This is my take on one of the best restaurant dishes I've ever had. The original, an appetizer by Chef Kate Rench of Café Diva in Steamboat Springs, CO is called a "Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich" and consists of Asian braised pork belly, Thai peanut sauce, sriracha, and raisin nut toast. The boys and I first tried this dish two years ago while skiing at Steamboat and were totally blown away by its complexity and utter deliciousness. Truth be told, when we decided to head back to Steamboat for February vacation this year it was this dish more than any other factor (except maybe the awesome snow there) that sealed our decision to return. Yup….it's that freakin' good!
Chef Kate has not published the recipe for this dish so it took some ingenuity and more than a little trial and error before I came up with this pretty awesome (if I do say so myself) facsimile of her world-class appetizer.
Whereas Chef Kate braises her pork belly, I decided to break in my new Anova sous-vide circulator to cook mine. The first swing I took at the pork belly turned out to be a miss. I bought what looked to be a decent piece of belly from my local Whole Foods, then followed the instructions of a well regarded food blogger to craft an Asian marinade and cook the belly sous-vide at 170℉ for 10 hours. In the end, the belly was fairly dry and the Asian flavors did nothing for me, in fact, the flavor got quite funky….perhaps it wasn't the best quality meat to begin with, I don't know.
After that FAIL, I decided to get serious about sourcing the meat and ordered a full belly from Tender Belly, a purveyor of beautiful heritage breed pigs in Denver, CO. I decided to forgo the Asian seasonings for a combination of an overnight brining, then cooking per Heston Blumenthal's instructions for pork belly at 140℉ for 36 hours! Blumenthal's brine sounded a little assertive with citrus, allspice, juniper, and star anise among other things, so I looked to my old friend Thomas Keller for a more neutral brine and found one in his Ad Hoc Cookbook. After 10 hours of brining I vacuum sealed 2 chunks of belly and cooked them in a water bath for a day and a half before letting them chill for a few days (still in the cryo-bag) in the fridge.
When finally ready to build my little open faced "sandwiches" I opened one of the bags, trimmed a little of the excess fat from the bottom of the belly, portioned a few pieces then gently sauteed them on all sides to warm them through then built them as shown in the collage below. Starting with a few cubes of fruit-nut toast, topped with the pieces of belly, some spoonfuls of spicy peanut sauce, a drizzle of a soy-balsamic glaze, some fresh cilantro, and a few dots of sriracha.
This is not a dish you'll eat everyday (though you WILL want to), but it is one you should try without a doubt. If you don't have a sous-vide circulator you can braise the belly like Thomas Keller does at his Ad Hoc restaurant by using this recipe provided by my friends at Leite's Culinaria. Recipes for the other components appear below. The peanut sauce is by Chef John Currence and is a great all-around sauce that you can use to toss with pasta, dress a salad, or act as a dip for your favorite skewered satay. It is so dang good you're going to want to eat it by the spoonful, I know because I DO!
Cheers – Steve
Thai Peanut Pork Belly
inspired by Kate Rench's "Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich" appetizer at Cafe Diva, Steamboat Springs, CO
**pork brine recipe by Thomas Keller, Thai Peanut Sauce recipe by John Currence, Sous-vide pork belly cooking method by Heston Blumenthal**
- Pork belly (skin-off), cut into 1 pound pieces
- Ad Hoc's pork brine (see below)
- your favorite fruit and nut bread
- Thai peanut sauce (see below)
- soy-balsamic syrup (see below)
- fresh cilantro
- sriracha hot sauce
Ad Hoc's Pork Brine:
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
- 12 bay leaves
- 3 large rosemary sprigs
- 1/2 bunch thyme
- 1.2 bunch flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup garlic cloves, crushed – skin left on
- 2 tablespoons black pepper corns
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 8 cups water
(this is enough brine for 4 pounds of pork)
* bring all ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and let cool completely before using. Place pork belly in brine and refrigerate for 10 hours before cooking sous-vide.
* rinse brined belly, then vacuum pack each piece and cook sous-vide at 140℉ for 36 hours. Chill the belly, still in the vacuum bags overnight. When ready to make the sandwiches, scrape any "melted" fat from the pork, trim into appetizer sized portions and gently saute to just to warm through.
Thai Peanut Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup minced shallots
- 2 tablespoons sriracha
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 can cream of coconut
- 3/4 cup half and half
- 1 1/2 cups chopped peanuts
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 cup peanut butter
* In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sriracha and curry powder. Add the coconut and half and half, peanuts, honey, and fish sauce. Stir until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a blender or a food processor and add the peanut butter. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Soy- Balsamic Syrup:
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
* place soy and balsamic into a small saucepan set over medium heat and reduce to a syrup consistency. Let cool.
When ready to build your sandwiches proceed as shown in the photo collage above. Start with a couple pieces of raisin-nut toast, top with sauteed cubes of pork belly, warm some peanut sauce and spoon it over the bacon, top with fresh cilantro, drizzle with soy syrup and dot the plate with sriracha.