Happy Birthday to Me

What to get the guy who has everything for his birthday? Something that will not take up space, and that preferably disappears quickly. Why, food and drink, of course!

Pork belly confit with fava beans

“It’s your birthday. We should be throwing a party and cooking for you,” said my friend Nat when I invited him to my very small birthday celebration. One should do exactly as one chooses on their birthday, I reassured him. And for me, that meant not going to a club or out to a fancy restaurant, but surrounding myself with my kids, a few close friends, and some really good food and wine.

My thought for this year was to graze on small portions of the best of everything. Not a bad plan. For my part, I purchased several quality items: a beautifully marbled Kobe flatiron steak; a Kurobata cut of the curiously trendy pork belly (I would’ve never predicted pork fat as a fad); some Iberico de Bellota ham from Spain; and a lump of D’Artagnan domestic fois gras. From the cellar I retrieved a 2000 Possum McLaren Vale shiraz from Australia and a 2001 Sauternes. And then I delegated: Russian caviar for Nat, oysters and Dungeness crab for Ernie, and for dessert, my special request — a Kentucky Derby pie, homemade by Ant Patty.

As for preparations, I had a few ideas but nothing concrete planned. I would improvise, which is one of my favorite ways to cook. Mostly I would figure out simple ways to let the ingredients shine. You really don’t want to do much to a quarter pound of sevruga caviar.

We commenced around 4:30 with Kumamoto oysters. I remembered that I’d loaned my jar of horseradish to a friend and never got it back. So I grated some fresh wasabi root and dressed the oysters with that and a squirt of yuzu citrus — and plenty of Champagne. Next we popped the Sauternes and drank that with fois gras slathered on half the crusty toasts of a homemade boule, and Iberico de Bellota ham with Parma butter on the other half. Then the caviar, served simply with creme fraiche and lemon on potato whole wheat blinis. I asked Ernie what he wanted to do with the crab, and he said, “You asked me to get it!” So I considered it for a moment, and since we hadn’t eaten much in the way of vegetables yet, threw together a quick crab Louie — iceberg lettuce, avocado, tomato, a big mound of crab and a drizzle of Louie dressing featuring mayonnaise, ketchup and relish. The children were then served their dessert (strawberry shortcake, also courtesy of Ant Patty) while we took a break before the meat courses.

Earlier in the day, I had begun braising a pork belly with no idea exactly what I was going to do with it. It emerged beautifully late that afternoon, bronzed like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I found some fava beans I’d bought earlier in the week and forgotten about. So I served crisp toothsome squares of the belly perched atop a pile of beans cooked in the pork’s reduced pan juices, foiled exquisitely by the shiraz. And then, at last, it was time for the final act — the pink Kobe flatiron, seared in a naked pan, sliced thinly medium rare and served atop thin asparagus stalks cooked quickly in the deglazed pan dressed with nothing more than a dusting of snowy Maldon salt.

10:30 p.m., post Derby pie and limoncello, happy and full and up later than I would usually be, I noticed young William Parker fast asleep on the couch, and about to fall off. So I laid down next to him, scooted him in to a safer position by my chest, and promptly fell asleep myself.

I realized this morning when I woke up that I had forgotten the giant asparagus I’d bought at the farmer’s market, and was planning to peel, blanche and serve with a fresh egg. Another night’s meal.

Tonight, we eat corn dogs.

*   *   *

Braised pork belly with fava beans
serves 8 as an appetizer

1 lb. pork belly
1 cup white wine
2 tsp. grapeseed oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. Chinese five spice
salt & pepper
1 cup shelled fava beans (about 2 lbs. pods)
1 tbsp. cold butter

Score the top of the pork belly (the fat) in lines about half an inch apart in a criss cross pattern. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put 1 tsp. grapeseed oil in a skillet and heat on high until it begins to smoke. Sear the pork belly, skin side down, for about 1 minute. Turn and do the same on the other side. Remove pan from heat, and pour in wine. Swirl around to deglaze the pan.

Preheat oven to 300. Remove the pork belly to a small roasting dish, skin side up. Pour wine from pan over the pork, add a cup of water or more (to just cover the pork). Stir in five spice and sugar and place in the oven, uncovered. Cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, basting occasionally, until at least half of the liquid has cooked off. Remove from oven and let cool.

If you’ve purchased whole fava bean pods, you’ll want to remove the beans from the pod, and shell them. (This process is made easier by blanching the beans for 30 seconds in boiling water.) Place in a small saucepan on high heat with 1/2 cup of the liquid left from the roasting dish. Cook on high heat until the liquid has almost cooked away and become syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in butter until velvety.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook the pork belly 2-3 minutes on the skin side, until crispy. Turn over and cook 1 minute on the meat side. Remove to a cutting board, and with a very sharp knife, cut into eight equal-sized squares.

To plate, place a tablespoon of fava beans at the center of the plate, taking care to get a little of the butter sauce with each serving. Top fava beans with a square of pork belly and serve.

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 00:42:05

    I can do without the pork belly, dude….but I’d love your corn dog recipe.


  2. Andy
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 00:49:05

    Hey! You and William Parker even have the same taste in shirts!!


  3. Benjamin Thompson
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 00:57:19

    My birthday is on 4/4. So you must be a fellow Aries.


    • scolgin
      Apr 03, 2012 @ 01:03:33

      I am indeed! And I drink to you (as I sit here at friend Ernie’s house with a glass of Seghesio 2010 Sonoma County zinfandel). Cheers my friend.


  4. Michelle
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 01:08:16

    Oh, what a sweet day, and what a great meal. Happy birthday! But watch out for the Kern’s Kitchen Nazis with that, er, “Fillies Pie” or “Pegasus Pie” or “Oaks Pie”! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derby_pie (Oh, yeah, and I ran out of replies on my page to your last, but Steve was in school with some of the Bycks. I, having been raised in the far reaches of the state, can only say that I shopped at the eponymous store back in the day!)


    • scolgin
      Apr 03, 2012 @ 16:01:00

      Accept no substitutes on risk of death by pie in the face! Small world, huh? My friend Dann was the son of the guy who founded the department store. Dann founded the Louisville Theater Company. Your husband probably went to school with some of his kids — Dann Jr., Amy and Peter.


  5. Lisa Gaskin
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 01:50:12

    Ummmm… Seghesio Zin is amazing and believe it or not, so was a Pinot Noir about 2009.

    You and little dude on the couch are cute.

    Yikes re: pork belly (is is REALLY the belly of pork?…as if the rest of a pig’s body isn’t fattening enough!)


  6. rachelocal
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 02:18:25

    Looks like a very happy birthday!


  7. paul
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:50:12

    Great Birthday menu my friend! One more Happy Birthday to you! Hope to see you all before too long. Looks like I have a new blue icon . . .


  8. glennis
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 02:58:56

    Ant Patty is the best!


  9. Nadine
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 04:52:19

    Lucky me, I got the asparagus and farm fresh egg! And a little foie gras and pork belly too! Exquisite


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