SWEET PEPPERED PORK BELLY BITES

In the fall, my husband and boys watch college football and it is a generational tradition to head to The Big House at least once each year to see the Maize & Blue. I married into Michigan football and for the longest time, I thought my father-in-law was saying the "amazing blue". I was close--110,000 spectators in one place is amazing and a bucket list experience even if you go to cheer for a rival team. When the men in my house are home, and I have no patience to sit in front of the television on a Saturday, I busy myself making nibbles for my home team. The saying says that the stomach is a way to a man's heart. I might take this expression one step further and say bacon is the way to a man's heart.

Nota bene: The cooking time may vary. It is important to take out the pork belly pieces when they look like the picture below. Sometimes, the pork belly isn't salty enough. A bit counter intuitive, but no worries. Right out of the oven, test one bite and sprinkle kosher salt over cooked pork belly if needed.

Ingredients 

  • 16 ounces slab pork belly, cut into 1/4-inch thick long pieces and cut again into 1-inch squares

  • Kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon fresh and coarsely ground black peppercorns

  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Olive oil spray

  • Whole grain or dijon mustard for serving

Directions

1. The night before or up to two days before,  completely cover the pork belly in kosher salt and refrigerate. When ready to proceed, rinse the pork belly and dry thoroughly.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. and line a ½ sheet-baking pan with parchment paper. Spray paper with olive oil spray.

3. Sprinkle cayenne pepper and ground black pepper over pork belly pieces. Thickly coat both sides of the pork belly slices with the brown sugar and place the pork belly pieces on a parchment paper lined half sheet baking tray.

4. Spray a second sheet of parchment paper with oil on one side and place it oil-side down over the pork belly.

5. Place another half sheet pan on top of the pork belly pan and weigh it down with a cast iron skillet.

6. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove the skillet and pans from the oven and set skillet and top pan aside. Carefully drain the excess fat from the bottom pan.

7. Return the top baking sheet and cast iron skillet to the parchment lined pork belly and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until crisp and caramelized.

8. Remove the cast iron skillet, top baking sheet, and top piece of parchment and set aside.

9. Using a spoon, drizzle the thick sauce that has accumulated in the pan over the pork belly. Return the pork belly to the oven for a minute or two, until the sauce melts evenly over the pork belly.

10. Remove the pork belly pieces from the oven and set them aside until cool enough to handle. Place the pork belly  on a wire rack to cool and serve at room temperature. Pass the mustard.

Makes 24 pieces