This is an elegant way to showcase the pure, rich pork goodness of belly that comes from heritage-breed hogs such as Mulefoot and Berkshire (Kurobuta). If you can't find kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), substitute a mixture of 2 parts soy sauce and 1 part molasses.
Make Ahead: The pork stock needs to be prepared a day in advance, and the beans need to be soaked a day in advance. The soup can be made several days in advance. The pork belly pieces can be cooked in advance; reheat and caramelize them just before you serve the soup.
Yield: Makes 8 cups
- For the stock
- One 2 1/2-pound heritage pork belly, such as Mulefoot or Berkshire, cut in half into 2 squares (see headnote and related sidebar)
- 4 quarts low-sodium beef broth
- 2 quarts water
- 2 large bay leaves
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), such as ABC brand
- For the soup
- 8 ounces dried cannellini or great northern beans
- 10 cups homemade stock (see above)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup kecap manis
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
- 5 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps (2 cups)
- 1 bunch (12 ounces) curly kale leaves (stemmed), rinsed well then cut into thin strips (chiffonade; 4 packed cups)
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- Sugar, for glazing
- 1 large clove garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems
- Celery leaves, for garnish (optional)
For the stock: Combine the pork belly, broth, water, bay leaves, peppercorns and kecap manis in a stockpot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook uncovered for 2 hours, until the pork is fork-tender but not falling apart.
Remove the pork pieces from the pot, reserving the stock, and fit them into a shallow dish just large enough to contain them. (Even force them in a bit.) Cover with aluminum foil, then a plate, then a weight (such as a foil-covered brick or heavy cans) to press the meat down flat. Refrigerate for several hours or up to overnight.
Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The yield is about 14 cups. (You'll need 10 cups for the soup; freeze any excess for another use.)
For the soup: Pick over the beans to remove any debris. Rinse the beans in cool water, then place in a bowl and cover with cool water, using twice as much water as beans. Soak overnight (at room temperature).
Skim and discard the pork fat from the chilled stock. Pour 10 cups of the stock into a large pot. Drain and rinse the beans, then add them to the pot along with the thyme, bay leaf and kecap manis. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to keep the beans from sticking to the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium and cook uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans are cooked through but still slightly al dente.
Add the carrots, onion, celery, mushrooms, kale and crushed red pepper flakes; cook uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels.
Discard the skin from the two pieces of cooked, pressed pork belly. Trim off excess fat, leaving a good 1/2-inch above where the meat starts. Cut each piece into 4 approximately square pieces (for a total of 8), and season them well with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in an ovenproof, nonstick skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Starting with the fat side down, cook the pork pieces, turning them often and basting them with rendered fat, until they are well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate, then to the warm oven until ready to serve. Reserve any rendered pork fat for another use.
When ready to serve, discard the paper towel from the plate with the 8 pieces of pork belly. Sprinkle their tops generously with sugar. Use a culinary kitchen torch to heat the sugar until it caramelizes (dark and bubbling).
Stir the garlic, fresh thyme and chopped cilantro stems into the soup, then ladle it into individual, wide soup plates. Place a square of pork belly in the center of each portion. Serve immediately, garnished with celery leaves, if desired.
From Sourced columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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