Umeboshi-glazed Pork Belly with Dashi-poached Turnip and Ajo Blanco Purée

Chefs Alex Chang and Bradley Kilgore

This main course from chefs Alex Chang and Brad Kilgore comes in three parts: there is the cured, braised and then, pan-seared pork belly that takes relatively little effort but three days’ time to prepare – you cure it first, then braise it and let it cool and air dry so the skin gets very crisp when you sear it. The yuzu kosho pickles are also fairly easy to prepare and are best made one day in advance and kept in the refrigerator. The turnip purée serves as a base for the pork belly which can either be made a day in advance or prepared the morning of the day you plan to serve the meal. This is a recipe that demands some planning, and is well worth the effort.

Serves 8

Part One – the Pork Belly

Start the preparation for the pork belly 3 days in advance: One day to cure; one day to cook and rest in the cooking liquid. Final day to air dry the skin to ensure a crispy finish.

Prepare the pork belly
Duroc or Kurabuta pork belly, skin on.
Figure on 5 to 6 ounces per person, so you could easily serve 8 people from a 3½ or 4 pound piece of pork belly.
Cut the pork belly into pieces about 2 inches wide by 3½ inches long.

Dry cure for skin-on pork belly (Day one - start the morning of day one)
1½ cups kosher salt (Diamond Crystal or other brand)
¼ cup Madras curry powder 
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar 
1 Tbsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. fennel seed, toasted lightly in a pan
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. red chili flakes, crushed
¾ tsp. pink curing salt (available online)
Zest of a small orange, grated on a Microplane grater

  1. Mix all ingredients together very well in a Cuisinart (blend at least a minute).
  2. Sprinkle a generous layer of salt on a parchment lined sheet pan (¼”), lay the pork belly on the bed of salt skin side up. Use the rest of the salt to completely cover the pork belly.
  3. Let this cure for 24 hours before rinsing off with cold water and patting dry.

Braise the pork belly (Day two)
Chicken stock
Cured pork belly

  1. Preheat oven to 290°F.
  2. Put the cured pork belly in an oven-proof container like a Dutch oven or small roasting pan (depending on the amount of pork belly you are making).
  3. Cover the pork belly with chicken stock then cover with a piece of cooking parchment, and finally cover the entire vessel with a lid or aluminum foil.
  4. Cook in the oven for 4 hours. If you have a convection oven, use the fan and drop the heat to 275°F.

Air dry the pork belly (Day three)
Allow the pork belly to air dry, then refrigerate until ready to use. Air drying the pork will help the skin crisp quickly.

Yuzu kosho pickles: Make one day in advance
Vegetables
1 bulb baby fennel, cut very thinly, lengthwise, using mandolin, save fronds for garnish
1 bunch tri-color baby carrots, cut lengthwise and each color pickled separately
1 Fresno chilies, seeded and sliced into thin rounds
8 oz. hon shimeji mushrooms (brown beech mushrooms), cut to 1" in length
1 red onion, sliced very thin, using mandolin

Yuzu kosho pickling liquid
3 cups Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
1 cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup mirin
1 cup filtered or mineral water
2 Tbsp. white soy paste (miso)
3 cardamom pods
1 tsp. hon dashi powder
1 nob of ginger peeled and sliced

Method
  1. Heat up but do not boil all ingredients – bring to just below a simmer (about 180° F).
  2. Use a separate small container for each vegetable so they pickle separately. Pour some of the liquid over each individual vegetable, cover with a lid and put into the refrigerator immediately.
  3. Wait until fully chilled to use. Best if left overnight.

Final garnishes
Fennel fronds reserved from slicing the vegetables
Chives, cut to 1” length

Part Two: Prepare the Dashi-poached Turnip and Ajo Blanco Purée

This element of the dish is not difficult to make but it does take a bit of time. There are 4 steps. Read the recipe over before starting! You will end up with some extra ajo blanco (almond-garlic soup) that is good on its own.

Step 1: Make the dashi (Japanese cooking stock)
1 quart filtered water
12 grams dried shiitake mushrooms
15 grams kombu
25 grams bonito

Method
  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the water, kombu and dried shiitake to 140°F then remove from the heat and let sit for 1 hour in the saucepan.
  2. Discard kombu and re-heat the mushroom dashi to 176°F. Add bonito, let steep for 15 seconds and then strain. Do not push the dry ingredients to extract more liquid.
  3. Set aside until ready to poach the turnips.

Step 2: Make the ajo blanco (Yield: 5 cups)
¼ cup blanched almonds
4 cups filtered water
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar or more, to taste
2 cloves garlic
4 slices good quality country bread, crust removed, bread cubed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. almond oil
Salt to taste

Method
  1. Soak almonds in the water for at least 2 hours.
  2. Add all ingredients and blend together in a Vitamix or blender until smooth.
  3. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then set aside.

Step 3: Poach the turnips and make the purée
3 cups turnips, large dice
1 quart dashi
¾ cups ajo blanco

Method
  1. In a pot, simmer the diced turnips in dashi broth until tender.
  2. Once turnips are tender, combine turnips and dashi in a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Once smooth add ajo blanco and keep blending to make a smooth puree.
  4. Pass final mixture through a chinois and reserve until serving the plate
  5. If you are waiting to finish the dish, warm up the purée before plating

Step 4: Make the umeboshi glaze
2 Tbsp. umeboshi paste
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
¼ cup mirin
1 cup brown sugar

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to a thick glaze.
Set aside to cool.

Part Three: Sear the Pork Belly and Plate the Dish

¼ cup avocado oil, grape seed oil or other good oil for cooking
8 pieces of cured and braised pork belly, brought to room temperature
Umeboshi glaze
4 to 6 cups of dashi-poached turnip and ajo blanco purée
Yuzu kosho pickles made a day earlier
Fennel fronds and chive batons

Method
  1. In a large non-stick sauté pan over medium, heat the oil.
  2. Sear the pork belly skin-side down until it becomes crisp, turn the pieces over and cook another minute, then remove from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate.
  3. Drain the fat from the sauté pan (careful not to splash!)
  4. Return the pan to the stove over low heat, add the umeboshi paste and then the pork belly.
  5. Using tongs, turn the pork belly pieces in the glaze to coat evenly and warm through.
  6. Put 1/2 to 2/3 cup turnip purée in the center of each plate.
  7. Place a piece of pork belly on top of each pool of purée, then top each piece of pork belly with some of pickled vegetables.
  8. Sprinkle a bit of fennel frond and chive over the pork belly and pickles (or use the chef’s trick of using forceps to carefully place each frond and baton) and serve.