Bachelorhood gives me the opportunity to try cooking some foods that I wouldn’t get the chance to with the whole family in town. The kids and Mrs. NH are in Texas and I figure they’re eating well so why shouldn’t I? So when I saw a kilo of pork belly at the Tesco Express last week, I grabbed it.
Pork belly is not something I’ve ever attempted to cook. I’ve eaten it several times out at restaurants and always loved it. It’s fatty, flavorful and probably isn’t very good for you – which makes it just a little more fun to eat, right? So after I had the belly in my possession, I had to get a recipe. I asked Scamp if he had a recipe – I thought this would be a slam dunk. He’s roasted, cured and smoked just about every mammal and fish known to Kansas and beyond and I figured pork belly would be an easy ask. Not so.
So I went out searching for a recipe on the web. I found this one on Jules Food which is a less fussy, slight variation on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. It’s this simple: Season your belly with salt and pepper, put it on a bed of sliced onions, blast it for 30 minutes on 450, then lower oven to 350 for 2 hours. Drool, drool, drool.
The belly came out moist and the skin was all “cracklings” in the best sense of the word. Unbeknownst to me, the belly I picked up actually had the very tips of rib bones in it and the flavor of the meat around the bones was the most delicious of all. I plated it up alongside some Parmesan-roasted broccoli and olive oil quinoa and a glass of punchy Austrian Blauer Zweigelt. It was really, really delicious. However, those that are looking to try it should know that a flavorful red wine is recommended to cut through the richness of the meat. And oh, the meat. Fork tender and juicy without being oily. The added bonus at the bottom of the pan were the confitted onions that had cooked to sweet perfection.
Little NH loves bacon and I told her about this recipe. She said she wanted me to save her some. Not a chance. A couple of nights later I made pork belly tacos on corn tortillas with a generous dash of SaSo finishing sauce. No, Little NH won’t get a bite of this batch but if I ever run across a belly again, Katy bar the door!
Texas always holds its fair share of surprises and this trip was no different. When a post-concert request for tacos turned into a detour to the “other side of town,” the surprise was well worth the trip. When I requested tacos in the first place, I was expecting something like Taco Cabana. What I got, thanks to a good friend, were Fuel City Tacos.
Yeah, the name confused me as well. I mean, it sounds like a gas station. That’s because it is. It’s literally a hole in the wall of a gas station (complete with bars on late-night visits). They serve Beef Fajita, Chicken Fajita, Pastor, Picadillo and Barbacoa tacos with plenty of options including corn or flour tortillas. The Barbacoa came highly recommended so I got three. Words cannot do these Mexican vessels of delight justice. Fluffy soft, double-wrapped in corn tortilla, the barbacoa sits nestled under a blanket of onions, lime and cilantro. On the side you get a red and a green sauce and I ended up using both liberally. As the juice ran down my arm (and I fought to keep it off my buddy’s car interior), I was transported to a place one rarely gets to visit. The place in your head where you know you are having some of the best food you will ever eat. Fuel City Tacos are the best tacos I have ever had. Ever.
Buoyed by this late night visit, I took the family on a “fuel stop” to Fuel City Tacos on our way out of Big D. This time, our friends had recommended we looked for the “Corn Lady” in front, under an umbrella-topped cart. She was described as serving some of the best corn you’ve ever had. I took the bait and got the corn. It was big kernel corn with a super-concentrated hot sauce, what looked like Chihuahua cheese and maybe mayo. The picture makes it look like kind of a mess but the dish that she served up in the styrofoam cup was excellent. The corn was just the right tenderness and the mix of other ingredients (I ordered mine “gringo” mild and am glad I did) served as the perfect foil to the sweetness of the corn. That followed up by another five barbacoa tacos and we were ready to hit the road down to Austin.
Interestingly, on that drive south, I was overcome by an incredible sense of well-being. Part of it was the fact that I had just spent several days with my bro, his family, and some of the best friends anyone could ever hope for. The other part was the fact that Texas, in general, felt like pulling on a worn pair of jeans and Mr. Rogers sweater after a long day in a suit and shiny leather shoes. Everything makes sense in Texas. Even the fact that the best tacos in the state can be found at a gas station.