Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beer Braised Shredded Pork Belly Tacos

I've been on a surf trip up and down the coast. It's been really great, except for a single detail on one leg of the trip. In Mendocino/Ft. Bragg we found a lovely stretch of coast and I surfed a pristine river mouth, but the food! Dear Lord, the food!

     Without exception, we found the food in Mendocino to be bland, over-priced and poorly executed. The menus at various restaurants sounded sophisticated and flavorful, but what arrived at our table was wanting.

     This terrible eating experience has inspired me to recommit myself to improving my cooking skills. The recipe below was so delicious. It took a long time to put together, but was well worth it. Give yourself a day for the cure, a second day for braising, then prepare the tacos on the third.

     One area where I failed in my initial attempt was in the tortilla. I was so mad at myself when I didn't take the time to ensure that the tortillas were adequately prepared. Next time I will warm each tortilla in a saute pan with a bit of lard.


Beer Braised Shredded Pork Belly Tacos

For the dry cure
3 lb. pork belly
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorn, freshly ground
2 tablespoons whole cloves, freshly ground
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt

For the braise
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
22 ounces Newcastle
Chicken stock

For the tacos
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 Anaheim or poblano chile, roasted and peeled (See notes)
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped (See notes)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
freshly ground pepper
small (4" diameter or so) corn tortillas

For the dry cure
1. Pat the pork belly dry. Combine dry cure ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle on the pork.

2. Place seasoned pork belly in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and let cure for at least one day. Two days is ideal.

3. When ready to braise, rinse belly in cold water and pat dry.

For the braise
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Heat a medium Le Creuset over medium-high heat. Season the pork belly with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pot and sear the pork pieces on each side to a deep, golden brown. Remove the pork to a plate, and pour out any excess fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pot. (See notes)
3. Add the carrots, celery and onion to the pot, and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally. If the fond begins to burn, add a few tablespoons of the chicken stock.
4. Return the pork to the pot. Add the bay leaf, thyme and beer. Add chicken stock until the pork is covered.
5. Braise in oven for 3 to 3.5 hours, or until the pork shreds easily with a fork.
6. When the pork is done, remove the pork and reserve. Strain broth into a bowl and discard mirepoix. Reserve broth.
7. On a cutting board, separate the layers of the pork belly, and scrape away as much of the fat as you can. Shred with a fork and remove any additional fat.
8. Return the shredded pork to the broth, cover with plastic wrap and let cool either overnight until the fat has congealed. When the fat has congealed, skim it until you are left with the broth and pork. Strain and reserve broth.
For the tacos
1. Mash garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt to make a paste. (I used a mortar and pestle.) Heat oil in a large skillet. Add chopped onion and garlic paste. Cook until onion is tender.

5. Cut chile into short strips. Add chile strips and tomatoes to cooked onion. Cook 3 to 4 minutes.

6. Add meat, cumin, Adobo Lemon & Pepper powder and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook and stir until pork is heated through. Stir in reserved broth until pork is juicy, but not soggy. Taste and add salt if needed. Keep warm.
When I browned the pork belly, I quartered it first so that it would fit into my Le Creuset. I started with 1 tablespoon of oil and added a bit more as needed. You may want to pour off any of the excess fat between batches.

To roast the chiles, place on an open, high flame on the stove. Roast until a side is blackened, then turn until all sides are black. Let rest for 20 minutes to cool. Next, run the chiles under cold water and peel away the skin. Then slice open the chiles to remove the stem, seeds and veins. The Poblano chiles are very hot. To "cool" them, place the roasted, cooled, seeded and de-veined chiles in a bowl with equal parts water and vinegar for 30 minutes. Rinse very well under cool water.

To peel the tomatoes easily, you will need to blanch them. To blanch the tomatoes, cut out the stem and slice an "X" into the bottom. Place the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water. Within 60 seconds you will see the skin start to separate from the tomato. Remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon or tongs and place into ice water or simply cold water. Let them rest for a minute. Peel away the skin, using a paring knife if need be. Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds by squeezing the tomatoes then using your fingers.

Serve the meat with the onions and chiles on two small tortillas. Top with salsa (I used plum salsa - see this blog for the recipe) , but refrain from adding lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and bunch of other stuff. Just keep it simple with two small tortillas, the pork and salsa.

At least the surf and the views were better than the food.


  1. When you browned the skin side of the pork belly, did it spit and pop a lot? When I have cooked pork belly in the past, I've had that experience.

    Sounds like a good recipe, though, and takes care of the too-much fat problem I've had with pork belly in the past as well. How difficult was it to separate the layers and remove the excess fat?

  2. Hi Alan,

    I used one of those wire mesh splatter screens when browning the pork belly to avoid the hot lava splatter you spoke of. :)

    The layers came apart easily and the scraping away of the fat wasn't too hard, but it was gross and time consuming.

    I think that simply using a pork shoulder would be a hell of a lot easier, but I just wanted to see if I could pull it off. It is very tender, juicy meat, but just takes a while to accomplish.


  3. oh wow. that sounds and looks so good!