We’re always looking to try new cooking ideas, food should not only nourish the body but the soul as well. To that end I can across a recipe the other day for Creme Brûlée Confit Pork Belly, the combination of confit pork and a creme brûlée just seems like a match made in piggy heaven. The recipe is not a quick throw it together on one day job, it takes a few days to prepare. It also seemed like it should be shared with friends, so we invited some good friends over and I then got to work prepping the dish.
Our butcher Grant out at Tony’s House of Tender Meat in Midland, best butcher around, provided a beautiful piece of pork belly, bones removed. Grant scored the skin for me, next time I might leave that as the recipe calls for the skin to be pierced after confitting the meat, didn’t seem to impact the final product too much but good to see that option as well.
Pork belly and brine
560~600 grams of pork belly, skin-on
4 cups water
3~4 star anise
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons pork fat, or oil for pan-frying
4~5 tablespoons Granulated sugar
Yellow mustard to serve
Combine all the ingredients in “brining” except for the pork belly, in a pot. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the salt has completely dissolved. Chill the brine in the refrigerator until cooled. Place the pork belly in a zip-lock bag and pour the brine into the bag to submerge it. Rest the bag on top of a deep plate and leave in the fridge to brine for 6 hours. Make sure the pork belly is fully submerged at all time, I turned the pork a few times during the brining.
Preheat the oven on 230ºF/110ºC. Take the pork belly out of the brine and rinse it clean of any scraps, then really pat it dry with a clean towel. Place the belly, SKIN-SIDE DOWN in an oven-proof container that’s just wide enough to hold the pork belly, and deep enough to allow 1? or 3 cm of room on the top. The better the fit of the contain, the less fat you’ll need to confit the pork (a square cake-pan is great). Heat up enough oil (I just used light olive oil instead of pork fat) to cover the pork belly by at least 1/2? or 2 cm, in a pot until warmed through (but not hot enough to cook the belly). Pour the oil into the baking container, then cover with aluminum foil. Confit the pork in the oven for 4 hours. It should be easy to pierce through with a fork. A tip here is to place your tin on a tray that will catch any fat that comes out of the confit dish, better to do this that have to clean the oven!
Carefully remove the pork belly out of the baking container with a wide spatula, WITHOUT breaking the skin or meat. Set the belly on the cutting board, skin-side up. Wrap a handful of wooden skewers together with tape. Pierce the skin ALL OVER with the tip of the skewers until you have made densely populated, mini holes throughout the skin. Do this GENTLY without breaking up the fat-layer underneath. I found it more efficient to move slowly from one side to the other, instead of random jabbing. This is the part where not having the skin scored by your butcher would be a good idea as the skin does start to break down once scored and the confitted.
Invert and place the pork belly SKIN-SIDE DOWN on a flat-bottomed baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, then another piece of flat-shaped plate (the bottom of a cake-pan, or another baking dish) over the top of the pork belly. Rest something relatively heavy on top (2 cans, or a pot). Chill in the fridge for at least 12 hours, or until needed.
Unwrap the pork belly and place it on a cutting board. The skin-side should be as FLAT as a GRANITE-FLOOR. Trim the pork belly, according to the shape of the skin, into very clean, even and straight-edged square or rectangle.
Heat up approx 2 tbsp of the confit-fat in a wide, NON-STICK pan over medium-high heat. Carefully lay the pork belly, SKIN-SIDE DOWN on the pan then turn the heat down to LOW. Take a piece of parchment paper and rest it over the pan, with a opening on the side FACING AWAY from you. Trust me, the skin is going to mini-explode and splatter. The opening allows the steam to escape, but also retain enough heat inside the pan to warm up the pork.
Leave the skin to crisp up over low-heat for 18 min, then REMOVE the parchment paper (we want to eliminate the moisture inside the pan now) and cook for another 5 min. Check the skin and see if the entire depth is blistered thoroughly. If not, keep cooking for another 5 min. It took mine about 30+ minutes. Once ready, turn the pork belly over to heat up the meat-side slighly, approx 1 min.
Move the pork belly to a board, skin-side up. Cover the skin with an even layer of granulated sugar. It should be thick enough that you don’t see the skin underneath. Caramelize the sugar with a blowtorch until completely melted and browned. Let the caramel harden. Invert the pork belly with the crème brûlée-side facing down. Use a VERY SHARP KNIFE, cut through the meat-layer and once the knife hits the skin-layer, PRESS THE KNIFE DOWN hard until you hear a crackle and feel the knife has cut through the skin. I changed the method a little at this point, I inverted the pork and cut into portions prior to making the caramel layer. This way I was forming the brûlée layer on individual portions, allowing the caramel to drip down the sides of each piece.
We serve the crème brûlée pork belly on a red Cabbage and apple compote with confit potatoes and seasonal veg. End result was pretty damn good even if I do say so myself. Our friends though did agree that it was a top effort.