I am cooking for 21 for our Thanksgiving gathering on Thursday. Our friends are all bringing appetizers, side dishes and desserts but the main meal is on me. You’d think making six dishes for that many people would be enough hassle but when I found myself in the meat section at Costco staring at a 6 lb pack of sliced pork bellies, I couldn’t help myself. I had this vision of a vast amount of diced pork belly in a spicy-sweet-tangy sauce under a liter or so of rendered pork fat; and the responsible thing to do was to eat it along with 20 other people so none of us would die. That’s the kind of person I am: responsible.
I am, as I’ve said before, doing an Indianized Thanksgiving this year and so this will fit fine with the rest of the meal. Now pork may or may not be traditional at Thanksgiving but, believe me, no one is going to complain about having a more interesting meat than turkey on the table (even though I am giving the turkey a Kerala-style treatment, turkey is still turkey).
This is made in a vaguely Goan way, which is to say it incorporates a lot of vinegar and is roughly in the vindaloo family. It’s very easy to make: dicing the pork belly is the hardest part and it’s not that hard (especially if, unlike me, you’re not cooking 6 lbs of pork belly). You dice the pork belly, you grind some spices and make a thick slurry with vinegar, you coat the diced pork belly with said slurry, you slice and brown some onions, you dump the marinated pork into the pot, stir and let cook slowly for 3-4 hours. That’s it; more or less. And if you don’t want to eat so much pork belly, you can mix it up with some diced pork shoulder, or just use only pork shoulder.
Oh, actually, the hardest part is not the dicing of the pork belly, it’s not eating this right away: you have to let it sit for at least one day, ideally three in the fridge so that it “pickles” a bit.
- Pork belly, diced, about 6 lbs
- Red onion, sliced, about 1.5 cups
- Ginger, grated, about 2 tblspns worth
- Garlic, grated, about 1.5 tblspns worth
- The following ground to a coarse powder: 2 tblspns cumin seeds, 1 tblspn coriander seeds, 1 tblspn black peppercorns, 1 tblspn Sichuan peppercorns, 2-3 large pieces of cinnamon/cassia bark
- Turmeric powder, 1 tblspn
- Hot chilli powder, 4 tblspns
- Dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup
- Apple cider vinegar, 1 cup
- Thai chillies, slit, 6-8
- Cilantro for garnish (optional)
- Salt to taste
- 1 tblspn vegetable oil
- Put all the ground spices and salt into a large glass bowl with the grated ginger and garlic and pour the vinegar on top. Add the brown sugar and stir into a thick slurry.
- Dump the diced belly into the bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands to make sure the meat is coated well with the marinade.
- Set aside for at least 1 hour; if marinating longer, stick the bowl in the fridge.
- In a large Dutch oven or similar (cast iron is best) heat the oil and brown the onions over medium heat.
- Dump in the marinated pork, making sure to get all the marinade with it.
- Raise the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered for 15 minutes or so, stirring deeply every 5 minutes or so.
- Then lower the heat to medium-low, cover and forget about it for a few hours.
- Check at the two hour mark and if the pork has given up a lot of water, uncover the pot slightly so that it evaporates.
- When the pork is almost falling apart, dump the sliced green chillies over, cover and cook for another half an hour.
- Take off heat, let it cool and then exercise restraint for at least one day. Prior to serving, reheat the whole thing slowly over medium-low heat. You can at this point garnish with some chopped cilantro.
- With a good, sharp knife dicing 6 lbs of pork bellies is no problem at all. That is if the belly has been sliced into thick strips to begin with it. You want to cut it straight out of the fridge so that the slices are a little hard: line two or three of them up together and cut ’em into cubes together.
- You don’t want the final result to be blistering hot but you do want it to be hot, sour and sweet together; if there’s one of the three that should be more assertive it should be the sour, but you don’t want it to be too sour (or sweet) either. So if you want to knock the heat back a bit (and keep in mind that it’ll mellow as it cures/pickles) adjust the other two as well. You should feel the heat sneak up on you cumulatively as you eat it, and not as a front of the mouth assault.
- You can scale the recipe down if you like but, frankly, it’s easier to make it in bulk (especially with super-sized costco packages), divide it into three portions and freeze two for lazy weeks. Defrost in the fridge and reheat slowly, stirring as you go.
- If you follow my cooking recipes you may have noticed that this is not a million miles away from another pork recipe I’d posted earlier this year: this one leaves out cloves, ups the vinegar and sugar considerably and cooks much longer. And is much fattier.
- A really responsible person would probably spoon off most of the excess fat before serving it to their guests.
- This is best with steamed rice but would be good with parathas as well.