I thought I would share my version of sous-vide pork belly.
Starting with a good-quality pork belly:
1. Remove the skin (make a crackling out of the skin separately if desired). Cut the belly in half
2. Sprinkle the surfaces (opposite the skin side) with transglutaminase. Join together, vacuum pack and refrigerate 24 hours. Transglutaminase is a naturally occurring enzyme that binds proteins together. Thus after 24 hours the belly will appear to be one piece, but twice as thick as normal. This will make for a nice presentation. Transglutaminase is in many parts of your body, it seals cuts, coagulates blood and keeps your skin together. It comes as a culinary powder.
3. Brine the belly. This will firm the flesh and retain moisture when cooked. The equilibrium brining method works much like sous-vide itself. The weight of belly and water are calculated, and a small percentage (1.75%) of this weight in salt is added. When the water and belly are equilibriated, the concentration of salt in the belly is the same as in the water, and thus known. It takes about 3 days in the fridge though.
4. Vacuum-pack and cook the belly sous-vide at 60C for 2 days (continuous cooking). This gives time for collagen to gelatinise, without overcooking the meat itself.
5. When done, chill the pack in an ice-water bath, then place in the fridge under a flat weight overnight to flatten the two surfaces and set them parallel.
6. Unpack and slice the belly into desired rectangular portions. Blow-torch flat sides to brown and flavour. Vacuum pack individual servings again, with a little glaze of your choice (e.g. combine ham stock (100%), maple syrup (10%), xanthan gum(1%)). Keep in the fridge (up to a few days) until needed.
7. On the night of the dinner, place the portions in a water bath heated to 60C about an hour before you need them. Unpack and plate.
It seems laborious and time consuming, but read again – nearly everything is just waiting and doesn’t require attending. The amount of time spent actually doing something is small, and can be done at your convenience.
And I hope you can see the pluses – none of the timings actually matter and can be adjusted to suit your schedule; nothing demands attention right now; the only things that matter are the % salt and the temperature (60C); everything is done beforehand (there is nothing last-minute, not even carving); it can be reheating while you serve drinks and the first course; it can not overcook or dry out while reheating no matter how delayed your meal is (it wont reheat past 60C, and its already been cooked for 2 days so an extra hour or so won’t make a difference); it is nicely presented; and it is effortless to serve – just take it out of its bag and put it on a plate.
This picture shows the final result (although not a terribly good shot. The plating could have been improved too. The rocket pieces are too large, and the lines should have been thinner and more refined. I like the spiced-glass inserted into the belly though).
It was part of a menu that I did for some dear friends last winter, that went like this:
There are pictures of some of these on the Portfolio page. The menu was based on a classic pork roast from the old days – potatoes, peas, pumpkin, pork and an apple-sauce (i.e. meat and 3-veg). Each of these 5 parts was transformed into its own course in the menu, with the apple making its appearance in the dessert. Thus, although it is modernist, overall it is simultaneously classic.