Pork Belly Epic Fail

Pork Belly: Eat Out –

Don’t Try This At Home Kids!

By Marsha Wilson Rappaport

The rise of cooking shows and Cooking Channels has created a rich fantasy world for amateur cooks. In the real world, where most of us juggle jobs, household chores, errands and families, the desire to create a complex culinary masterpiece is governed by a lack of time and energy.

However, there is that one exception. There is that one dish, which pops up on social media that nags at you, and you are determined to give it a shot. In my case, I was lured by the siren songs on the endless social media videos that highlighted pork belly portions. Most of them displayed a slab of luscious pork belly, covered by a rooftop of crispy bubbled pork skin being sensuously swiped by a chef’s knife.

Of course, my fantasy had some limits from the onset. My age, and concern for my LDL levels ensured that I wouldn’t be able to eat big hunks of fried pork on a regular basis. That being the case, I regulated the dream to a “treat” day, much akin to a summer ice cream cone day.

Things That Support Cooking Channel Ambitions
One of the remarkable things about my city is the tourism industry. There is a lot of tasty food and a lot of great restaurants. That also equates to having a host of restaurant suppliers. One of my favorites is the homegrown Maceo Spice and Import Company. The company, now operated by Concetta Maceo-Sims represents the legacy of the legendary Maceo Family known for their nightclubs and movie star friends during the island’s wild past. This store sells an extensive collection of rich herbs, spices, olive oils, blends and exotic foods that will fool your family and friends into thinking you have Bobby Flay tied up in closet somewhere. Therefore, when I planned my pork belly triumph, I had my regular stash of goodies like Maceo’s Lemon Pepper Blend. Counting on that flavor bomb, I was ready to roll.

I had not foreseen my next challenge. I was unprepared for the dumbfounded looks I received when I went to my regular grocery store and asked the Butcher for pork belly. The butcher politely pointed out that they had plenty of bacon, both thin and thick cut. I called several other grocery stores and quickly realized; they didn’t have my social media feed filled with crispy, crackling pork belly.
Luckily, due to real life and my real-life workload, this was a long-term project. Months later, a change in ownership in my other “go-to” grocery store, changed hands. Arlan’s was now owned by a bigger franchise, the El Ahorro Supermarket/Sellers Brothers. Cultural food preferences won and there in the meat case was a small, rectangular, piece of meat, labeled “pork belly”.

After months of looking, you would assume I would go for the large, thick, hunk of meat featured in the videos. However, the smaller piece was reflective of my lack of expertise. The investment in time and money would be worth it if I screwed it up – a real possibility.

Proof Positive – The Cooks on social media know what they are doing – I do not.
So, I geared up. I was ready. I had my tempered steel Wok. I was wielding my stainless steel spider Asian kitchen wire food cooking skimmer with a natural bamboo handle. My deep fry thermometer was poised to ensure I maintained a perfect 350-degree temp. I used peanut oil which is superior at high cooking temperatures. Then I mixed a potato starch flour blend dredge for extra crunchiness.

I painstakingly salted the piece and let it air dry overnight. Then, I cut the pork belly into pieces, per the latest internet search. I coated them, dropped them in hot oil at the perfect 350-degree moment and waited.

The result was overcooked or undercooked, inedible, chunks of pork. There was no smooth, crackling skin to seductively run a knife over. There was no juicy meat and fat that you could video showing the flowing succulent running juices. Epic Fail!!

Staying in my culinary lane pays off .

I was still armed with my Maceo Lemon Pepper, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Fresh Lemons. Because I remained a Girl Scout in my heart, my motto remains “ be prepared”, I had some fresh Black Sea Bass, defrosting in the fridge. Within an hour, I was enjoying mouthwatering, flakey white fish, perfectly seared, paired with wild rice and lemon butter sauce.

Bear in mind, my subsequent failure at preparing this dish proved a few things.
1. Even street vendors who sell crispy pork bellies and post it on social media are Chefs. They know their stuff. And they are just as expert in their craft as a Chef in an upscale, pricey eatery.
2. I would need to fly to whatever exotic country those posts were in and sit at the feet of that master to recreate what on the face of it seems like a simple dish.

Next steps
Time to call Uber Eats and let our local professionals do the work. It’s time to search the local menus for a pork belly cooked by an expert.