Why do we wait (or at least think we should wait) until winter before cooking dishes like the one Jackie and I had for dinner last week: the most flavorful cut of pork -- belly -- and carrots, glazed in deeply reduced braising liquid? And when I say "we" I include myself, as anyone who follows "Cooking Off the Cuff" can tell from my summertime posts, which seem to have been about little other than corn and peppers.
It's just habit. After all, people eat lots of barbecue and grilled meat on humid 90-degree days, so to say it's about a desire for "lightness" is some sort of fallacy of logic that if I'd paid attention in philosophy class I'd be able to name. (Actually, I don't remember ever making it to philosophy class.)
There's no reason at all not to eat tender braised or simmered meat and root vegetables in warm weather. It is true that carrots and suchlike hold up very well in winter storage, but it's also true that they're at their peak in spring and summer. It is true too that good pork from good farmers can be had all year round, yet I can't help thinking that when the hogs have spent months on pastureland and rooting around in the woods (as the ones from my go-to pork supplier do) they must taste particularly nice too.
I'd previously braised a smallish -- 1-1/2 pounds -- piece of pork belly, though for the purposes of this dish I could also have simmered it in flavorful liquid and certainly could have used a much larger piece and glazed as much as I needed. I browned it lightly; set it aside, poured off some of the fat and added aromatic vegetables, parsley and thyme; when these had softened and begun to brown, I added a whole clove and a whole piece of star anise and deglazed with white wine. Now, I returned the meat to the casserole, added stock (chicken was what I had) not fully submerging the pork, then a tablespoon of good soy sauce. The anise and soy sauce were not there to make this taste Chinese, just to add aroma and savor. I laid a piece of waxed paper over the meat, covered the casserole and cooked it over very low heat for an hour and a quarter, turning the meat after 45 minutes. The pork was tender - if yours isn't, keep going until it is.
I let the meat cool in the braising liquid, then removed it to a container and strained the liquid over it before refrigerating.
Next day, I removed the congealed fat from the liquid and cut the meat into three chunks. In a pan just big enough to hold the pork with a little elbow room, I browned it on all sides - especially the newly cut surfaces -- and added half an inch of the rich braising liquid. As this simmered, I basted and turned the meat from time to time and added a little additional liquid as needed. This helped to form a glossy, well reduced glaze-sauce. Separately, I did a similar thing with cut-up carrots using a little of the same braising liquid. Why separately? Because I wanted to make sure they were cooked as I wanted them -- tender but not too soft -- and I wasn't sure how long the meat would take. The use of the pork cooking liquid ensured that they'd share flavor with the meat.
When the meat was glazed and the carrots nearly done, I added the latter to the former and continued to turn the food in the sauce for another minute or two until the carrots were just right.
As it happens, the weather on the night we ate this was not especially summery: the first hints of autumn were in the air. So it didn't seem all that outré to be eating what looked like a hearty stew (and with garlicky mashed potatoes to boot). But because all the ingredients were at their late-summer best, this was even better than it might have been in, say, January.
So ditch the salad bowl and get out the braising pan.
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