Pork belly is bacon. Well, I mean it’s the same cut of the pig. Bacon is cured and often smoked. But it starts out as pork belly. You can make bacon, right? So you can make pork belly too. Seared Pork Belly with Smoked Gouda Macaroni.
Strain the braising liquid and save it as a base for a flavorful sauce on another day.
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon smoked sea salt (such as Maldon)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
- 2 pound meaty pork belly (about 1½ to 2 inches thick)
- low-sodium chicken stock (as needed, about 1 cup)
- 12 ounce dried small elbow macaroni (about ¾ of a box)
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter (as needed for the pasta water and seasoning)
- ½ medium onion (grated, with juices retained)
- 1 clove minced garlic
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper (or more to taste)
- 2 cup heavy cream ( room temperature, or more if needed)
- 8 ounce grated smoked Gouda
- cooking spray (as needed)
- freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Dry brine the pork belly: Place sugar, smoked sea salt, smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder and chipotle powder into a ziplock bag just large enough to hold the pork belly in a single layer. Place the pork belly in the bag, push out most of the air then seal the bag. Turn the bag over several times to coat the pork belly with the rub; refrigerate overnight.
Braise the pork belly: The next day preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Remove the pork belly from the bag, rinse off most of the rub and pat dry with paper towels. Place it, fat side up, in a shallow baking dish that’s just slightly larger than the pork belly. Add enough stock to come half-way up the sides. Cover dish tightly with foil. Place the covered dish in heated oven and braise for 3 hours.
Remove the dish from the oven and let the pork belly cool uncovered in the braising liquid about an hour. This may be done up to a day ahead. In which case, recover the pan and refrigerate the cooled pork belly in its braising liquid. Allow it to come to room temperature before continuing.
Boil the macaroni: Fill a large, tall pot with water and place over high heat. Once the water boils, add salt to taste; stir in the macaroni. Cook, stirring occasionally until al dente; about 7 minutes. Drain the macaroni; set aside.
Make the mac and cheese: Melt butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onions with their retained juices; cook until just beginning to soften, about two minutes. Lower the heat and add the minced garlic, white pepper, and a pinch salt. Cook stirring occasionally for 2 minutes, then slowly stir in the heavy cream. Simmer about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Add the cheese and stir until melted, then remove from heat.
If necessary, run some warm water over the macaroni to break up any clumps. Stir it in to the cheese sauce and toss until thoroughly combined. You may need to adjust the consistency with a touch more cream depending on the age of the cheese. You want it to be very creamy, but not soupy. The macaroni should move fairly freely in the sauce. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Cover the pan and set aside in a warm place while you finish the pork belly.
Cut pork belly into 12 appetizer-sized portions (or to desired portion quantity and size). Spray a 12-inch cast iron or nonstick skillet with cooking spray. When the pan is nearly smoking, sear several pieces of pork belly fat side down until nicely browned and quite crispy; about 2 minutes. Turn and quickly sear the other side until just colored. Do not crowd the skillet, work in batches. You may find it helpful to press the pork belly down with a bacon press, another skillet or even your hands. The more contact the fat has with the skillet, the better the sear. Move the seared pieces, fat side up, to a paper towel-lined plate while you finish the remaining pieces.
To serve: For appetizer-sized portions place a ½‑cup scoop of macaroni, with plenty of the creamy sauce, into a small shallow bowl or rimmed plate. Top with a single piece of pork belly, fat side up. Season with a good grind of black pepper. Repeat with remaining portions; serve immediately.