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The Non-Barbecue of North Carolina

Bill Radke

Suzie Lechtenberg

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Pork Belly
(Suzie Lechtenberg)
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Pork Belly Laque' with Pickled Green Tomatoes
from Lantern Restaurant

Serves 6-8 as a substantial appetizer

1 thick, roughly 2 pound piece of pasture-raised pork belly, skin removed
6 cups rendered pork fat (lard), or a little more as needed
1 T kosher salt
1/2 T sugar

Rinse the belly in cold water and dry thoroughly. Cut the belly into large, even chunks, about 2" x 2". In a large bowl, combine the salt and sugar and then add the meat, tossing to combine. Cover and let sit refrigerated for 12 to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Blot away any accumulated juices with a dry towel and place the pork in a heat-proof casserole with a lid. Over medium-low heat, add the rendered fat and bring it to a gentle simmer, completely melting it. Continue to add fat until the belly is totally covered. Place the lid on the casserole and bake for about three hours or until the belly is very tender, but not yet falling apart. Let the belly cool in the fat for 1 hour before gently removing it. Strain and reserve the lard for another use.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the chunks of cooked pork in a large, heavy skillet and glaze it with the laque' sauce to taste over medium heat, tossing to coat thoroughly. Use enough sauce to generously coat the pork and also have about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in the pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the pork is heated through and crispy, tossing once during the cooking, about eight minutes. Take care not to scorch the sauce, adding a little water if the pan starts to seem dry.

Serve hot with the cold pickled green tomatoes and a little drizzle of extra laque' sauce if desired.

***

(Phone ringing)

Keith Allen: Hello.

Bill Radke: Hi Keith?

Keith Allen: Yes sir.

Bill Radke from Weekend America.

Keith Allen: How are you today?

Keith Allen runs Allen & Son Barbecue, it's just north of Chapel Hill. And we talked about how he spends every day in a wood fired pork barbecue pit, and I asked him, do you ever get tired of that? What do you eat when you've got to take a break from the pig.

Keith Allen: Salads.

(laughter)

Really? Please tell me you are a vegetarian. That would be awesome.

Keith Allen: No, I'm not a vegetarian, but I stand in front of a fire all the time and really cool foods seem more refreshing to me than a lot of hot foods.

Ok, well that's fine. I like salad too. But I can get that in Los Angeles. I wanted to know, if I lived here in North Carolina, and I wanted something besides barbecue, what would I do? So I met up with local food writer Kelly Alexander.

Hi Kelly, nice to meet you.

Kelly Alexander: Hi Bill, nice to meet you.

Tell us about where we are.

Kelly Alexander: We are at 3 Cups coffee shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And we are here because I think when people think about the south and southern food, they first think of barbecue, fried chicken, biscuits, but really what we have in our town is an amazing coffee shop that has great fair trade imported coffee. This shop in particular specializes in coffee, chocolate and wine, definitely not what you would expect and pretty far cry from barbecue.

There's a wall of chocolate here. There's no sign saying, Bill take this home to your wife, but I guess they didn't feel the need to say it.

Kelly Alexander: I think it probably sells itself in that way.

Actually right next door is a fabulous sandwich shop, and it's basically the anti-barbecue. He serves things like lamb tagine sandwiches and my personal favorite, prosciutto with gorgonzola butter. So let's go next door and see what's going on in Sandwhich, and you can find some serious non-barbecue enthusiasts.

Hi, we are doing a food tour of North Carolina. May I ask what you are eating?

Customer: Right now I am eating an "Outrageous BLT" from Sandwhich.

This is the "OBLT" I've heard about.

Customer: Yes.

And what makes it "O"?

Customer: It has avocado and jalapenos on top of the regular BLT.

That's outrageous. That is transgressive in so many ways. What about North Carolina barbecue?

Customer 2: It is a question of what is the constituent element in the sauce; is the barbecue sliced or is it chopped; what are the side dishes, and people get, as they say locally right ugly about it.

And what do you get right ugly about when it comes to barbecue? What makes you right ugly, if I may ask, because you are a good- looking man.

Customer 2: Well, there are the Texas pretenders, and the issue becomes one of what is the meat, whether it is pork or beef, and here it's pork. Period. This isn't even an item of discussion; whereas, in Texas, it is a little bit more slippery.

So you are saying North Carolinians are genuine, and you just called everyone in Texas a punk.

Customer 2: That's your interpretation. I have to be careful about such things. You are free to draw that conclusion if you want to.

What's your personal favorite? Are you a barbecue guy, or something else?

Barbecue Fan: Well, my doctor tells me no.

You are no longer a barbecue guy.

Barbecue Fan: No longer a barbecue guy, but once in a while, I may try something.

Kelly Alexander: So now we are going to take a quick walk, up a couple of blocks down Franklin Street here in Chapel Hill to Lantern restaurant, a great Asian restaurant in town. Again, probably not what you would expect to find in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

So this will be a good refuge from barbecue for me?

Kelly Alexander: Definitely. Although, what you will find on the menu is a lot of great local pork. One of the great advantages for a restaurant like Lantern in a town like Chapel Hill is that the chef can have a relationship with area farmers. This chef in particular has farmers who give her special cuts of pork and allow her to come on the farm and get exactly what she needs. It's about as close of a farm-to-table connection that a restaurant can have these days.

Great! Let's go.

Andrea Reusing: Hi. I've got the lard on.

The lard is on! Andrea, this is Bill Radke.

Andrea Reusing: Hey, how are you?

Kelly Alexander: This is Andrea Reusing, chef and owner of Lantern restaurant.

Andrea, great to meet you. What are you cooking up?

Andrea Reusing: We are cooking up some pork belly in some lard. It has been cured for about 24 hours in just salt and sugar, and we are kind of crisping it up a little bit.

Let's listen to the pork belly.

(pork sizzling on stove)

How would you describe your cuisine?

Andrea Reusing: Our cuisine reigns supreme. Iron Chef joke there! (laughter) Our cuisine is based on food from all over Asia. If we are doing a Thai dish, we stick to all ingredients that would occur in Thailand, or if we are substituting something it would be a local ingredient that grew, usually within 25 miles or 50 miles of Chapel Hill. So we are trying to do food from Asia, but with a lot of local ingredients from North Carolina.

How much barbecue do you eat, Andrea?

Andrea Reusing: (laughs) I wish I ate more! I mean, the reason I wish I ate more is in North Carolina we produce a lot of the nation's pork, and there's actually only something like a three day food supply in state for the number of pigs that we actually grow in state, because we are just bringing in so much corn feed into North Carolina all the time. And so, for that system to change, the rest of the country has to stop eating so much pork, and everybody has to grow pork where they are. So I often kind of feel like, for every barbecue stand, there needs to be a small sustainable, integrated family farm right next to that barbecue stand, to kind of supply that barbecue stand. And then that should be the limit of the pork that we should be able to eat. And so, if there was a barbecue stand next to a farm in North Carolina, I'd be eating a lot more of it.

So, when you are in North Carolina, and you just told a national radio audience to eat less pork, how do you get home at that point? Back streets? (laughter)

(pork sizzling on the stove)

Andrea Reusing: Here, you guys want some?

(tasting the dish) Oh! I'm not good at describing food, I'm just good at enjoying it, which I am. Delicious.

Andrea Reusing: Oh, thanks!

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