On our last night of our holiday we were staying near the SEA-TAC airport and were looking for our last holiday meal. The hotel gave us a list of nearby restaurants and we settled on a Thai restaurant. I have a love/hate (okay that was harsh, more like a love/dislike) relationship with Thai restaurants in the States. After living in the country for which the food is named after, my palate does not always appreciate the American versions of “authentic Thai food.” But regardless, we decided to eat Thai food and were pleasantly surprised.
The Husband had bamee moo deng heng (egg noodle pork dry) and loved it. I had pad gra praow gai (stir-fried basil chicken) and love it. But it was our starter that stole the show. We ordered a crispy pork salad. It was the crispiest pork belly with a sweet and sour and salty dressing with shredded celery root and sweet onions. It was delicious! Though I never had this dish in Thailand, the flavor combinations instantly took me back to the beaches of Krabi. I love how the flavors of food can do that!
Well, wouldn’t you know we found a good Thai restaurant but in Seattle. Foo-ey! So, when I am craving something I can’t have I will just make it. Below is my recipe for my version of the salad I had in Seattle.
What you will need:
Celery, sliced thin on the bias
Sweet onions, sliced thin
Cilantro leaves and stems, roughly chopped
Thai chilies (2-3 depending on your heat levels)
4 T Thai fish sauce
4 T fresh lime juice
2 T palm sugar (granulated or agave nectar can be substituted)
* something to poke holes in the pork belly skin. I used a corn on the cob holder.
What you will do:
1. Slice onion in half and then slice each half thinly. Let soak in a bowl of cold water. Slice the celery and chop the cilantro and chilies and set aside. *Sweet onion is less potent than a regular onion but still has a bite to it. By soaking it in the water, the onion still retains the crunch but the soak will take away some of the bite.
2. In a pot, bring some water to the boil. Place steamer in pot and add the pork belly. Steam for about 15 minutes. After about 15 minutes, remove pork belly to a cooling rack and let air dry for about an hour to two.
3. Pre-heat oven to 395 degrees F. Poke a lot of holes in the skin (this will allow the fat to cook and blister the pork belly skin). Cook the pork belly on a foil lined tray for 45 minutes, turning pork belly over about halfway through. You are looking for a crisp and golden brown on each side. Turn heat to 400 degrees F and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Remove and drain on kitchen towel.
4. In a bowl, combine the palm sugar, the fish sauce and the lime juice. Stir and taste. Adjust seasoning if needed. Slice some pork belly in desired size pieces and add to dressing. Drain the onions and add to the bowl along with the celery, cilantro and chilies. Toss to incorporate and transfer to serving dish.
3. While the pork belly is cooling,
*If you are using thin pieces like the ones I had, carefully prop up the pork belly against the tray on the skin side for 15 minutes (after the 45 minutes of cooking). This will help the skin bubble up.
Go anywhere in Asia and you will see HUGE pieces of crispy pork hanging from noodle carts, roadside restaurants or right along side hanging ducks. It is a splurge but it is amazing. The crunch from the crackling will make the most joyous sound in your mouth and the tender pork belly will absorb any flavor seasoning you introduce it to.
It takes a little practice to find the best technique to crisp the pork belly. I used to deep fry it but that is messy. The baking is the best route, in my opinion, and hey, since it is baked its healthy, right??
Palm sugar can be found in any Asian market or most grocery stores. It is sweet but has a much smoother sweetness than your traditional granulated sugar. Just try it and you will see the difference too!
This salad is gorgeous! It is light and fresh. It’s flavors are so vibrant and will make your mouth happy. With the fresh veggies and the lime dressing you almost forget about the pork belly being a splurge, ha ha almost!
Preparing pork belly takes some time but the end result is worth it. Go ahead…indulge in some good ol’ fat!
Cheers and happy eating!
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