Pork Belly, Pickled Vegetable, BBQ Sugar, Polenta - An Alinea Recipe

This one is one of my favorite recipes, Alinea and otherwise, and the difficulty and amount of prep time required is actually not too bad. And there is almost no special equipment needed. It was one of the earlier recipes I have tried, it worked out in the first attempt, and I have done it many times since, so without further ado, here it is:

Part 1: Pork Belly

Ah, pork belly. Have you ever had a bad recipe with pork belly? Neither did I. The pork belly here gets cured by letting it rest in a mixture of salt, sugar, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder. Since I like it a little hotter and less sweet, I sometimes replace chipotle chili for regular chili powder. As for the smoked paprika, do yourself a favor and get some Pimentón de la Vera. You can thank me in the comments.
Pork Belly gets cured
After 2 days in the fridge

The mixture stays in the fridge in a Ziploc bag for 2 days. This not only dries out the meat, it also lets it absorb the spice taste. It then gets cooked for 4 hours sous vide at 88º C. Since the temperature is so high, and therefore does not need to be precise, you could just as well put the meat in a Ziploc bag, carefully submerge it in a pot of water to get the air out before closing the zipper and cook it in simmering water, should you lack the sous vide equipment. After it cools, it gets cut in little squares. Pretty straight forward.

Part 2: The vegetables

Note, the title uses the singular for pickled vegetable, which is correct, since we only pickle a carrot, the cucumber and ball pepper in the recipe are just cut in pieces. The ball pepper (or rather, a very small part of a ball pepper), is cut into cubes with an edge length of 3 mm. Do that 16 times (for 8 persons) and you still have a whole lot of ball pepper left. Using a small parisienne scoop (basically a small melon baller, available on Amazon), little balls are scooped out of a cucumber and a carrot. A hot liquid containing of equal parts vinegar, water and sugar is then poured over the carrot balls. This is essentially pickling, although on a very rudimentary level.

Pickled carot balls
Part 3: Smoked Paprika Tuile

Tuile. Alinea loves tuiles. The word means tile in French and refers to the French roof tiles these little things somewhat resemble in shape. While tuiles in cooking, or rather baking, mostly are made out of dough or cheese, Alinea regularly makes them from some sugar mixture. As we do here.

Fondant is used here. Fondant, or Fondant icing to be precise, is that white sugary mass you see on cakes. The icing. Simple as that. Buy at any decent grocery store or you favorite online retailer. The form doesn’t matter here, it gets melted anyhow.

Another aspect to pay attention to here is humidity. This is one of the instances where I envy anyone who has air conditioning. Not for the cool, but for the drying of the air. When you make these tuiles, you want to be in a dry environment. I sometimes do the latter stages of the preparation in the living room rather than the kitchen, and you certainly don’t want to reduce a large pot of bone broth while doing this.

So here we go. Fondant is heated with glucose and isomalt, another sugar-like substance. The result is cooled down.
cooled sugar mixed
spices for the tuile

Then we add some spices, again chili and smoked paprika (or Pimentón de la Vera) and grind the mixture to a powder. This is where the humidity problem starts. The sugar powder loves water! So, keep it dry.

We build ourselves a little square stencil from some leftover cardboard and sift the sugar powder on a sheet tray.

cardboard stencil
the tuile before heating
Then it gets baked to let the sugar melt again and create little – you guessed it – tuiles. Even these get soggy quickly, so store in a dry place. Alinea asks that you turn the squares after 30 seconds, but it is absolutely impossible for me to conceive of a way to do that. Neither do I see a reason to. So, whatever.

Part 4: Polenta

Well, more like fat and some polenta. We cook a little polenta in water until dry and then add butter and mascarpone (Italian cream cheese). And no, you may not substitute low-fat Philadelphia.

Now we have mis en place.

Part 5: Assemble and serve

We char the pork belly pieces on one side until charred (charred is not completely black and burned!) and quickly remove them from the pan. You can use a sheet tray for the next part, I prefer to use a little wooden cutting board and work in batches. Place the pork belly, put 2 carrot balls and 2 cucumber balls on top diagonally, pepper in the center and top with one of the tuiles. 

pork belly covered with veggies
and topped with a tuile

Then using the grill, the whole thing goes in the oven until the tuile melts again. Tricky, isn’t it. The whole procedure takes only a couple of seconds. Then we place this little nugget of carnivore bliss on a dollop of polenta, add some green in the form of marjoram (or is that only for the foto?) and enjoy.

Yum, awesome sheet. Hungry yet?

Part 6: The recipe

  • Sous Vide cooker
  • Vacuum Sealer
Pork Belly
250 g sugar
250 g kosher salt
50 g Pimentón de la Vera
25 g (chipotle) chili powder
200 g pork belly

In small bowl, stir together sugar, salt, Pimentón de la Vera and chili powder. Pack mixture around pork belly. Cover and refrigerate for 2 days. Rinse in cold water. Place belly in vacuum bag and seal on highest setting. Cook sous vide in large pot of water at 88° C for 4 hours. Transfer bag to ice water to cool completely. Remove pork belly from bag and cut pork belly into strips 1.3 cm wide. Lay each strip on its side and cut into 2,5 cm squares, making sure each square is about half meat. Cover with damp paper towel and refrigerate in airtight container.

1 red bell pepper
1 English cucumber
1 large carrot
30 g sugar
30 g water
30 g white wine vinegar

Peel cucumber. Using 10 mm parisienne scoop, scoop out 16 balls. Reserve.

Core and seed pepper and cut off ends. Pick a reasonable sized piece of pepper and cut of the inside so that you have 3mm flesh on skin. Cut into 3 mm cubes. Cover with damp paper towel and reserve.

Peel carrot. Using 10 mm parisienne scoop, scoop out 16 balls. Place in small bowl. In small saucepan, bring sugar, water and vinegar to a boil. Pour over carrot balls. Reserve on countertop.

Smoked Paprika Tuile
120 g fondant
60 g glucose
60 g isomalt
4 g Pimentón de la Vera
1 g chili powder

In small saucepan, heat fondant, glucose and isomalt over medium heat to 160° C. Pour into silicone baking form. Let cool until hard.

Preheat oven to 180° C. Line large sheet tray with silicone mat. Cut 5 cm square stencil (from cardboard) and place on mat on tray. In spice grinder, grind together 75 g of hardened sugar, Pimentón and chili to fine powder. Sift ground mixture over stencil, creating layer 2 mm thick on mat. Remove stencil. Repeat process to make 8 evenly coated squares. Bake until sugar is molten. Remove from oven and let cool a bit. Remove from silicone mat before it is fully cooled. Store in an airtight container on countertop.

25 g polenta
75 g water
1 g salt
20 g butter
20 g mascarpone cheese

In small saucepan, bring polenta, water and salt to a gentle simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until polenta is nearly dry. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter, then fold in mascarpone. Keep warm. If mass becomes too dry, add a few drops of milk or cream.

To Assemble and Serve
16 marjoram leaves with stem

Sear pork belly over very high heat on one large side until charred. Remove from heat. Place pork belly pieces at least 6 cm apart on sheet tray covered with silicone mat.

Place 2 carrot balls and 2 cucumber balls diagonally on each piece of pork belly. Put 2 pepper pieces in the middle of vegetables. Center tuile on top of vegetables.

Preheat the oven on highest setting and on sheet tray as high as possible. Grill for a couple of seconds until tuile melts and completely covers belly. Remove from oven and trim off any excess tuile.

On table spoon or similar, place small dollop of warm polenta. Place pork belly on top. Place 2 marjoram leaves on top in corners.