Second: Turkey. Schmurkey. That’s right, I said it.
Every year, knowing that most everyone has a turkey dinner in their plans for Thanksgiving, my mom’s side of the family gets together for a decidedly Turkey-less holiday lunch. We’ve done a Chinese potluck with black bean spareribs and sticky rice. We’ve done an Italian feast with lasagne, piccata and fluffy desserts. We’ve even done an entirely Trader Joe’s Thanksgiving where we sampled and served most everything in the annual Turkey-Day edition of the Fearless Flyer. There was fried mac n’ cheese bites, bacon-wrapped scallops, an herby pork roast. It may have been store-bought, but damn if it wasn’t delicious.
This year, my mom gave me the honor of suggesting the main attraction for our traditionally non-traditional lunch. We had just sat down (on the living room floor) to enjoy a supper of braised pork belly tacos. After a long day of outlet shopping, they were seriously hitting the spot.
“I don’t know,” I said, using a shred of tortilla to mop up the sticky soy glaze that was dribbled around my plate. “I could make these for Thanksgiving?”
And so it goes. After all, it only seems appropriate that my first Thanksgiving with The Pig & Quill feature none other than one of the most decadent parts of the piggy.
I’ll keep the description for these tacos to a minimum for fear or abusing words like unctuous, savory and sinful. Rest assured, these are all those things and then some. They’re also surprisingly simple, delightfully cheap and just plain ol’ fun given the whole street-food-goes-bourgeois thing that is, like, so on-trend right now.
In short, if you eat meat of the mammal variety, this recipe is a winner suitable for any occasion.
As in, it’s not too late to ditch your plans for that Christmas bird…
Braised Pork Belly Tacos (with Pickled Carrot Slaw, Sweet n’ Salty Cucumbers and Sriracha Mayo)
By Emily Stoffel
Cooking time: 2.5 hrs | Serves: 4
Note: A few of things here.
1) For our holiday meal, I multiplied this recipe to serve 12. It worked well, but I would definitely suggest having two Dutch ovens going at once to reduce the time spent on the browning and reducing processes.
2) When pulling together the tacos, you’ll want to make the slaw and the cucumbers about an hour before the pork is done simmering. (Make it any further in advance and you risk soggy veggies.) The mayo can be made several days in advance.
3) Wondering what to serve with these guys? We went with a simple Spanish rice; blanched green beans with soy sauce aioli; tea eggs marinated in the soy-sherry belly broth (hello addiction!); and a fancy pants green salad studded with apples, pears, figs, pom arils, walnuts and Gorgonzola.
All highly recommended.
- 1.5 lbs pork belly, cubed
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1-2 inches ginger, slivered
- 3 T sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (plus a glug)
- 1/4 cup dry sherry (plus a glug)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 T light cooking oil
- hard-boiled eggs, optional
- 8 soft taco-sized corn or corn/wheat tortillas
- 2 scallions, sliced
- pickled carrot slaw (see below)
- sweet n’ salty cucumbers (see below)
- sriracha aioli (see below)
In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over med-high heat. Salt and pepper belly pieces and sear, skin side down, in a single layer until skin is brown and crackly. Work in batches, if necessary. When skin is browned, toss pork pieces to lightly brown on other sides. Add ginger and onion and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sugar, toss pork to coat, and allow sugar to melt and become slightly caramel in color. Do not let sugar burn.
When sugar is slightly caramelized, add soy sauce and sherry. Add enough water to cover pork, allow mixture to come to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to simmer for 1.5-2 hours. When pork is meltingly tender (you should be able to easily insert a fork into the fattiest pieces), remove lid and increase heat to a low boil for 10-15 minutes, or until broth mixture is reduced by half and slightly syrupy. Turn off heat, submerge hard-boiled eggs into pork mixture, if using, and allow pork to cool slightly for about 10 minutes. (Sauce will continue to thicken).
Remove eggs and set aside.
To assemble tacos, top tortillas with pork belly, slaw, cucumbers, mayo and scallions. Serve eggs alongside, quartered and topped with additional belly sauce or mayo.
For the Pickled Carrot Slaw:
- 1/4 head green or red cabbage, finely shredded
- 1 cup carrots, finely shredded or julienned
- 2 T rice wine vinegar
- 2 T sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)
An hour before serving, whisk together vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add cabbage and carrots and toss to combine. If needed, drain lightly before serving.
For the Sweet n’ Salty Cucumbers:
- 1/2 English cucumber, seeded and julienned
- 2 T sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt
An hour before serving, combine cucumbers with sugar and salt in a small bowl. Drain lightly before serving.
For the Sriracha Mayo:
- 1/2 cup prepared good mayonnaise
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1 tsp – 1 T Sriracha (to taste)
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Adjust soy and sriracha to taste. Chill until ready to use. (Will keep in the fridge covered for several days.)