Braising is one of Brian Sonnich’s favorite forms of cooking. You might become a fan of it yourself if you follow his pork belly recipe and taste the delicious result.
“I had never tried an apple-mashed potato, but I thought it would be an interesting combination with pork belly,” said Sonnich, a student in the chef apprenticeship program at Johnson County Community College. “The braising makes it tender, and I just figured all of the flavors would go well together.”
Braising is a combination cooking method. Typically, you start by searing meat in a hot pan. That done, you set it aside and add vegetables and aromatics like rosemary and thyme. Pour your liquid — apple cider, stock, wine or whatever you want — over the meat and cover with a tight-fitting lid, then cook for several hours with low heat in the oven.
“The braising time is about three hours to get a nice, tender, delicious product,” he says.
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Pork belly typically comes with skin on. Sonnich recommends you take the skin off but leave the fat cap on. You can also ask for pork belly without skin.
“The preparation really isn’t too hard — you just have to cut some veggies, peel some potatoes, cut up an apple and warm up the cream and butter,” he says.
To up your presentation of the mash, use two spoons to create an oval-shaped mound with the potatoes called a quenelle.
About the chef
Brian Sonnich, 22, from Topeka, is in his second year in the JCCC apprenticeship program. He is working at the Pig & Finch in Leawood. He hopes to work in a restaurant in Kansas City after he graduates.
About the column
Cooking 101 is an occasional column exclusive to The Star designed to introduce basic cooking techniques. The recipe, food styling and photography are a joint project between culinary students and instructors at Johnson County Community College.
About the food stylist
Kaarin Nelson works with the chef and photographer to prop and arrange the best shot. She is a fourth-semester interior design student at JCCC.
Braised Pork Belly With Apple-Mashed Potatoes and Cider-Glazed Carrots
Makes 4 servings
For the pork belly:
1 1/2 pounds skinless pork belly
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
9 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups apple cider
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
For the apple-mashed potatoes:
10 Yukon gold potatoes or waxy potatoes, peeled and diced (3 cups)
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced (save half an apple for julienne garnish; sprinkle with lemon juice to avoid browning)
1/2 cup cream
1 cup butter
For the glazed carrots:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
12 baby carrots, peeled, tops left intact
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
To make the pork belly: Score pork belly by cutting shallow criss-crossing diagonal lines at the top of the fat cap, about a 1/4 -inch apart. Cut belly into 4 squares, 6 ounces each. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a large sauté pan and sear pork on both sides until browned. Place pork belly in a pan or shallow casserole dish. Add garlic to the saute pan and cook until caramelized. Deglaze the pan with apple cider, stirring to scrape up the browned pork bits. Pour liquid over the pork belly, place one sprig of thyme and one of rosemary over each piece, cover with aluminum foil or a tight-fitting lid and place in a 325-degree oven for 2 1/2 hours or until the pork is tender.
Remove pork belly from braising liquid and set aside, reserving the liquid.
To make the apple-mashed potatoes: Put potatoes and apples in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender. Strain in a colander, then return to the pot. In a small saucepan, heat cream and butter, then add warm mixture to the potatoes and apples, using a masher to create a puree. Season mash with salt and pepper.
To make the glazed carrots: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a half sheet tray with aluminum foil.
Strain reserved braising liquid into a saucepan, then use a spoon to skim the surface and remove any visible fat. Add brown sugar and cider vinegar to liquid and cook over low heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, add carrots, oil, salt and pepper. Toss until coated and place on sheet tray. Roast carrots in oven for about 8 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Add the roasted carrots to the glaze, tossing until well coated and heated through.
To serve: Turn oven to broil and place pork belly in the oven, baking only until the top is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Spoon glaze on a plate and serve pork belly with carrots, mashed potatoes and apple garnish.
Per serving: 1,074 calories (73 percent from fat), 88 grams total fat (42 grams saturated), 242 milligrams cholesterol, 47 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 2,184 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.