Pork Belly Reuben
One of the benefits of making your own bacon is that you end up with a boat load of bacon fat. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: save your bacon fat! Otherwise, you might not ever be able to make pork belly confit, perhaps one of the most luxurious, if not down-right hedonistic things one could prepare from the all-mighty pig!
To confit something is to slowly cook it in fat, and so essentially what’s going on here is that you take a piece of pork belly, the same cut used to make bacon, cover it in it’s own fat, and cook it in the oven for about 3 hours, until it’s fork tender. My first encounter with pork confit was at a restaurant called Fork, located in the Old Town area of Philadelphia. I ordered it despite everyone else’s cackles and uhllll’s, and it turned out the pork belly upstaged the rest of the meal. It’s still the best I’ve ever eaten, and it’s set me on a dangerous course leading to coronary heart disease, because now I order pork belly if I see it on a menu irregardless of everything else.
This brings us to Bunk Sandwiches, a lunch spot staple for me in SE Portland. I had read in a magazine that this place features a Pork Belly Reuben on their menu, and therefore I was instantly drawn to the place. However, the menu changes daily, and this sandwich alluded me for many weeks. In that time, I decided the hell with it! I’ll make my own! And that’s what I have done here. I have since eaten one at Bunk, and I can attest that their’s is indeed very good, but so is mine! In fact, my girlfriend even told me that mine is better (haHa!) The amazing thing is how absolutely different they are.
While wondering aimlessly around the Portland Farmer’s Market a while back a certain loaf of bread caught my eye at the Pearl Bakery booth. It was called Vollkornbrot, a dense, hearty, German rye. Once I saw this bread, I knew I would make my reuben on it. In fact, it was actually the catalyst for the whole endeavor. It’s a great bread, and worked out wonderfully. The cheese I used was Tillamook Swiss. I had originally intended to make my own sauerkraut, but after realizing it would take at least five days, I decided to go with Picklopolis, a local pickler, instead. I had my heart set on sauerkraut made from purple cabbage, though, and they don’t make it in a purple variety, so I conspired to dye it purple with a bit of beet. However, while experimenting, I discovered another local sauerkraut purveyor, It’s Alive, produced just a few blocks from where I live, and was overjoyed that I had another choice. Both are excellent sauerkraut’s, and I recommend both of them, but It’s Alive won out for aesthetic reasons. What can I say? Finally, I used the Thousand Island recipe from Charcuterie for the dressing.
As for the Pork Belly Confit, here’s how I made it (you can make more than this at once, just double or triple everything):
Heat the oven to 200º.
Combine 2 tablespoon of the basic dry cure(1# Kosher Salt, 8oz Sugar, and 2oz Pink Salt), 1 bay leaf, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, a few leaves of fresh sage, 1 shallot, and 2 tablespoons of cocoa, and crush them to a powder in a spice grinder, or a mini-food processor.
Take this mixture and rub it into a 1 to 2# piece of pork belly. Wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator for a day or 2.
After this time has passed, place the the pork belly into an oven-proof pot, such as a dutch oven. Make sure that it’s a snug fit. Cut up the pork belly if necessary. The more room that is in the pot, the more fat that will be required in order to cover the pork belly. And yes, cover the pork belly completely with rendered fat.
Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, and then place it in the oven, uncovered, and cook for about three hours. When the pork belly is extremely tender, transfer to a separate dish, then strain the fat over the top of it, and place in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, or up to a month. This stuff keeps well, but trust me, it won’t last a month. That’s it for the pork belly confit, from here on out, it’s just heat and serve.
To prepare this sandwich, I sliced the pork belly into quarter inch thick pieces, coated them in cocoa powder, and fried them up in a non-stick skillet. Meanwhile, I toasted two slices of the Vollkornbrot in butter, in a pan on the stovetop, melting a couple slices of the swiss on one slice. Once the pork belly had a crispy golden exterior, I drained it on a paper bag, before placing it on top of the swiss cheese. Then I added the sauerkraut, and smothered it with the Thousand Island dressing, before topping it off with the other slice.
Give yourself time to eat this sandwich. It is incredibly rich. If you eat it too quickly, I swear, you’ll go into a pork belly coma.