When we go to a restaurant, we’d rather eat things we either don’t or can’t easily make at home. Why pay outrageous money for an okay steak and so-so salad when we can do much better ourselves? We go to Hawks for crawfish in Rayne and have sushi every couple of months at various places in Lafayette. We don’t do traditional slow-smoked barbecue, so that’s something we look for when dining out. Plus it’s one specialty that lends itself easily to low carb and paleo-friendly.
When we’re on the road for Harris’s work, if I can cook I’ll go along for the ride. I make suppers all but one night and then find an interesting place to try out nearby. Lately I’ve discovered if there’s pork belly on the menu, the restaurant is one we’ll enjoy. First because we love pork belly and two, a chef who features it, loves it as well and usually has a delicious take on the ingredient. Here’s where we’ve had some fabulous pork belly appetizers and some wonderful entrées, too:
The Spotted Horse at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas was the first place we saw it on a menu, and this version combines citrus and Asian flavorings for a sweetish and savory profile. The restaurant is upscale and urban and a great date spot. Even though it’s located next to the gaming floor, you can’t hear the slot machines.
We’ve been to two great restaurants in Jackson, Miss. recently. Saltine is in an old mid-century school. The dining area is retro stylish and through the big windows and across the hallway, you can see the kitchen. Here the pork belly is called PB & J—for pork belly and pepper jelly. It’s served with boiled peanuts and it’s so good. I’d never had boiled peanuts before … I know, I know they’re legumes and not paleo. And like the nuts that they are not, boiled peanuts are reminiscent of cooked beans. It’s not like we live nearby and will make a habit of the goobers, it’s a “when in Jackson,” kind of thing. And the rest of meal was easily made paleo.
Also in Jackson is Walker’s Drive-In. It’s right near Saltine. This landmark restaurant from the 1930s has become an upscale, farm to table restaurant that blew us away. Fabulous menu with so many great paleo-friendly choices, and the pork belly when we were there was called Ham and Eggs. Why it isn’t bacon and eggs, I’m not sure. Harris said it was probably his favorite pork belly app thus far. The chef mixes up his offerings, so if you have a chance to visit, that version might not be on the menu. The vintage dining room is really cool; you can tell the owners preserved and renovated the space rather than truck in artifacts to make it look nostalgic, and the food was superb.
That got me to thinking about my own take on pork belly. To vary the usual entrée-plus-sides dinner, I added a scallop sashimi appetizer so we could have our own upscale, small plate, restaurant experience. The scallop sashimi couldn’t be easier. I used frozen scallops; the fruit and veg are raw, and the dressing was quick, easy and delicious. You could substitute large shrimp for the scallops. And while sashimi is often raw seafood, in this case it’s lightly poached.
This is adapted from Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals by Lisa Q. Fetterman et al. I chose to poach the seafood in salted water for less than two minutes per side instead of using sous vide, but you can cook the scallops sous vide at 120 degrees F for 30 minutes. Chill it over ice or in the fridge while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
The unusual yuzu kosho is a spicy Japanese condiment, although minced hot chiles or sriracha can be used instead. Rather of an actual recipe, I’m suggesting guidelines. The remaining components are wash, slice and go. Choose something fruity like grapefruit, something crisp with a touch of bitterness like endive or radicchio and avocado for richness. Make the dressing from a squeeze of the grapefruit rinds, coconut aminos or tamari, some sweet—mirin or honey, a little olive or avocado oil and some form of chile. Simple.
The pork belly was just as good. I braised the belly, julienned some crispy vegetables, and served it with a tamari ( or you can use coconut aminos), ginger, scallion, and mirin or coconut sugar sauce that nicely enhanced the flavors of the other ingredients. Served in soft, butter lettuce, this dish was as paleo as it was yummy. I’ve cooked pork belly many ways in the past few months. If you season it with salt, pepper, some coconut sugar and togarashi (a Japanese spice mixture), and put it in a covered Dutch oven for three hours at 300 degrees F., you have a texture like the one in the photo below. Take off the cover and cook an additional hour and the belly will brown up and get firmer. Your choice. Slice it up. Julienne some cucumber, yellow or red bell pepper, carrot and some paper thin slice of japapeño. Wrap everything up in some soft lettuce like Bibb or Boston and drizzle on the sauce.
For dessert try this medley of cherries, blueberries, watermelon and piña colada jelly-shot stars. I found a cocktail recipe I liked, softened a package of gelatin in some of the pineapple juice, then warmed all the ingredients (coconut milk, rum, and honey) over low heat for about three minutes, until the gelatin was completely dissolved. I lined a loaf pan with plastic wrap, poured in the mixture and chilled it for a couple of hours. I found an inexpensive, small-star cookie cutter and punched out the cuties. The dressing was a simple combo of lime zest, lime juice and honey. Taste and adjust per your preference.
For music I’m mixing it up with some random tunes I like right now. Hope y’all are having an amazing summer!