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My husband and I are fans of the dinner salad: quick to put together, a great way to eat lots of veggies and fruit and, of course, delicious. I have mentioned  in the past that I love experimenting with add-ins and dressings to make just about every salad different from the last one I ate. Now I will tell you about our very favorite salad treat. Let’s just say that when this particular plate enters the kitchen, all other salads turn away in shame, knowing that they just don’t match up. This is the queen of dinner salads.

I’m talking about fresh greens topped with a still-warm, preferably oozy, perfectly poached egg, accompanied by brined and braised pork belly. Mmm mmm mmm. I use a kale-heavy salad mix from the farmers’ market (spinach and romaine-like lettuces are also good), and I do recommend a fairly hearty green, something that won’t dissolve to mush in the presence of all the other goodness on the plate. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare this lovely meal to other dinner salads, because it is certainly not something you can throw together; the pork belly must be brined for a solid two days and then braised for a few hours. You could leave it off (vegetarians, keep reading!), but you probably don’t want to do that. With the crisp, fresh greens, a slightly sweet dressing and the unctuous goodness of the egg, the pork belly lends both complimentary flavor and texture. If you don’t have access to it, no worries: a bit of crumbled bacon will give you a very good approximation. And if you prefer a meat-free salad, by all means leave it off completely and I promise the salad is wonderful without, as long as you have that lovely egg.

Fresh Greens with Pork Belly & Poached Egg

For the pork belly:

  • approximately 1/4 lb. pork belly per person (I use just about 1/2 lb. for 2)
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1/2 T. cinnamon
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 T. pepper
  • 2 c. beer, white wine or chicken stock for braising (I used lager)

For the dressing: (makes enough for 4 salads)

  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 2 T. white wine vinegar
  • a pinch of salt and black pepper
  • about 1/4 c. grapeseed or canola oil

For the salad:

  • dark, fresh greens, the hardier the better
  • 1-2 poached eggs per person (here’s how to poach an egg)

Two days ahead: Rinse the pork belly and pat dry; cut it into 2-3″ pieces (the sizes/shapes will vary according to the shape of your pork belly, just make sure your pieces are uniform). Mix together the brown sugar, salt, pepper and cinnamon and rub generously into all sides of the meat (you will probably have extra rub left over); put the pork pieces into a large Ziploc bag or close-fitting Tupperware-style container and refrigerate for 48 hours.

To prepare and assemble the salad: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Start with the pork belly, which needs to braise for a few hours: remove the pieces from the refrigerator and rinse off the dry rub. (You don’t have to scrub, just get the extra off the surface.) In a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1-2 T. of grapeseed or canola oil and sear the pieces, turning to brown all sides; this process takes 8-10 mins. or so. Choose a baking pan that’s just big enough to fit all of the meat without crowding; there should be enough room for 1/2 – 1″ spaces around each piece. Transfer the browned pork belly from the skillet into your pan and pour the braising liquid (beer, wine or broth) into the pan; it should cover each piece at least halfway, so add a bit more if you need to. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the pieces are fork-tender; remove from the oven and set aside.

Prepare your poached eggs. While they cook, make the dressing by whisking together the mustard, syrup, salt, pepper and vinegar and slowly drizzling in the oil until your dressing emulsifies. Toss your greens with the dressing and arrange them on your plate; top with pieces of pork belly and your still-warm eggs. The heat from the eggs and meat will slightly wilt the greens, which is a-ok. Serve this lovely salad with crusty bread so you can use the crusts to sop up any leftover goodness on your plate.