Korean Pork Belly Tacos

While we were in Hawaii (yes, another Hawaii shout-out – I promise I’ll discontinue my musings on this island soon enough) we ate at a place called The Yardhouse a few times. Mostly to try as many of the 150 beers on tap as we could during our week-long trip. One evening, Kyle and I ordered some Korean Pork Belly Tacos as an appetizer, but were a wee-bit disappointed when the waiter brought us the Korean Short Rib Tacos instead. We didn’t complain, as we had contemplated ordering these ones – and they were really tasty – but we still had a hankering for some Pork Belly.

I think some people cringe when they hear Pork Belly and don’t feel open to trying it. But you have to remember, one of the most delicious things on this earth comes from the belly of the Pig: bacon. So you can imagine that if you take a big slab of this wonderous meat, show it some TLC with a salty brine; crisp it up in a hot oven; baste it in a thick spicy paste; then slowly roast it to melt all the delicious fat into the waiting flesh….

…sorry, I had to run and grab a snack because I just made myself way too hungry thinking about the tasty pork treat that we recently made. My love affair with pork is not much a secret to those who know me, and Pork Belly is like the icing on the cake – something I’d love to eat daily, but know I should reserve for special occasions and rare weeknight dinners. In a perfect world where saturated fats didn’t cling to my thighs and behind, I’d be eating this stuff up like candy. But alas, we don’t live in this dream place where bacon and pork belly are served with every meal with no heart attack-inducing consequences.

Notice the irregularly-shaped mess that was my first tortilla

When we got back from our trip, I wanted to attempt to make the Korean pork belly tacos that we missed out on at The Yardhouse. Because we didn’t get to try them, I can not say that these are even close to the ones they would serve, but they are tasty either way. This time’s taco-making was a bit of a process – as I made my own Kimchi and corn tortillas – but I wanted these to taste as fresh and scrumptious as possible. Keep in mind my kimchi recipe here is a quick and not authentic – so if you have a kimchi recipe you prefer, go ahead and use that. I wanted to add authenticity with some Korean Chili Powder (for the kimchi) and Korean Gochujang (for the pork belly), but I scoured our little city for these ingredients and was unsuccessful, so I made due. Please don’t avoid making this if you’re not up to preparing all the parts from scratch, pick up some kimchi from the store (or cut it out tall together if you’re not a fan of fermented cabbage) and grab some packaged tortillas. I promise the pork belly is delicious either way. (PS – we even heated up some flour tortillas in the event of Corn Tortilla Making Disaster…which was luckily averted)

Korean Pork Belly Tacos

I’ll include recipes for corn tortillas & a quick kimchi below, but feel free to substitute pre-made ones in order to have this meal on your table with little effort. We did happen to heat up some flour tortillas to eat in the event that the corn tortillas did not work out. The pork belly does not take much hands-on time, but remember to start it the day before, as you’ll need to brine it for about 24-hours. Then it’s best to roast it earlier in the day (or the day ahead) that you’ll serve it, as it will be easier to slice when it’s cool – otherwise the belly will fall apart if you try to slice it while it’s hot. 

For the Pork Belly:
2 lb pork belly
2 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
1″ piece of ginger, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 Tbsp sambal oelek
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, minced

For the Tacos:
8-10 6″ corn or flour tortillas
kimchi
sliced red onion
sliced raddish
sliced red pepper
chopped cilantro
limes
siracha (optional)
cabbage & lime slaw (optional – can be served instead of kimchi)

Remove the skin from the pork belly (you can ask your butcher to do this if you like). Dissolve the salt and sugar in the 2 cups of water. Pour the brine into a ziptop plastic bag, add the pork belly and sliced ginger. Allow to brine for 12-24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Remove the pork belly from the brine. Rinse under cool water and pat dry with paper towel. Line a baking dish with foil and place the sliced onion on the bottom (these are used to prevent too much oil burning up in the pan…although it will leave you with charred onions). Place the pork belly on top of the onions. Put the pan in the oven and roast for 1 hour. Remove pan from oven. Discard foil with onions and line the baking pan with a clean sheet of foil.

Reduce the oven to 250ºF. Combine the sambal oelek, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, chili flakes, ginger and garlic in a small bowl to make a paste. Baste the entire pork belly with the paste. Place back in roasting dish and back into the oven. Continue to roast for another 1 & 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let cool completely. (you can cover the pork belly and place in the fridge to use later in the day or use the following day)

When ready to serve the tacos, heat the tortillas according to directions. Slice the pork belly into 1/4″ slices. To reheat the meat, either place in a non-stick pan over medium high heat for about 5-6 minutes, turning once or place on a baking sheet and roast for about 8-10 minutes at 350ºF. Build your tacos with slices of pork belly, and your choice of kimchi, some sliced onion, red pepper and radish, and top with cilantro, lime juice, & siracha. Alternately, you could omit the kimchi and serve with a cabbage & lime slaw (sliced cabbage combined with some lemon juice and salt).

Makes 8 – 10 6″ tacos.

Kimchi

This is a quick kimchi, so I do not profess it to be nearly as good as an authentic week-long fermented kimchi that also has the adition of sweet and flavourful Korean chili powder. But this one makes a great alternate if you want a kimchi fix in a hurry. Don’t forget to start this the day before you’re going to use it, as it needs at least 24-hours to get a wee-bit fermented. You’ll want to store this in a glass dish with a tight fitting lid, such as a mason jar, as the smell is not one you want escaping into your home. 

1 head napa cabbage, sliced
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup water
4 green onions, sliced
1 -2  Tbsp fish sauce (go for the lesser amount if you’re not fond of fish sauce, but don’t omit it)
1 Tbsp sambal oelek
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp piece ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 – 1 tsp chili flakes (use less or more depending on tolerance for heat)

Place sliced cabbage, salt and water in a bowl. Allow to sit for 2 hours. Drain the cabbage. Combine the remaining ingredients (onions through chili flakes) in a large glass bowl. Add cabbage and stir to combine. Ensure that your glass storage container is very clean. Pour the cabbage mixture into the jar, fill the jar with water and close the lid tightly. Allow to sit in a cool, sun-light free area for 24 hours – do not open at any point. Quick kimchi is ready after approximately 24-hours. Refrigerate after opening. Kimchi will last in the fridge for approximately 2 weeks.

Corn Tortillas

I probably don’t really need to write the recipe for this here, since bags of Masa typically have the recipe right on the bag – which is what I used. However, I will recommend that you do not make these unless you own a tortilla press. I naively believed articles on the internet stating that you can just “press” the tortillas with a heavy-bottom pan. Lies. I put all my weight into this, and was still left with a 3″ thick tortilla that I had to attempt to roll out the remaining 3″ … and they’re sticky and annoying to roll. But I would say that purchasing a press and making your own corn tortillas is totally worth it. They are 100% better than the tortillas you can buy at the store. Cross my heart. 

2 cups masa
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour mixture out onto a clean surface and knead together for about 2 minutes until a smooth ball forms. The dough will be a bit sticky.

Divide the dough ball into 16 equal pieces, and roll each of these into a small ball. Cover the masa balls with a damp cloth. Line a tortilla press with 2 pieces of wax or parchment paper. Place a dough ball in between the wax paper and press the ball into a 6″ tortilla.

Preheat a non-stick griddle or pan over medium-high heat. Cook the tortillas for about 50 seconds on one side (do not crowd pan – you may have to cook one tortilla at a time), flip and cook the other side for an additional 50 seconds. Cover the cooked tortillas with a heavy lid to keep warm (or place in a warm oven).

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