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Pork Belly Bahn Mi with Spicy Cucumbers

So I guess the bacon fad has become a full blown porkapalypse. You literally can't throw a fork without hitting a pulled, braised, or smoked pork something: shoulder, belly, feet, jowels, all of the lesser known bits that are full of that slightly sweet yet savory flavor. Don't mistake my attitude for disdain. Pork is fantastic. It's the number two most consumed meat, second to goat (I know, goat??). My inner hipster comes out when I see all of my favorite restaurants suddenly add the same ingredients to their menus. Many times the fuss is hype and the fad passes quicker than that Christmas my sister wanted a furby. This time around, I have a feeling it will stick and go from fad to the norm, and hopefully create a launch pad for further meat exploration. It's stickability is due to its low cost, delicious flavor, and that liquid gold byproduct. Pork fat renders into a silky, golden ambrosia that will give flavor and girth to an otherwise milquetoast meal. Sausage, meatballs, confits, whatever it is, pork fat can usually help. So while indulging in this fad, I was always drawn to the same thing: pork belly. Pork belly is un-messed with bacon, and my experiences with it have been mixed. The pork buns at Momofuku are legendary and the perfect balance of salt, fat, and sweet, but pork belly elsewhere has proven greasy and flavorless. What to do...

Luckily, I got the Momofuku cookbook for Christmas, so I took some inspiration from Chef Chang. I seasoned the meat thoroughly and balanced it with acidic ingredients to cut the fat ruthlessly. In my American pork belly sandwich, I made my own version of an apple and mustard seed salad I enjoyed at my new favorite lunch spot, Forage, in Silver Lake. The tart granny smith, whole grain mustard, shallot, and parsley add a wonderful crunch and pop of acid that pairs beautifully with the pork. I added some arugula for that peppery back note, and a little olive oil to moisten the toasted baguette. The Bahn Mi inspired sandwich, which is a twist on the Vietnamese classic, has pork belly seasoned with five spice, ginger, and sour beer for some acid, a quick kimchi style cucumber pickle, cilantro, and grated carrot. It's basically a mutt, pulling from Vietnam, China, and Korea for its flavors. Both were delicious, and the apple salad and pickled cucumbers are completely addicting. If you don't feel like chewing through baguette, the sandwiches work as deconstructed salads too. Enjoy!

Pork Belly Bahn Mi with Spicy Cucumbers

NOTE: The pork belly can be made a day ahead of time, chilling in the fridge. The cucumbers can be made the morning of.

For 4-6 sandwiches

Ingredients:

For the Pork
1 1/2 lbs pork belly, skinless
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon chinese five spice
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 Hottenroth Berliner Weisse

For the Cucumbers
2 large garden cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sour beer (optional), I used Hottenroth by the Bruery, but any Berlinerweisse is fine.

For the Sandwiches
1 large baguette, maybe 2, halved and sliced into whatever size you want your sandwiches to be
1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked off, stems discarded
2 large carrots, grated
Mayo (optional)

Start with the pork. Mix together the dry ingredients and rub into the pork belly, brush off the excess. Put the pork belly in a snug container and pour the beer over it. Marinate for at least six hours and up to 24. Pre heat the oven to 450 F, and dry off the pork belly on some paper towels. Put the pork belly into a snug roasting pan or pyrex dish and roast for one hour, basting once half way through. Make sure it's in the center or lower rung of the oven, as the top can brown quickly. If it starts to get too dark, cover with some foil. After an hour, turn the oven down to 250 F and cook for another hour to and hour and fifteen minutes. You want the pork to be soft to the touch, but not falling apart. When it's done, take it out of the oven and cool until you can handle it, and wrap it up in plastic wrap and stick in the fridge to chill. Chilling makes it a lot easier to slice, so if you don't care about looks, you can slice right away. If you do chill it, heat up the slices in a pan for a little to warm it through.

For the cucumbers, cover the slices with half the salt and sugar and let them rest for 15 minutes. They'll leach out a little liquid, so I did this in a strainer. Place the cucumbers in a bowl with all of the other ingredients, and let them marinate for 15-30 minutes. Just try not to eat all of them before you get to the sandwiches!

Next, assemble the sandwiches. I lightly toasted the baguette, spread a tiny bit of mayo on the bread for moisture, then on the top side layered the carrot and cilantro, and on the bottom layered the pork belly then the cucumbers. Enjoy!

-Recipe by Claire Thomas - thekitchykitchen.com