In our last meat CSA we got a huge slab of unsmoked bacon, basically pork belly, and I have to admit I had no idea what we would do with it. Pork belly is one of those foods that I think is really fancy and you must be an incredibly talented CHEF in order to know what to do with it. Also, Pork Bellies are traded on Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which seems strange. Anyway, how often do you really have pork belly laying around? I felt no small amount of pressure to do something amazing. We had previously chopped up a small bit of it to include in a pasta dish (more on that later), but I just felt it wasn't highlighted the way it should be. Elaine mentioned she would like it caramelized Vietnamese style and I had never even heard of such a thing so assumed she must be crazy. Then serendipity entered in and I saw a recipe for caramelized pork belly and shrimp in my May issue of bon appetit magazine. So its confirmed, Elaine is not crazy. Well, not in this case anyway. She is a genius - this was a really great recipe and the perfect way to make the pork belly the star of the show.
Here's what you need:
5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar (recipe called for white, we used rice)
1 jalapeno minced with seeds (recipe called for red, we used green)
1 large garlic clove, minced
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and let stand at room temp for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Elaine says she would like to make a gallon of this a put it on everything.
Pork Belly and Shrimp:
6 teaspoons sugar (I realize now I used 6 tablespoons...oh well, I don't think I would change that in hindsight.)
1 1-pound slab rindless pork belly cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices then crosswise into 5 inch lengths (that's right, it says rindless...I cut the rind off myself. I felt like Dexter - pig flesh is supposedly the closest to human flesh you know....sorry to my veggie friends!!)
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined with tails intact
2 green onions, thinly sliced into strips
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Cooked rice (recipe said white, we had brown)
Sprinkle sugar over the bottom of a heavy skillet, don't use non stick and make sure its big enough to fit all the pork in one layer. Place skillet over medium heat and cook until the sugar melts, don't stir (but go ahead a make some fun faces).
Once it caramelizes into a golden brown color (about 7 minutes), arrange the pork in a single layer. Add 1/2 cup water and cook until the water evaporates turning the pork occasionally about 12 to 14 minutes. Repeat this process 2 more times, adding a half a cup of water each time and cooking until it evaporates. On my last go around, I turned the heat up a bit to really caramelize and crisp up the pork. It got a little darker than the picture in the magazine but since I've realized I also added too much sugar, maybe that explains it. It will look something like this:
Remove the pork from the skillet and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of pepper.
Return the skillet to the heat and add shrimp to the drippings. Saute about 2 minutes until shrimp are golden (they will pickup a lot of the remaining caramelized sugar in the bottom of the pan as well as a ton of flavor). Return the pork to the skillet and toss until shrimp are done just about 1 minute longer. Mound on a platter and sprinkle onions and cilantro on top. Serve over rice and drizzle with sauce, to taste.
This dish was so rich that I only ate a little, but I'm planning to eat my leftovers today and I CAN'T WAIT. The pork was nutty, sweet, salty and delicious and although I've never thought of mixing pork and shrimp before (not really kosher, is it?) it was a great combination. Plus, caramelized? Yes, please - what a great addition to a savory dish, perfectly balancing the saltiness and spiciness of the rest of the plate. I feel like Kevin Gillespie, Master of Pig, only I WILL be the next Top Chef.