What's For Dinner: Pork Belly Roast

 As I mentioned last week, pork is going to be on the menu a bit more often in the coming months. Why, you might ask? Meet the newest additions to Orange Dog Farm.

We're no longer just chicken farmers, as we recently added three pigs to our little farm. Our pigs are Tamworths — a heritage breed that originated in central England. Tamworth pigs first arrived in North America in 1882. They are a hardy breed that are meant to forage in the great outdoors. They are highly sought after for their great-tasting, lean meat. Oh, and they are also super-cute. (Uh-oh.)

A couple of months ago, D took a whole-hog breakdown (butchering) class at Underground Meats in Madison, Wisconsin as a way to educate himself about pork cuts, sausage making, and dry-curing. Since we will be selling our pork (I think we only have one half unaccounted for at this point), we wanted to be able to talk knowledgeably with our customers about the whole process. (Due to USDA requirements, in order to sell the meat, our hogs will be processed at a USDA-inspected butchering facility.) Long story short, in addition to gaining plenty of knowledge about primal and sub-primal cuts of meat, D also came home with a coolerful of pork.

First up? Pork belly, a cut of meat that's becoming rather popular in the farm-to-table restaurant world. This was the first time I've ever cooked pork belly, and I think it turned out quite well. The cracklings, seasoned with peppercorns and fennel, were particularly tasty and made for an excellent addition to a quiche I made later in the week. Though I served the pork belly roast with gravy, it is also quite delicious with a little bit of your favorite barbecue sauce. (You can't go wrong with pulled pork sandwiches made from any leftovers.)

Pork Belly Roast (printer-friendly version)
makes 4-6 servings

2-3 pound boneless pork belly, skin on
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons Maldon flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped into 2-inch segments
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch segments
4-5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup white wine 

For the gravy:
2 cups white wine
1-2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2-3 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
2. In a dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds and whole peppercorns over medium high heat until fragrant, about one minutes. Place them into a mortar and pestle along with the salt and thyme leaves and grind until the fennel seeds and whole peppercorns are smashed. 
3. Use a sharp knife to score the skin down to, but not into, the meat in segments about 1-centimeter apart.
4. Drizzle about half of the olive oil over top the scored skin of the pork belly. Use your fingers to work half of the fennel seed mixture into the skin, taking special care to get it into the skin and down to the meat. Repeat on the bottom side of the meat.
5. Place the chopped carrots, chopped celery, and smashed garlic cloves into the bottom of a Dutch oven or roasting pan. Place the prepped pork belly on top of the vegetables, skin side up. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the skin is golden and bubbly. Then reduce the heat to 350 and continue cooking for 90 minutes.
6. After a 1.5 hours has passed, pour 1 cup of the white wine into the roasting pan and cook for an additional hour.
7. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven to check to see if the meat easily falls apart. If so, remove the meat and place it on a wooden cutting board to rest. If not, continue cooking until the meat is tender.
8. Place the roasting pan on the stove top over medium heat and stir in 2-3 tablespoons of flour. Continue stirring until the gravy has thickened. Stir in 2 cups of white wine. If the gravy is thicker than you like, stir in 1-2 cups of vegetable broth. Use a potato masher to mash the vegetables into the gravy. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes over low heat, then pass the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve to strain. Remove the crackling from the pork belly, then pull apart the meat and serve with the warm gravy.

(adapted from this Jamie Oliver recipe)