Scallops & Sous Vide Pork Belly, Vanilla Butter, Acorn Squash, Cinnamon Apple Chips
Sous vide pork belly – I’d say that’s almost cheating. It’s an affordable cut that should always be delicious and it’s hard to mess up (especially if you’re using the sous vide technique), but you can (if you’re not using the technique).
Sometimes there can be too much fat, chewy fat, fat that is cooked so long it detaches from the meat, or sometimes it’s even dry. It is hard to believe how it can be dry since pork belly is so fatty, but it happens and I’ve dried it out.
Before my SousVide Supreme I would braise my pork belly. The results were similar, but sometimes the meat part would come out dry. It wasn’t too noticeable when I ate it with the fat or drenched in sauce, but I knew I was relying on the sauce to compensate. I didn’t like that. The meat should be juicy and succulent on its own. Culinary mistakes are okay on myself, but not when I’m hosting guests.
The dry pork belly happened because I was cooking it at a higher temperature, and since pork belly takes several hours to cook before the fat becomes tender, the meat risks drying out. During the braise, the liquids also evaporate, so I couldn’t really “set it and forget it” either.
While you can still have successful results braising a pork belly, I prefer the sous-vide technique for guaranteed results. It cooks the pork belly at a constant temperature and there is no moisture loss since the food is vacuum sealed. I also get all my braising liquid which I can reduce later for the sauce. Yes, pork belly is hard to mess up, but with the sous-vide technique it’s near impossible to mess up.
For this menu I used Sakura Farms Premium Pork which is a local and sustainable pork supplier. I decided to pair it with scallops since I’m not a fan of bacon wrapped scallops. It was similar in concept, but different in execution. Bacon and scallops cook at different times, so I prefer cooking them separate but still eating them together. The vanilla butter I’ve had paired with scallops before, so I reused the idea and the acorn squash is a seasonal ingredient I just really like. Since I’m all for texture the cinnamon apple chips and crispy mint leaves did the trick, but they weren’t just garnish and contributed to the overall flavour. To be honest, I could’t taste the mint much especially since it loses flavour after being fried, but it made for colour and texture.
When I make this again I will compress the pork belly overnight after being sous-vide, but I skipped this stage on this occasion. This process compresses the fat so there isn’t such a thick layer and it also takes out the moisture and water which means less oil splattering during the searing… I was cooking sleeveless… bad idea.
My DinnerPartyYVR “Land & Sea” Menu
Click the course for the full recipe.
BC Scallops with Vanilla Butter & Sous Vide Pork Belly with Acorn squash & Cinnamon Apple Chips
Dessert: Hosted by third parties.
You might not be surprised to learn that the second course of the Social Bites #DinnerPartyYVR meal also incorporated a proven technique and recipe that Mijune and I had cooked before: sous vide pork from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure cookbook. The pork belly is very straightforward and easy to make ahead, as were most of other components of the dish. When making multiple dishes for a dinner party, advance preparation, organization and timing is key. There was only a limited amount of time available to cook and serve the dinner guests so we had to be as efficient as possible yet still make dishes that were tasty, balanced and beautiful to look at.
Scallops is a classic pairing with pork and Organic Ocean generously provided fresh ones from Qualicum Bay. Sweet squash and apples practically paired themselves with the pork and the fall season so they were easy choices for the dish. Sweet squash was roasted and pureed with butter, cream, parmesan cheese, and freshly grated nutmeg. Crispy Fried Cinnamon Apple Chips added crunchy texture and a little more sweet and spice to complement the pork and squash. Mint is more commonly used with lamb but it complemented the rich and full flavoured pork nicely, and added a pop of colour to the plate.
Scallops & Sous Vide Pork Belly, Vanilla Butter, Acorn Squash, Cinnamon Apple Chips Recipe
2.5-3kg pork belly
- 120g kosher salt
- 70g granulated sugar
- 2kg water
- 4 whole black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 medium carrot, cut into 1” pieces
- 1 small leek, cut into 1” pieces
- 1 small onion, cut into 1” pieces
- 3 cups meat stock (ideally pork or veal stock)
- 1 ½ cups unfiltered apple juice
- (optional) 45g (3 Tbsp) apple cider vinegar
- (optional) 15g (1 Tbsp) maple syrup
- ~1 kg of acorn or other sweet squash that has been peeled, cut in half, seeds removed
- 2 cloves garlic
- 60g (¼ cup) melted butter
- 250g (1 cup) whipping cream
- 25g (~ ½ cup) parmesan cheese, grated
- 35g (2 Tbsp) maple syrup
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- freshly grated nutmeg
- 24 medium scallops
- Vanilla Butter
- 60g (¼ cup) butter
- seeds from ½ vanilla bean
Deep Fried Mint Leaves
- 24-32 whole mint leaves
- 500g (2 cups) oil for deep frying
- 24 Crispy Fried Cinnamon Apple Chips (see recipe here)
- 35-40 Deep Fried Mint Leaves (see above)
Notes for success
- With the exception of cooking the scallops, all of the components for this dish can be made at least several days ahead and stored until ready to use. Finishing the recipe requires searing the scallops, searing the pork belly to reheat them, and reheating the squash pure and pork sauce.
