of thick oatmeal. Stir in the butter, pepper and remaining one teaspoon of salt.
5. While the grits are cooking and have about 20 minutes left to go, heat the oil for the kale over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
6. Add the kale and cook, stirring until the kale just begins to wilt. Add the vegetable broth and cover. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until very tender.
7. To serve, place a scoop of warm grits in the center of each plate, and put a serving of the belly on top with the kale on the side.