Pork belly and mushroom cream stew

I love making cream stew. In Japan, they make it all the time, and it’s this velvety, creamy(as the name would suggest) sauce with braised meat and vegetables in it. If you have ever had Japanese curry before, it’s like that, but without the spices, making for a very delicate flavor profile. Truthfully, it has been one of my favorite dishes to make since college. I still remember making it all the time my junior year, when I finally got my own kitchen, and how the rich, creamy texture of it helped me get through those cold, cold winters in Boston. I would typically render off some sort of pork product, and then stew the pork with vegetables, and make a béchamel using that rendered pork fat, ladened with cheese and milk, and then fold it all together and serve it either on rice or homemade pasta, or with homemade bread. For this specific rendition, I went with pork belly as my meat of choice, and I’m using mushrooms and artichokes. I just love the umami from the mushrooms while with the artichokes, I know those would pair well with the cheese in the béchamel. I will admit right now, this isn’t a pretty dish and it definitely fits the bill of ugly delicious. I’ve served this dish to friends and family, just people close to me, but I wanted to share it here, since it has been a dish I’ve been making for years. If you want to judge this book by its cover, I recommend eating it with a blindfold.

For the dried mushroom stock:
2 dried porcinis
3 dried chanterelles
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup warm water

Rehydrate the mushrooms in the warm water – this will take about 15 minutes. Mince up the mushrooms and pass the liquid through a fine sieve to remove any dirt.

For the stew:
1 slab pork belly, skin removed and diced
1/4 cup quartered baby artichoke hearts
3 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
canola oil
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup diced celery
minced mushrooms
mushroom stock
1 cup chopped kale, stems removed
bechamel
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon fennel pollen

In a nonstick pan, render out the pork belly with paprika, salt, fennel pollen. Reserve the fat for the béchamel. Sauce the artichokes and minced mushrooms in the pan with the pork belly. In another pot, sweat out the shallots, garlic, carrot, bay leaf, and celery until the celery and shallots are translucent. Deglaze with half of your mushroom stock. Deglaze the pan with your pork belly with the rest and transfer everything in that pan into the pot with the vegetables and stock. Simmer down with the lid on for about 1 hour, or until the pork belly is soft and tender. Stir in the béchamel and the kale to finish.

For the béchamel:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
reserved pork belly fat
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup finely grated fontina cheese

Mix the flour with the pork fat in a pot on low heat until the roux smells nutty. Deglaze with the almond milk and cream, and finish with the cheese.

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