Pork Belly Confit in Beeswax

A confit, in particular a confit of a meat product, is a cooking technique where the food item is slowly poached in fat. This technique works at a low temperature to that the heat tenderizes the meat, and the fat seals in the moisture. It differs from frying, whereby the temperature is much higher than the boiling point of water, causing the water of the fried food to be driven off in the process while the exterior of the food caramelizes.

The sous vide technique is particularly convenient for meat confit because the temperature may be set much lower than the boiling point, guaranteeing a moist product. Also because the meat and fat are sealed as a further measure against moisture loss. The temperature of the confit in a sous vide is precise to make for very consistent results. And finally, since the food is sealed in bags, the cleanup is much easier!

Why beeswax? Beeswax is a fat. In fact, it’s a quite flavorful and aromatic fat. Traditional fats used for confits, duck fat and lard, are rich and savory. Beeswax, however, conveys a bright, floral redolence.

One of the most popular posts on Tim’s Food Obsession is my salmon cooked in beeswax. Ever since I posed that, I have been planning this pork belly dish. So here it is!

When you keep bees, you start stockpiling honey and beeswax, the two primary hive products. The cappings wax is the main source for beeswax. After extracting a load of honey, there is a lot of cleanup. The cappings are the wax that is sliced off the honey comb with a heated knife to expose the cells of honey for extraction. The uncapping is done in a perforated tray to allow honey to drip away from the wax. Still, a lot of honey clings to that wax. We generally choose a hot day to extract honey so the honey will flow and separate from the cappings as much as possible, but the cappings will, no matter what, hold some honey.

So, in preparation for this dish, I had to first clean the wax. When I made my salmon, I just used the straight cappings wax without cleaning the excess honey from it. I felt that was OK for that dish because it was a much shorter cooking time, and the honey was not going to make the salmon cloyingly sweet in that short time. Furthermore, it was less critical there to get complete coverage of the meat by fat only.

I used the sous vide technique to purify enough wax for my confit. I placed cappings wax in a vacuum bag and sealed it. I then sealed that bag in another bag just to be certain there would be no disastrous leaks in the water bath! I recalled that the wax for my salmon melted about 150F, so I started there. The wax melted, but the impurities did not separate. I needed the wax to really flow. I upped the temperature to 165F, and then the wax was very thin, allowing the wax to float to the top of the bag, the honey went to the bottom, and a layer of dirt (bee parts, and normal stuff you find in a hive) separated the wax and the honey. I secured the bag vertically in the water bath, and then turned off the heat to allow the wax to solidify.

Pure beeswax floats to the top.

I then poked a hole in the bottom of the bag to release the honey into a bowl that I used to feed the honey back to the bees. Honey that’s been heated like this is not high quality, and we have plenty of good honey to eat here. The layer of dirt easily crumbled off the wax, and the tiny remaining bits washed off in the sink. I had the pure wax I needed.

Next for the pork. I have some fantastic pork raised by Hog Tree Farm. It’s an excellent genetic line crossing heritage Tamworth and Large Black hogs. These pigs are fed an excellent diet, and it shows in the meat!

Tamworth x Large Black from Hog Tree

From a nice slab of the belly, I cut 7 nice portions. The rest of the belly, I put in a cure for a pancetta tesa…that will need to go in another post. I generously salted the pieces of pork with some Trapani salt, then applied a dusting of five-spice powder. I layered each piece with slices of calamondin, a type of kumquat, from our tree. We all know pork loves garlic, so slices of fresh garlic from the garden.

I then packed these dressed pieces of pork belly in vacuum bags, adding a generous piece of the beeswax to each bag. The bags go in the fridge to cure for 24 hours. This is not like a bacon cure; this is just a short cure to allow the salt to penetrate the meat surfaces.

Then, the following day, the sealed pouches are placed into a sous vide water bath. I started the bath at 150F to melt the wax and allow it to fully coat the pork. Once that was the case, I dropped to temperature to 147F. This allowed the way to just barely harden, so it was still doing its job in the confit, but would not flow and expose the meat if the bags shifted in the water bath. A total of 48 hours in the water bath.

After 48 hours elapsed, I removed the bags from the water bath. The wax instantly hardens. I opened each pouch and carefully separated out the wax, cleaning each piece of pork as much as possible. The wax was ready to clean, using the technique described above, and I will use it again for the same dish.

Score the skin of each piece of pork belly in a cross hatch pattern. Salt the skin side, and place on a dish, uncovered and skin side up, in the fridge for 24 hours. This will dry the skin and promote its crisping in the final cooking step.

To serve, remove the pork from the fridge about an hour before cooking to allow it to reach room temperature. This will make a better result for the skin to crisp before getting too dark in the oven. Set the pieces of pork skin side up in a roasting pan, and cook in a convection oven at 425F for 30 minutes or until the skin is crisp and bubbly.

Glaze the pork with marmalade to finish. I made a savory marmalade with more calamondin fruit (they have lots of seeds, so I removed them and finely chopped the whole fruit), honey, organic sugar, and five spice powder. Then back in the oven for 5 minutes to heat the marmalade a bit, and allow it to melt.

This goes quite well with stir fried bitter greens. I have it here with stir fried baby bok choi along with some of my Sichuan chili oil.

I really like this beeswax technique, and will be working to develop it even more. Give it a try! If you know a beekeeper, they may be able to give you some wax. Otherwise, there are many sources for food grade beeswax on line.

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