Belly of the Beast.

Everyone knows that, aside from its intended purpose of honoring our fallen soldiers, Memorial Day is for grilling. As has been well-documented in these pages, though, I’m not one for advanced planning: I spent all of my barbecuing-related energy reserves on last weekend’s bash, so, as badly as I wanted to join the charcoal-wielding holiday revelers and go all out, I managed to restrict myself to a modest gathering of friends, a mini-Weber, beer, and hot dogs.

I did, however, prep for the week.

Once spring hits, there are certain fruits and vegetables that are highly anticipated and, once they make their appearance, ubiquitous for the length of the growing season. Asparagus. Ramps. Peas. Fiddlehead ferns. Rhubarb.

I’d picked up a bunch of the latter a few weeks ago and watched it slowly turn to mush in the bottom of my fridge while I tried to decide the best use for it. I eventually settled on my grandmother’s unbelievable rhubarb pie, but when the recipe proved impossible to locate, I was stymied. Finally, I came across a Jamie Oliver recipe that took this fruit—so often found in desserts and preserves—in a most-welcome savory direction. I tossed out the now-liquid rhubarb (I know, bad foodie!) and picked up another batch during my Saturday evening coop shift, threw some fresh herbs, a hunk of pork belly, and a bag of egg noodles into my cart, and spent Monday afternoon with the oven cranked up, braising away.

I finished the dish off last night, chopping herbs, reducing the marinade, boiling noodles, and searing chunks of meat to crispiness in a hot, hot wok. It was only after cleanup was complete that I realized I probably roasted the pork at a higher temperature than indicated—you wouldn’t have known it to taste the well-seasoned, sturdy shell yielding meltingly unctuous, fatty belly meat. Served on a bed of egg noodles, swathed in a slightly spicy, bracingly tart fruit-based sauce, and garnished with a healthy handful of basil, cilantro, and scallions, this was not a dainty meal, or one for those watching their weight, but it was utterly delicious.

I barely even missed the grill. Here at Itinerant Foodies, pork belly is always in season.

Jamie Oliver’s Favorite Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles
From Jamie at Home

2.2 pounds pork belly, boned, rind removed, cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peanut or vegetable oil
14 ounces medium egg noodles
4 green onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and finely sliced
2 bunches of interesting cresses (such as cilantro, shiso or basil cress)
a bunch of fresh cilantro
2 limes

For the marinade:

14 ounces rhubarb
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 garlic cloves
2 fresh red chilies, halved and deseeded
1 heaped teaspoon five-spice powder
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the pork pieces in a roasting pan and put to one side. Chuck all the marinade ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste, then pour this all over the pork, adding a large wineglass of water. Mix it all up, then tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in the preheated oven for about an hour and 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender, but not colored.

2. Pick the pieces of pork out of the pan and put to one side. The sauce left in the pan will be deliciously tasty and pretty much perfect. However, if you feel it needs to be thickened slightly, simmer on a gentle heat for a bit until reduced to the consistency of ketchup. Season nicely to taste, add a little extra soy sauce if need be, the remove from the heat and put to one side.

3. Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Get yourself a large pan or wok on the heat and pour in a good drizzle of peanut or vegetable oil. Add your pieces of pork to the wok and fry for a few minutes until crisp and golden. (You might need to do this in two batches.) At the same time, drop your noodles into the boiling water and cook for a few minutes, then drain most of the water away. Divide the noodles into four warmed bowls immediately, while they’re still moist.

4. What I love most about this dish is the contrast between the flavors going on in it, from the simple, plain noodles to the zinginess of the spicy rhubarb sauce and the beautifully crispy, yet melt-in-your-mouth pork. To finish, spoon over a good amount of the rhubarb sauce. Divide your crispy pork on top, and add a good sprinkling of spring onions, chilli, cresses and cilantro. Serve with half a lime — perfect.

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