Pork Belly Panzanella Salad

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One of my favorite summer meals has always been a fresh garden salad. My father always had a very fruitful garden and we’d take the vegetable from there, chop them up, add some herbs, drizzle with olive oil and a splash of vinegar, add a fresh roll form the local bakery and voila, dinner!

As we’ve seen before I tend to try and elevate things with my cooking and I think I’ve done so this time around with my Pork Belly Panzanella Salad. Traditionally made with crusty bread, ripe tomatoes and herbs, I decided to bulk it up a little bit.

For starters I’d need more than just tomatoes in my salad as I need to feel full and hate myself or else it isn’t a true meal. I wanted to keep it fresh so I decided to add cucumbers, red onion, peppers, and artichokes along with the tomatoes to make the base of this salad.

Veggies

Next we need some crusty bread. One of my favorite breads in the world is sourdough. Not just any sourdough, but one that gives you a real good pucker! I still have the memory of some very sour, sourdough I had while on a family vacation in Colorado when I was just a small calf. I don’t know why but this taste has been something I’ve been yearning for ever since.

I was overjoyed when I was able to obtain a sneak peak loaf of the Rye Sourdough bread from the soon to open Malt Bake Shop in downtown Syracuse. Be sure to keep a look out for more details around their grand opening here. This bread was amazing and it fully delivered on that taste embedded in my memory!

RSD

To prep the bread I first sliced it very thick, and then tore off pieces to make them rustic in shape. I drizzled them with a little olive oil then baked at 325 for 20 minutes to dry them out and turn them into some flavor packed croutons.

Pork belly. The origins of the world’s tastiest food, bacon. I could’ve easily used bacon for this dish but I wanted bigger, heartier chunks of pork hence the belly.  The best way to do so is to braise. First you need to score the top layer of fat. The object of scoring it is to allow the fat to render more during the cooking process. I chose the old cross hatch pattern but you can do whichever design you’d like. Imparting flavor at this time is crucial so I rubbed the pork belly down with a combination or salt, pepper, granulated garlic, granulated onion, oregano, and crushed red pepper. To braise, I simply added some vegetables to the bottom of my pan and placed the pork belly on top of it. I took some homemade chicken stock and filled the pan until it came about halfway up the pork. My oven was already preheated to 400F and I let it cook for about 45 minutes until the top fat looked like cracklings (or pork rinds). I took it out of the pan and placed it on a rack to cool. Once cool to the touch I cut it into thick slices and then into smaller chunks from there.

Pork Belly!

Cheese doesn’t normally make an appearance in these salads but I don’t always play by the rules and most importantly I love cheese. I took a risk and decided to use halloumi which is a semi-hard, brined cheese made from both goat and sheep’s milk. This is an ingredient I’ve always wanted to try and use but never had the opportunity. It has a very clean and bland taste to it but it’s unique in that it doesn’t melt. Knowing that I put it to the test and grilled my slices. Yes, grilled. I was still a little skeptical so to minimize risk I used my small grill pan instead of the backyard grill. After just two minutes per side you are left, astonishingly, with char-marked and fully intact slices of hot cheese.

halloumi

Now all the components of our salad are ready and all that’s left to do is dress it. Like I mentioned above a simple drizzle of oil would suffice but I wanted more flavor. Looking at the ingredients I used and the spices on the pork it seemed natural to go with a Greek dressing for the salad. Sorry, but I don’t have any awesome homemade recipe for that for you as I took the easy way out and used a bottled dressing I got from Aldi’s.

With everything chopped, all that was left to do was combine it in a bowl and drizzle some of the dressing over the top. I let it sit got a minute to marry and then scooped myself a rather large portion.

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I was blown away with this salad. Biting through the pork you had the crunchy, sticky skin resting on top of a melty fatty layer which lead to one of the most intensely pork flavored nuggets of pig I’ve ever had. Cooking the pork belly in this style turns it into a hearty result much like a pork chop or loin. You would never think that it was actually bacon. The cheese provided a subtle salinity from its brine while the fresh veggies gave textural contrast with their crunch. The bread soaked up all the flavors and was easily the best crouton ever!

Before summer is lost I encourage you to experiment with your own panzanella salad. There are so many great produce options to use and if nothing else now you know what to do with all those tomatoes at the end of your harvest you can’t even give away. Be sure to keep an eye out for The Malt Bake shop and it’s grand opening coming soon!

Keep on Munching!

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The Moosed-Up Louisiana Crawfish Po’ boy

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Like most, I have an annual Memorial Day Weekend tradition. My cousin hosts an authentic Louisiana Crawfish Boil and I make it my mission to never miss it. You can refresh yourself on what it’s all about here. This year, instead of showing you pictures of the crawly crustaceans, or tables full of the carnage I left behind, or a cold beer, I decided to do something different.

Louisiana has given the culinary world some amazing contributions, and one of them in particular is the Po’ boy. As you’ve read before, sandwiches are one of my biggest passions so what better than to put my spin on a Crawfish Po’ boy!

Before I could start to assemble the po’ boy, I had to prepare my condiments. Any good po’ boy comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo. I stayed as true to this as I could but as you know, I had to put a twist on it. First twist, the “mayo”.

I wanted to lighten up the dressing a bit and thought a roasted corn & green pepper relish would be a good substitute. My grill has seen better days so I just used the open flame on the stove to char them and give that added depth of flavor. Once charred, I wrapped them in plastic wrap to steam for a few minutes. Then I simply sliced off the corn kernels and gave the pepper a peel and dice. To help thin out the relish, I decided to dice up pickles and add them in as opposed to adding them directly on the po’ boy. A few globs of spicy mustard and a mixy mix later you have yourself some unique relish!

The other ingredients were rather traditional. I shredded up some romaine lettuce, sliced a tomato, and since I added the pickle to the relish, I substituted some cucumber slices in its place to maintain the desired crunch.The bread was just a simple French Loaf you can get at any grocery store or bakery.

Sandwich Essentials

To make a sandwich moose-sized, you need a lot of meat. Anyone who’s eaten crawfish knows there isn’t a whole lot of meat in each one. So after about 30 minutes of shucking out these tails, I found myself with enough meat to satisfy. I wanted to add one more pop of flavor to the crawfish tails so I gave them a quick (2 minute) sauté in garlic and Pro Boil Seasoning.

Then it was time to assemble!

I gave both sides of the bread a good slathering with my homemade relish. Then on the bottom, I piled the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber slices. On the top half, I piled the crawfish tails high. Then in one swift, skillful (but messy) movement, I folded the two halves onto each other. All that was left to do was eat!

Crawfish Po' boy

The bread was perfect, obviously, as it is the recommended bread of choice for such a sandwich. The crispy outside and soft inside allow you to cram as much as you can in there while maintaining its integrity. The crawfish had a nice spice to them and their blending with the relish made for one deliciously spicy and powerfully flavorful bite. Thankfully the cool lettuce, juicy tomato, and crisp cucumber helped to ease the heat as you completed your bite. All in all I would say this was one of the most perfectly balanced sandwiches I’ve ever made.

**Chef’s Tip: When shucking the crawfish, add all of the heads and shells into a stock pot and cover with water. I added a bay leaf, two crushed cloves of garlic, black peppercorns, salt, and a touch more of boil seasoning, as well. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer for 30-45 minutes. What will be left is a great stock for soups, stews, sauces, gumbo, étouffée, or even a bloody mary!**

Keep on Munching!