For the past three years, Chef Jonathan Amman of Amani’s BYOB has earned the title “Best Chef in Chester County” at the Chester County Restaurant Festival. On Tuesday, August 19, the audience at Weaver’s Orchard’s cooking class found out why. They tasted one of his mouthwatering seasonal specialties and watched him prepare it. At his Downingtown restaurant, Amman uses the freshest ingredients from local farms, and strives to put his own creative twist on traditional dishes. Everything at the restaurant is made on the premises, including their sauces, stocks and decadent desserts. And just as the class members did on Tuesday, patrons of the restaurant can watch the chefs as they work in the open kitchen in the center of the dining room. Amman says he enjoys this ambiance, and finds it gratifying to watch the customers’ pleased reactions as they taste his creations.
On Tuesday, Amman taught the audience how to make braised pork belly, topped with crisp and spicy apple kimchi and garnished with micro greens. It was so melt-in-your-mouth tender, a plastic fork could cut it into bite-sized pieces.
Amani’s BYOB serves braised pork belly as an appetizer and also a brunch treat. Pork belly is basically uncured bacon, and can be ordered from a butcher. Though it is most often used to make bacon, this cut is deliciously juicy when cured and cooked at home. The recipe is simple, but you have to start curing the meat two to three days ahead of serving it. Here’s how Chef Amman does it:
- 2-3 pounds pork belly
- 2 cups Kosher salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon each: peppercorns, dried thyme, bay leaves (crumbled)
- 2 ounces apple cider vinegar
- Mix salt, brown sugar and spices. Add vinegar. Stir until the mixture looks like wet sand.
- Place a layer of the “wet sand” mixture in the bottom of a non-aluminum pan with high sides. (The curing mixture will draw out the juices in the pork, so make sure the pan is large enough to hold the liquid.)
- Lay the pork belly, fat side up, on top of the curing mixture.
- Cover the pork with the rest of the mixture. Cover the container with plastic wrap (not aluminum foil) and place in the refrigerator for 48 to 72 hours. The longer the meat is in the mixture, the more the flavors will penetrate it.
Cooking the Cured Pork Belly
- After the pork has cured for 48-72 hours, pour off and discard the liquid. Rinse the meat with water. Place it in a roasting or baking pan in a pre-heated 500°F oven for 15 minutes. (It’s best if the meat can sit on a rack.)
- After 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 300°F and cook 2-3 hours, till it caramelizes on top. Baste it occasionally with the drippings in the bottom of the pan.
- When it cools, slice it into thick slices (about ½ inch thick). Be careful not to cut it when it’s too warm. It will be so tender, it will fall apart.
- When ready to serve it, sear the slices in a hot pan. Serve it over rice and top it with apple kimchi and sprigs of parsley or a sprinkling of micro greens.
While the meat is curing, prepare the apple kimchi. You can make this half an hour before serving, or up to 3 days before. The longer the apples sit in the mixture, the more the flavor builds. Don’t let it sit any longer than three days, however. It should not ferment like traditional Korean napa cabbage kimchi.
- 4 Gala or Granny Smith apples
- 1 ounce apple cider vinegar
- 2 ounces mirin (or rice wine with a little sugar added)
- 3 tablespoons chili garlic paste
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- ¼ cup sugar
- Core the apples and slice them very thin (1/8 inch thick). Don’t remove the skin. To keep the apples from browning, place them in a large (non-aluminum) bowl with water and a little lemon juice.
- Set the apples aside and mix vinegar, mirin, chili garlic paste, lemon juice and sugar. Stir the mixture till sugar dissolves.
- Strain the lemon water from the apples. Scoop them back in the large bowl and pour the kimchi liquid over them. Toss the apples to coat. Store the apple mixture in a large jar with a tight lid, and refrigerate up to three days.
When the pork belly is browned and ready to serve, pour the Kimchi over it and top with micro greens or fresh parsley. Serve over rice or quinoa–or for a mild, nutty taste, treat yourself to “forbidden rice.” The Chinese considered this purplish rice to be so high in healing properties, it was served only to the emperor—but you can find it in local health food stores or order it from Amazon.
To taste more of Chef Jonathan’s seasonal dishes, be sure to visit Amani’s BYOB in the center of Downingtown. Because seating is limited, reservations are highly recommended, especially on weekends. Call the restaurant at 484-237-8179 or book online. Outdoor seating is available on the patio, weather permitting.
Since everything is cooked to order, the restaurant can accommodate special dietary needs. It’s best to let them know this when you make your reservation, however, so they can have the fresh ingredients on hand to meet your needs.