The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.
I have a confession to make: food is not on my mind these days. At all. I’m working on something kind of big and very time consuming right now, and I just have little energy for the kitchen. I’ll get back to it eventually, hopefully sooner than later, but for now I need to prioritize.
Having said that… you don’t stay in grad school for years and years without having an enduring, compulsory urge to do your homework. You may do it sloppily at times, you may hand it in late – but your inner neurosis compels you to do it, no matter what. At least, that’s how it is for me. And the Daring Kitchen challenges are kind of like homework to me: fun homework, most of the time, but still something I feel I have to do. On the rare times I’ve missed a challenge altogether, I’ve felt awful. And so, I squeezed this one in.
It helped that this month’s challenge was particularly delicious. I’m a long-time fan of the braising technique. Take an oft-maligned cut of meat, simmer it for hours, and end up with something tender, flavourful, and irresistibly comforting: that’s braising. Our hostess gave us many recipes, each more alluring than the next, but I knew right away which one I wanted to try: pork belly with caramel miso sauce.
There’s something about miso that enriches every recipe you can integrate it in. We love it around here: in soups, in salad dressing, in sauces… But I had never tried pairing it with caramel, and was very intrigued by what the result would be. And pork belly is just amazing. It’s a very trendy cut of meat in restaurant these days, but still relatively difficult to find fresh, outside of Asian supermarkets (other stores tend to carry a salt-preserved version, which doesn’t work with many recipes). Usually, I slow-roast it with dry heat, slice it, and use it in ramen, or sandwiches. But I had no doubt it would lend itself well to braising. I also learned that adding acids to the braising liquid, such as citrus or vinegar, helps break down the tough meat fibres and make the meat more tender.
Everything went well, except when the time came to cut the pork belly into large cubes and pan-fry them before coating them in sauce. This should have solved one of the only problems with braises and stews: they are not typically photogenic. Often, you end up with a shapeless blob, covered in sauce. Here, I should have ended up with pretty, golden little cubes, artfully arranged upon my plate – if only I had used a better pan. My old non-stick pan is getting on in years, and it stuck, which kind of ruined the presentation.
But no matter: it tasted great. The sweet-and-salty combination of miso and caramel was amazing, and the pillowy chunks of rich pork melted in our mouths. I definitely recommend trying out this recipe.