Friday, March 23, 2012

Marinated pork belly - recipe

In case you're confused: no, pork belly isn't a health food! For thousands of years, pork has been regarded with deep suspicion and accused of transmitting dangerous pathogens to humans. Indeed, a recent series of articles on the Perfect Health Diet health blog linked pork consumption with liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Nonetheless, I include it here. For one, because just as it has been maligned by some for millennia, it has been widely eaten by others – including the famously long-lived Okinawans – for just as long. So I figure it can;t be *all* bad.

Moreover, for people who simply can't bear to give up bacon, I wanted to offer a preparation is at least a healthier alternative to mass-produced bacon. Nonetheless, I do feel it should remain an occasional treat, carefully prepared and enjoyed in small quantities.

Having said this, a recent study run by the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization that promotes ancestral foods and food preparation methods, found that fresh pork may not be all that unhealthy, provided if you treat it right.

Although their study was very small, it yielded interesting findings, namely that marinating fresh meat in acidic substances such as vinegar, or curing and fermenting meat, as Italians and French have done for hundreds of years (yielding prosciutto and saucisson sec), may make it healthier than eating it fresh. (You can read a detailed description of this study here.)

Imagine my relief upon reading this study, for it tallies perfectly with the way I prepare pork belly at home: marinating the meat in lemon juice, garlic and spices. Slowly grilled or roasted at moderate temperature these marinated pork belly slices make a tasty addition to an old-fashioned farmer's breakfast. They can also be cubed and added to vegetable stir-fries or egg-fried rice.

In addition to the potentially beneficial effects of acidic marination, this preparation also lacks other unhealthy compounds often found in processed pork: nitrates, nitrites, excess salt, artificial flavorings and carcinogenic chemicals resulting from smoking. Meat from free-ranging pastured hogs tends to be less fatty than from their intensively farmed cousins because of the more active foraging they do, so always buy the very highest-quality pork you can find—ideally, pastured in a meadow near you, from animals that haven't been treated with growth enhancing antibiotics or other drugs.

10-15 slices of pork belly, cut about 6mm/ 1/8 inch thick
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ tsp paprika powder
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
a pinch of herbes de Provence
freshly ground black pepper

Place all the marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine with a whisk. Add the meat and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until it’s well coated on all sides with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 3-4 hours.

Line a baking tray or chopping board with baking parchment and place the meat strips on this, laid out nice and flat. Cover with more film or slip into a large plastic bag and place horizontally in the freezer. Freeze overnight, or at least 6 hours. Once frozen, remove the meat slices from the tray and store in a resealable plastic bag and place back in the freezer. Retrieve as needed.

The pork slices can be defrosted before cooking, but I usually pop them straight under the grill (on low to medium heat) where they defrost while cooking (the slices are so thin that they will easily cook through). Watch this closely to avoid the meat getting burnt. Salt lightly and serve.

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