Egg Drop Soup with Sous-Vide Pork Belly
The term April showers bring May flowers is an old, often uttered proverb that doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies like it should. I am keenly aware that it is meant to represent the idea that a period of discomfort can provide the basis for a period of happiness and joy, but I am impatient and vitamin D starved as of late. The April showers have been light, but frequent lately here in good ol’ Seattle, so it’s been no surprise I suppose that I have been leaning heavily on comfort foods like soup. Soup is always there for you, just like brat pack movies, hot chocolate and over-sized down comforters.
But lately, I’ve wanted more from my soup. Is that so wrong?
Egg drop soup has slowly become my go to rainy day soup. Its light, flavorful, healthy, budget friendly and can be made in about 15 minutes. This recipe uses my basic egg drop recipe here, and ups the ante considerably creating a spicy, savory full body soup that is totally worth the extra planning and effort.
The biggest difference? Well that of course would be my beloved pork belly (a.k.a the Godfather). Pork belly is a boneless cut of fatty meat from the belly of a pig and is immensely popular in Asian cuisine. It is also the cut the US uses for bacon!
It also is notoriously difficult to tenderize, being that it is essentially equal parts skin, meat and fat (ok its mostly fat :/). Thats where my favorite new kitchen addition comes in handy.
The Sous-Vide (via rice cooker courtesy of Katie’s Dad!).
For those of you unfamiliar with cooking sous-vide, basically its a method cooking, in this case meat, in a sealed airtight plastic bag in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 131 °F (55 °C) to 140 °F ( 60 °C). The intention is to cook the item evenly, and not to overcook the outside while still keeping the inside at the same “doneness”, keeping the food juicier. Leave the meat in the sous-vide rice cooker at 135 °F for 36 hours and its incredibly tender, and impossible to over cook. Perfect right? well…
It has its limitations. What comes out of the sous-vide sealed bag, is far from visually pleasing, and not as flavorful as it could be. What its missing is a flavorful crust, or exterior. The one major limitation of sous-vide cooking is the fact that browning (Maillard reactions) happens at much higher temperatures (above the boiling point of water). The flavors and “crust” texture developed by browning are generally seen as very desirable in the cooking of certain types of meat, such as a steak (or pork belly in this case). The flavors and texture produced by browning cannot be obtained with only the sous-vide technique. In many cases, meats and other foods cooked with the sous-vide technique will be browned either before or after being placed in the water bath, using techniques such as grilling, broiling or searing on an extremely hot pan. This secondary browning is done briefly, and usually at higher heat than normally used, so as to affect only the surface of the food and to avoid overcooking the interior. This pork belly, being heavily inundated with delicate fat and skin, is too tender and poorly structured for a quick grill or pan fry at this stage. The easiest (and best) approach in this case, is to broil the belly after it comes out of the sous-vide treatment.
It’s important to note that the broiling of the pork belly, should be done with a patted dry piece. This will ensure even and complete browning and bubbly crust development on the skin side.
With most sous-vide treated meats, it is necessary to sear it right after it comes out the bag and after its been quick dried. Why you ask? because the meat is holding its internal temperature when it first comes out. If you intend to get the best balance of taste, texture and temperature, then you need to strike when the proverbial iron is hot. The benefit is that the meat will brown incredibly fast (we’re talking less than a minute for full coverage in most cases) and it will need only a minute or two of rest before digging in. The juices are already evenly distributed!
Finding a sous-vide cooker can be a hassle and quite expensive. There is a reason that its been largely relegated to the professional food industry, but a little online research reveals plenty of DIY options for the home chef. Luckily for me, my little lady’s father is a bit of an obsessed foodie himself and loaned me his setup recently to try out a few recipes. (Thanks Doug!)
Yes, it can be a chore to plan a day or two ahead just for a bowl of soup. But I promise you, it will most certainly be worth it when you are alternating bites between tender, fatty, succulent pork belly and light, spicy egg drop soup. The best part? The sweet morsels of pork fat will melt a little in the hot soup broth creating a perfect marriage of flavors. I imagine, that if you have access to, or make your own pork broth, you could really kick this dish into another realm of deliciousness!
Now that you have your gorgeous hunk of pork belly, time to slice it thin (may be difficult when its hot and super tender) and dish up your bowl of pea and hot chili oil spiked egg drop soup!
Rainy day doesn’t seem so bad now does it?
Find my Basic Egg Drop Soup recipe here
Pork Belly Ingredients:
- 1lb slab pork belly, uncured
- 1/4 cup hoison or oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/4 chopped scallions
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger (Julienned)
Additional Egg Drop Soup Ingredients:
- 1/4 thawed peas
- 1 tbsp hot chili oil
Pork Belly Directions:
- In a bowl, mix the hoisin (or oyster sauce if you prefer) with the soy sauce, scallions, ginger and garlic. Wash the pork belly under cold running water then pat dry with clean paper towels. It’s important to completely dry the pork belly after the quick rinse to ensure that the marinade will stick and penetrate later on.
- In a vaccum pack bag (or gallon sized ziplock bag) place the pork belly and pre mixed marinade in, and shake around to coat the whole piece. If using a vaccum sealer, seal as you normally would. If using a ziplock bag as I currently am left with, simply close up except for a small opening, and suck out remaining air with your mouth the best that you can. It doesnt need to be a perfect air tight seal, but try and do the best you can.
- Whatever devise you are using for a sous-vide cooker, set to 135°F, and place the bag in for a minimum of 6 hours. If you can wait though, try for 36 hours. I promise it will be worth it!
- Once you have reached your wait time breaking point, get started on making the egg drop soup (or accompanying dish of your choice, be it with rice or lettuce wraps or on a sandwich). When the egg drop soup is ready to be served, add your hot chili oil and thawed peas. Turn the burner to lowest setting to keep the soup warm as you finish preparing the pork belly.
- Pre heat broiler to High. Remove the sous-vide belly from its watery spa day bath and bag, and gently pat dry. Using a sheet pan, lined with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup) place a wire rack on top for the pork belly to sit. The will keep it from melting into its delicious drippings (we will get to those in a second!).
- Place the elevated pork belly, skin side up, under the broiler and keep a close eye on the proceedings. You want to make sure the skin darkens and blisters, but youwill likely need to move it around monitoring the ovens hot spots in order not to burn parts of it.
- Once the blistered gorgeous crust develops, remove the belly from the oven and let sit for a minute or two as you plate up a big bowl of egg drop soup. Slice the belly thinly and add to the steaming warm bowl of soup and dig in!