Pork Belly Burnt Ends Banh Mi
Before the pandemic hit, I had planned out my entire Meatwave calendar and recipe line-up for 2020. As each month stuck at home passed, I held onto hope that I'd be able to sneak in one or two cookouts, which kept me from cooking any of those pre-planned recipes for myself. By mid-summer though, it became clear that no large scale Meatwave would be taking place this year and I decide to finally dip into my recipe bank and enjoy some of those meals for just myself and the wife. One of the first things I picked off that long list were these pork belly burnt end banh mis, which made a great weekend project and I was rightfully drawn to because they ended up being so crazy delicious.
Beyond missing cooking for my friends, I was missing buying in large quantities like I often do for Meatwaves. So while at the butcher, instead of just buying the two to three pounds of pork belly I needed for this recipe, I purchased an entire ten pound piece. A little over two pounds went into these banh mis, five pounds were made into a standard bacon, 3 pounds into a pastrami bacon, and the skin we boiled, cooled, dried, and fried to make incredible pork rinds.
I wondered if I should do traditional barbecue flavored burnt ends here or lean fully into the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. I chose the later and whipped up a marinade I've been using for a long time for my Vietnamese-flavored meats. It consists of a lot of fish sauce, whose strong and pungent flavor is tempered by water and sugar. A hefty amount of garlic adds the other defining characteristic of this marinade which is finished with a bit of black pepper.
I cut up my portioned piece of belly into roughly 2-inch cubes, which I put in a large Ziploc bag along with the marinade, then set in the fridge overnight to soak.
That downtime was perfect for getting the required pickled daikon and carrots ready. This isn't necessarily a hard thing to do, but I used to loath it because cutting the radish and carrots into small matchsticks was tedious work. Luckily I have a newish mandoline that had the perfect setting for cutting veggies into these thin, long strips, and in no time I had my daikon and carrot sliced, jarred, and covered with the rice vinegar-based pickling liquid.
It did feel a little weird getting the smoker up and running just to make a small-scale, single dinner. In normal times, I would have easily made at least five pounds of these burnt ends, which would have filled one-plus racks of the smoker. Never-the-less, I moved forward and placed these pieces of marinated pork into my Weber bullet that I had running at 225°F with a couple chunks of apple wood thrown on the fire.
I had a lot of ideas on how to sauce these, but in the end I thought there would already be so much going on in these sandwiches, that going simple would probably be best. That led me to create a glaze made of sugar, honey, fish sauce, and water. I combined these ingredients together in a small saucepan and brought them to a boil, then simmered until the sauce looked like it thickened a little, but didn't start to darken into caramel.
I usually advocate for using temperature as your primary guide to doneness, but for these burnt ends I went by time and look instead. I let the cubes of belly smoke until they were well browned and pretty soft and squishy, which took about three hours time.
At that point I transferred them in a square baking pan, poured in the glaze, and tossed gently until all the pieces looking glistening all over. I then covered the pan and placed it in the smoker and let it cook an additional 45 minutes, at which point any pieces of pork that were not totally tender before were now soft when squeezed with tongs. To finish setting the glaze, I uncovered the pan and let it smoke for 15 minutes more
I wasn't sure how well the Vietnamese marinade would translate to barbecue, so I couldn't wait to try a piece, which I did right away. The pork was incredibly savory with a supple texture that made me just want to pop one after another. So I wasted no time in assembling the sandwiches to get more pork in my belly as fast as possible. The construction went: spread mayo (I had mixed mine with a little bit of sriracha for added flavor) on both sides of a toasted baguette, top with cucumber slices and burnt ends followed by pickled daikon and carrot, fresh jalapeño slices, and some cilantro.
Man, this sandwich amazing. I think of banh mi often when I was something satisfying, full flavored, but also feels light, and this hit all of those points. The fatty belly was certainly more hearty than your average banh mi meat, but it didn't taste heavy handed or out of places thanks to the savory marinade and the contrasting fresh and light components like the cucumber and pickles. My only qualm with this banh mi was I wasn't able to get the right, lighter baguette it deserved, but the French version was easy to accept when what was inside delivered the all the usual banh mi flavor components. It does make me a little sad that this was meant to be shared with the crowds that usually gather in my backyard during the Meatwave season, but I can't say I regret venturing forth and making this for just me and the wife because it certainly injected some brightness into my day, not to mention filling some time we most all find excess of these days.
Pork Belly Burnt Ends Banh Mi
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Inactive 4 Hours
- Cook 4 Hours
- Total 8 Hours 30 Minutes
- For the Pickled Daikon and Carrots
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 medium daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- For the Pork Belly
- 1/3 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
- 3 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic, about 6 medium cloves
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2lb skinless pork belly, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1-2 chunks of light smoking wood, such as apple or cherry
- For the Glaze
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- For the Sandwiches
- 4 Vietnamese-style baguettes, or 2 French baguettes cut into 10-inch portions
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch slices
- 2 medium jalapeños, sliced
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- To make the pickled daikon and carrots: Place daikon and carrot slices into a large glass jar. In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, whisk together water, vinegar, sugar, and salt until solids are completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Pour liquid into a jar with vegetables until they are completely submerged in liquid, cover jar, and let cool to room temperature. Place in refrigerator and store until ready to use.
- To make the pork belly: In a small bowl, whisk together fish sauce, sugar, water, garlic and black pepper. Place pork belly in a large Ziploc bag, pour in marinade, seal bag, and toss to evenly coat pork. Place in refrigerator and marinate for 4 hours up to 24.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place pork belly pieces in the smoker or grill, cover, and smoke for 3 hours.
- To make the glaze: While the pork is smoking, in a small saucepan set over medium heat, whisk together sugar, honey, fish sauce, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and let simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Transfer pork belly pieces to an medium square pan or foil tray, pour in glaze, and toss to coat. Cover pan with foil and place in smoker for 45 minutes. Remove foil cover from pan and continue to smoke for 15 minutes more. Remove pork from smoker.
- To make the sandwiches: Speak mayonnaise on each half of baguettes. Line bottom halves of baguettes with cucumber slices and top with pork belly burnt ends followed by jalapeño slices, cilantro, and pickled daikons and carrots to taste. Serve sandwiches immediately.
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Phil in Raleigh Soooo this looks delicious, but what I'm REALLY interested in is how exactly you made pork rinds. EVERY. Single. Time. I try to make them they end up horrrrrible and my oven is smoking for weeks.
Josh @Phil in Raleigh I'll need to remember to take photos next time I make them to post a full recipe for the pork rinds.