Recipe 12: Pork Belly Mac and Cheese

Hello, Weekly Mackers.  Have you missed me?  I feel like it’s been too long since I last posted.  I don’t want to fall behind on this challenge!  I hope I have not left y’all like this in my absence:

Anyway, have y’all been following me on Facebook?  If so, you know that I have been super-excited about making this recipe.  It involves pork belly, which, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a giant slab of bacon before it gets sliced into strips.  I clarify this because one of my friends, who was going to be present at the get-together at which this mac was to be served, asked his wife, “So… what is pork belly?  Is it, like, pork guts or something?  Am I going to like this?”  She assured him he would.

This was another recipe from Food in My Beard – the third I have made.  I blame the author, Dan, for offering so many tempting variations on mac and cheese.  I am going to have to take a forced haitus from it – not because it is bad (unless by “bad” you mean “so bad that it’s AWESOME”), but just to add some new sources.  Oh don’t worry; I shall return in due time.

The website says this recipe “Feeds probably about 5 fatties or up to 8 normal adults.”  I love that description – partly because I know I have at times marveled over recommended serving sizes (“How is that one serving?!  Are they feeding an anorexic five-year old?!”).  At our get-together, there were eight food-loving adults, seven of which partook of the mac (one does not eat red meat), and a toddler who also had some.  There was only one small helping left at the end of the night.  If most of us had not loaded up on appetizers (and OK, salad too), I am thinking it all would have been gone.

Pork Belly Mac and Cheese (from Food in My Beard)

Ingredients

  • Mesa BBQ sauce (recipe here.  I used a Memphis-style BBQ sauce from the store instead; it’s 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 lb pasta, elbow macaroni is good (I used rice elbows)
  • ½ lb gruyere
  • ½ lb mozzarella
  • 1 ½ lb cheddar.
  • Breadcrumbs (gluten-free for me)
  • Parmesan (I confess, I used “parmesan” from a green shaky-tube, as I did not have fresh)
  • 1 head cauliflower (I used a frozen bag from our CSA; it seemed like about a head)
  • 1 ½ lbs pork belly
  • Red onion
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour (I used Pamela’s)
  • 3 cups milk (I used skim)

Directions

Place the sauce in a deep pot.
Sear the pork belly on all sides in a very hot pan.
Add pork to pot with sauce and simmer on low partially covered for about an hour and a half. Add water if pork is not fully covered.
Grate and combine all cheeses
Bring water to a boil, cook pasta 3 minutes less then box says
Heat and whisk 3 tablespoons of butter and flour on medium low until combined and lump free. About 5 minutes.
Add 3 cups of milk, simmer for 5 minutes
Add most of the cheese. Stir till somewhat smooth
Remove pork belly from braising liquid
Dice and remove unwanted parts (if there are any), return to sauce with cauliflower and a small amount of diced red onion.
Drain pasta and put in baking dish
Add pork belly, cauliflower, and red onion with its coating of sauce
Add cheese mixture
Fold and mix
Grate some parmesan on the top, add the rest of the cheese, if it fits (all of the cheese didn’t fit for us) and some breadcrumbs
Put in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, if the top doesn’t look delicious, broil it for 2 minutes.  (I didn’t need to broil)
The hardest part – let sit for 5 or 10 minutes before scooping!

Here it is cooling.

Verdict: 3/5

You may have noticed I’ve tagged this recipe as being due for a do-over.  It didn’t come out bad by any stretch, but I don’t think I achieved the best possible results in my preparation.  I think that’s due to mistakes I made rather than a fault of the recipe itself.

Like I mentioned, I used a store-bought BBQ sauce.  It had a good flavor (not sure as epic as Dan from Food in My Beard says the Mesa sauce is), but I needed to use water to fully cover my pork belly.  However, it ended up being more water than sauce.  I think if I had cut the pork belly differently, it may have turned out better, but as it was the sauce was so, so watery.  There was only the barest hint of a BBQ flavor, and that really bummed me out.  That would have added such a smoky, slightly tangy element that was missing.

Not only that, but because the meat was cooked in mostly water, the texture was… Odd.  I also could have cut the cauliflower into smaller pieces to make them a bit more manageable.

Y’all know by now I’m not a professional chef, right?  ‘Cause it’s kind of obvious.

All that having been said, some people had seconds.  One person even had thirds and tried to call dibs on the one helping of leftovers remaining.  Even the toddler ate it after insisting on making a napkin-dress for her sippy-cup.  Despite having used shaky-cheese (I’ve been trying to stick with cheese in their natural formats), I loved the topping and could eat it on most macs.

So all in all it was good – but I know it could have been better.  I’ll have to give it another shot in the future.

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