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Chefs’ Corner: Joel Herrera’s Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Chefs have long enjoyed using watermelon in inventive, fun dishes that showcase its sweetness and it juicy texture.

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

In this dish, Joel Herrera, a founder of the local chefs group, Los Cocineros, matches the summer favorite with pork belly.

But he doesn’t stop there.

He infuses the watermelon with jalapeño and whiskey. Then he adds sweet spices, including fennel, cinnamon, star anise and cardamom to the pork belly, creating an engaging counterpart to the watermelon.

If it all seems too much for a hot summer day, then let Herrera cook it for you. It’s on the menu of Los Cocineros’ upcoming pop-up dinner, which is set for 6 p.m. July 10-11 at Amaya’s Tacos & Bakery, 1502 E. Commerce St. The price is $35 a person and you can bring your own bottle.

To make a reservation, go to Los Cocineros Facebook page and select the date of your choice.

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Dry Rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds pork belly in one rectangular piece, at least 60 percent lean

Braising Liquid:
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
3 whole tomatoes
2 cups dry white wine
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
2 whole juniper berries
1 cardamom pod
1 whole clove
1 quart chicken stock

For the Dry Rub: Combine salt, fennel, allspice and black pepper thoroughly. Rub onto all sides of the pork belly, place in a nonreactive pan and top with any remaining dry rub marinade over the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove pork belly from refrigerator and place in a roasting pan.

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

To make the braising liquid: In a large saucepan, saute onion, carrot and celery in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, juniper berries, cardamom, clove and chicken stock. Bring to a boil.

Pour hot braising liquid over pork belly. Cover and place in oven. Cook 3 1/2 hours or until completely tender when pierced with a fork. Note: The pork belly can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated in the braising liquid until ready to proceed.

Remove the belly from the braise and cool. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut belly into 4 portions. Saute in a hot skillet with a little oil for two minutes, fat side down. Finish warming in oven for 5 minutes.

Compressed Watermelon:
1 watermelon
1 jalapeño
¼ cup whiskey

Remove the watermelon rind and cut the watermelon flesh into slabs that are 8 inches square and about 1 inch thick. It is fine to have smaller slabs.

Place the slabs into several vacuum seal bags. Do not overlap. Spread the jalapeño slices over the watermelon and pour in the whiskey and vacuum seal the watermelon.

Place the bags into the fridge for an hour and drain when ready to plate.

Pickled Watermelon Rind:
Clean the rind and leave only the green of the skin, make a mixture of a cup of rice vinegar, 1 garlic clove, ½ tablespoon of peppercorns, ¼ cup of sugar and bring to a boil. Pour liquid over watermelon rinds and put the bowl in the fridge. These can hold for a couple of days and the longer they set the better.

Kimchi Mole:
1/3 cup Korean red pepper powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 2-ounce piece)
1 tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups coconut milk
1 ancho chile
¼ cup lime juice

Bring red pepper powder, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, peanut butter, coconut milk, ancho chile and lime juice to a boil. Season to taste, blend and pass through a chinois or mill.

To plate the dish, arrange the Kimchi Mole on four plates. Cut the pork belly and slabs of watermelon into smaller pieces and arrange on each plate. Add a cube or two of pickled watermelon rind. Garnish as you see fit, with cucumber matchsticks, mint leaves, microgreens or whatever you like. Use either of the photographs accompanying this article as a starting point.

Makes 4 servings.

From Joel Herrera/Los Cocineros

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