Pork Belly Braised with Cherry Juice and Mushrooms

Whole Foods sometimes has a "Fill the Grill" sale, and I happened upon one recently.  If you bought $50 of meat, you got $10 off. I had NO problem filling MY grill with meaty goodness! The actual problem was my favorite cuts of meat are really cheap! This whole block of pork belly for instance, was $9. And it was amazing! (I ended up with pork andouille sausage, chicken thighs, pork shoulder, pork belly, and a package of bacon - apparently I'm on the pork-heavy diet these days…) I just wandered through the aisles after that, looking for inspiration on how to cook this bad boy. I drink a lot of sour cherry juice. I buy the concentrate and then pour a splash into sparkling water and have healthy cherry soda. I imagined that the same flavors I like in the concentrate/soda blend would lend themselves to the pork belly. It was perfect! The next time I make this, I may even do it on purpose! I also picked up some button mushrooms, wheat-free tamari, napa cabbage, and assorted vegetables. 

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Ingredients: 

  • 2.5 pounds of pork belly (one slab, untied)
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 large white or yellow onion 
  • 3/4 pound mushrooms 
  • 1/2 head napa cabbage
  • 2 anaheim chile peppers 
  • 1 can tomato paste 
  • 1/4 cup wheat-free tamari, soy sauce, or coconut aminos
  • 1 jug (32 fl oz) 100% cherry juice (unsweetened)
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Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Season the pork belly on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large dutch oven or stockpot with a glug of olive oil and sear, fat side down. 

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Roughly chop your mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery). I didn't even peel the carrots, I just gave them a good scrub and chopped them into rounds. 

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Quarter your mushrooms and leave them to the side. Flip the pork belly and sear on the other side. This allows the fat to start melting and helps develop the flavor. 

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Finish chopping your vegetables. Chop the cabbage and peppers into rounds. 

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Pull the pork belly out and set it on a plate on the counter. Pour the vegetable into the pan an start cooking. Make sure you scrape the bits of meat and fat stuck to the bottom of the pan, this stuff is tasty! (And if you leave it there, it will burn and create a bitter flavor in the finished product.) 

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Once the vegetables are softened, add the tomato paste. Cooking the tomato paste in the pot allows it to caramelize and sweetened up a bit. 

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Add in the pepper slices. 

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Add in the cabbage and mushrooms and continue to cook. Both the mushrooms and cabbage start out really large (and may take up the whole pan), but will lose about half their mass as the cook for a few minutes.

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Add in the tamari and the cherry juice. Stir it into the veggies, and then add back the pork belly and any juices that have accumulated on the plate. 

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Make sure the pork is covered by both vegetables and juice. Just use some tongs and squish everything around until the pork is burrowed under the veggies. 

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Cover and cook in the middle of the oven for 3 hours. 

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Pull the pork out and set it on a sheet pan with a cooling tray. This will allow the fat to melt down and not burn the pork. Turn the broiler on high.

Skim the fat from the sauce.

Place a pot of water fitted with a steamer basket on the stove and roughly chop the cauliflower head. 

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Strain the vegetables from the sauce. Set them aside and pour the sauce into a small saucepan.

Reduce the sauce until it's reduced by about half. 

Place the pork under the broiler for two minutes or until crispy.

Toss the cauliflower pieces in the steamer basket and steam under tender, about five minutes. 

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Once the pork is crispy (you can flip it if you want to, mine started to fall apart so I only broiled one side) pull it out and set it on a cutting board. Slice it against the grain and taste a piece. Or three. : ) 

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Pull the cauliflower from the steamer and drop them into a food processor bowl. Puree until smooth and creamy. 

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Check the final consistency of the sauce. (It should coat the back of your spoon but not be syrupy.) Taste and season if you need. Season the cauliflower puree with salt and pepper. 

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Place the cauliflower puree in a shallow bowl. Place the sliced pork belly on top and drizzle with the sauce. I forgot about the vegetables from the sauce here, but I SHOULD have placed a scoop of those on the plate as well.(I was too distracted with my delicious pork to even notice the poor vegetables sitting beside the stove…) 

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