I had pork belly for the first time in Las Vegas. We were walking to our destination Nobu, the infamous Japanese restaurant inside the Hard Rock Hotel with a waiting list a mile long. We had been chomping, no pun intended, to feast in this trendy hot spot for months. Finally, the day arrived.
We entered the restaurant and it was buzzing with foodies from around the globe. Sake of any kind flowing by the bottle, wagyu beef sold by the ounce, exotic sushi items filled the tables, and we drooled with envy and excitement. This was going to be a complete gastronomic experience like never before.
Sitting down in the cozy booth, the waitress came by with a complimentary piece of sashimi from the chef and a glass of premium sake. I knew I was staying for the night, probably spending it. Might want to warn the service team.
The menu experience was like studying a fine artist. It was filled with gorgeous dishes with complex flavor profiles and cooking methods native to the Japanese cuisine.
The waitress could see if she left us to our own choices, it could be dangerous as each time she passed, we were still focused on the first page. She calmly offered to suggest putting together a tasting menu to allow us a chance to discover the vastness of the variety of dishes. We were giddy with delight and agreed to be happily surprised.
First up were a few cold dishes like monkfish pate with caviar and whitefish with ponzu sauce. We savored the dishes with oohs and ahhs all the while challenging our pallets to dissect with flavors. The waitress glanced occasionally with a giggle, I’m sure we made her evening.
Next up was a hot dish, tonkotsu ramen. I said to her, “the what ramen?”; sounded totally Greek to me. She repeated but then quickly realized I wasn’t fluent in Japanese and explained the accompaniments in the dish. “Its’ a rich, creamy pork broth with simmered egg and pork belly”. Stop right there…..I turned to Enrique and whispered, is this like menudo, the Mexican tripe soup made of the stomach? Obviously, I wasn’t as savvy to know that they are TWO DIFFERENT PARTS but hey, I had to ask.
The waitress obviously heard my ignorance. She held back the giggle and kindly explained the difference. Basically all I heard was, “pork belly is where bacon comes from…” and the story stopped in my head and I was SOLD! Bacon ramen noodles, oh yeah!
Of course when it came, the pork wasn’t in the style of bacon but all it took was one bite of this deliciousness and I didn’t care I ate another thing, it was amazing.
When we returned home, I learned how long it look to make each of the individual ingredients BEFORE incorporating them into the final preparation of this decadent dish, sometimes it is hours and can go up to several days. I knew if I was going to indulge in my new found love of the pork belly, I would have to come up with some recipes I could actually make the same day I was wanting to consume them.
Staying in line with my initial ignorance if pork belly was used in menudo, I decided to try another Mexican, no-fail dish, the taco.
A bit of a far cry from the original Japanese dish, this recipe is a combination of searing and braising allowing for the crispy texture and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness which could leave the diner confused…. Is it shredded pork? Is it chicharones? No, it’s the pork belly. Roll in a fresh corn or flour tortilla and garnishings of your choice and I promise you will adore these, maybe as much as the ramen.
- 2 pork belly, about 1 pound each
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 handful fresh oregano
- 4 tablespoons Kosher salt (1 tablespoon for every pound of meat)
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 8 corn tortillas
- radishes, chopped
- napa cabbage, shredded
- queso fresco
- cherry tomatoes
- tomatillo salsa, recipe to follow
- Tomatillo salsa:
- 10-12 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 jalapeño
- salt and pepper
- Place the pork, fat-side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a rack insert, and using a sharp knife, score the surface of the meat with small slits. Mash the garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper into a paste on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife; place the adobo in a bowl and stir in the oil and vinegar. Rub the garlic paste all over the pork, being sure to get into the incisions so the salt can penetrate the meat and pull out the moisture - this will help form a crust on the outside when cooked. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
- Allow the meat to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.
- To make tomatillo salsa, heat oven to 350 and put tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeño on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes or until soft and browned. Put in a food processor and blend until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste, set aside.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. On stove top, heat 2 T of olive oil in a dutch oven. Put in pork belly, fat side down, and brown for 7-10 min per side. (If you have 2 pieces of pork belly, do separately. Add chicken stock or pork stock about half way up the meat. Cover and place in oven for 1 hour. After 1 hour, turn over and add more stock if necessary and cook for another 1hour. Uncover and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and place on cutting board, let rest 10 minutes and shred.
- Grill corn tortillas on stovetop or grill for 30 seconds per side.
- To assemble, put corn tortilla on plate, top with pork belly, desired garnishings, and tomatillo salsa