- The pork belly can be brined and cooked sous vide, then cooled and stored still sealed in the bag along with the cooking juices. The cooking juices can also be strained off to make the sauce after the pork belly is cooked.
- The pork sauce takes at least an hour to make. The pork cooking juices must be strained off and reduced down to a sauce consistency along with the meat stock and apple juice.
- The Deep Fried Mint Leaves can be made at the same time and fried in the same oil as the Crispy Fried Cinnamon Apple Chips. They should be stored separately though.
- Be careful when searing off the pork belly and cover it with a splatter guard if possible. The high fattiness of the meat causes the oil to pop and splatter. If the pork is very fatty, the skin and some of the fat can be cut off before searing.
To make the brine, mix the salt and sugar in a large container. Add the peppercorns and herbs.
Heat about one quarter of the water and add to the dry mixture, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the remaining water and remaining brine ingredients. Chill the brine.
Add the pork belly to the brine and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the pork from the brine and brush off any seasonings adhering to it. Discard the brine.
Vacuum seal the brined pork belly
Place the brined pork belly in a bag and vacuum pack on medium.
Cook at 82.2C (180F) for 12 hours. Let rest for about 10 minutes, then submerge the bag in an ice bath. Once it is cold, refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Cut open the bag of pork belly and pour the cooking juices into a large liquid measuring cup. There should be 1-2 cups of liquid.
Cut and trim the pork belly into eight evenly sized rectangular blocks. Cut each block into 2-3 smaller pieces. Place the pork belly on a large plate and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve and into a medium pot. Add the meat stock and simmer over medium high heat until the liquid has reduced to approximately half the original volume. Add the apple juice and simmer until the liquid is the consistency of a sauce.
Taste the sauce. Add the vinegar and maple syrup a teaspoon at a time until the sauce is adjusted to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
Store the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Use a heavy chef’s knife to cut the skin from the squash. Cut the squash in half and use a spoon or melon scoop to remove the seeds. Cut the squash halves lengthwise into two or three pieces.
Place the squash pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake at 350F for 1 hour, rotating halfway through the baking time. The squash should be soft enough to be easily pierced with a knife.
While the squash is baking, place a small saucepan over medium low meat. Add the butter, whipping cream and garlic cloves. Heat the mixture to a bare simmer, then turn the temperature to low and allow the garlic to cook in the cream until softened, about 15 minutes.
Puree the cooked squash with the cream mixture and garlic cloves in a large food processor or VitaMix blender. The puree should be smooth and free of lumps. Add a small amount of water if necessary if the puree is too thick.
Add the maple syrup, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg and puree for a few seconds longer. Taste the puree and adjust with additional salt, pepper and nutmeg if necessary.
Store the puree in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Scallops: Vanilla Butter
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it bubbles and foams. Keep the butter over the heat until most of the water has evaporated and the butter stops sizzling. Skim off the foam so that only clear clarified butter is left behind.
Scrape the seeds from ½ a vanilla bean and add it to the butter along with the scraped pods. Allow the butter to cool and transfer it to a small container along with the pods.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Deep Fried Mint Leaves
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat until it reaches 325F.
Add the leaves to the oil, about a dozen at a time. The leaves will instantly sizzle upon hitting the oil.
Deep fry the leaves for 30-45 seconds. They will be done when they no longer sizzle and start to appear transparent.
Remove the leaves from the oil and drain well on paper towels. The leaves will be brittle and fragile so handle with care.
Store the deep fried leaves until ready to use.
To finish & serve:
If you have enough stovetop space to reheat the squash puree, reheat the pork sauce, sear all of the pork pieces in one pan and sear all of the scallops in another , then bring out the necessary cookware at this time. Otherwise, heat the oven to 300F to keep things warm while the pork belly and scallops are finished.
Reheat the squash puree and keep warm.
Reheat the pork sauce and keep warm (this is best kept warm on the stovetop or can be microwaved at the last minute).
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the pieces of pork belly and carefully sear for a few minutes on each side until they are a rich golden brown all over. If possible, use a splatter guard to cover the pork as its cooking. If the pork belly needs to be seared in batches, move the done pieces to the oven to keep warm.
When the pork is nearly done searing, heat a frying pan over medium high heat until it is very hot. Add ~1 Tbsp of butter to the pan and tilt the pan to coat it. Quickly place the scallops with a flat edge facing down. (Sear the scallops in batches if necessary, keeping the done ones warm in the oven.) Allow the scallop to sear for at least a minute without moving them, long enough so that a golden brown crust is formed on the bottom. Season very lightly with salt, then turn the scallops over and sear briefly on the other side to get a little colour but do not overcook them.
Place three scoops of squash puree on each plate. Place a piece of pork belly on each scoop of squash puree. Place the scallops around the pork belly pieces and drizzle the sauce over each plate. Garnish with the fried apple chips and fried mint leaves.