When you taste 200-plus pinot noirs, as I did during the two weeks before, during and after my recent attendance at the tenth annual World of Pinot Noir in Shell Beach, California, this past March 5-6, 2010, you're bound to come up with an epiphany of sorts. For a complete report, including notes on the best wines tasted, please see my companion piece, Hanging with the Devil at the 2010 World of Pinot Noir, on Culinary Wine & Food Adventures.
As expected, our audience found that both the Hitching Post and Maysara pinot noirs skipped lightly and fandango-y with the peppery, gingery, cinnamon and star-anise spiced qualities of the pork belly; the crisp acidity and round tannin centers of these black and red fruit driven wines titillating the palate with every bite, even at the fattiest ends. Alas, there was no “voting” in this particular Iron competition; not even an opportunity for jury rigging (as there were no judges). But I guarantee: it was a match those unaccustomed to the appreciation of Asian style food with pinot noir are unlikely to forget. Re the recipe...
RED-COOKED BORK BELLY with Bok Choy
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced into 6-8 coins and smashed
3 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch pieces
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 oz. Chinese rock sugar, smashed into small rocks with hammer (or ¼ cup brown sugar)2 whole star anise¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup dark mushroom soy sauce
5 cups chicken stock (or water)
1-½ to 2 lbs. pork belly, preferably skin-on, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 lb. bok choy (1 medium head or 3 baby heads)
1 ½ tablespoons peanut oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper¼ cup water
1. Braising liquid: In carbon steel or stainless steel wok, combine ginger, scallions, cinnamon stick, sugar, star anise, sherry, boy soy sauces, and stock or water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, and boil for 12-15 minutes to infuse liquid with spices.
2. Braise: Slide pork into the wok and lower the heat to gentle simmer. Braise, uncovered, turning pork with tongs from time to time to braise evenly, until meat is fork-tender, about 3 hours. Monitor heat so sauce simmers modestly, never vigorously. Lower heat if necessary.
3. Meanwhile, washing and trimming bok choy: Rinse bok choy thoroughly, paying close attention to inside hollow at base of each leaf where dirt tends to gather. Drain. Cut lower ribs crosswise into 1-inch pieces, and slice the leaves into slightly wider 1-½ strips. Set stems and leaves aside in separate bowls.
4. Simmer bok choy: When pork is tender, turn off heat and let sit. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bok choy stems handful at a time and cook, stirring, until stems throw off their water and soften, 4-5 minutes. Immediately begin adding leaves, stirring and tossing with tongs, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add water, cover, and lower heat to medium. Simmer until bok choy is crisp/tender, about 5 minutes more. Set aside in warm spot.
5. Finish: With tongs, transfer pork to large platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Strain the braising liquid medium sauce pan, and discard solids. Skim some but not all of clear fat from surface (some fat essential to flavor). Boil the braising liquid until reduced by one quarter to one half, about 8 minutes. Taste. Should be salty and intense.
6. Serving: Serve pork and bok choy with drizzle of reduced braising liquid.