Cooking with Beer | Sweet Pork Rillons in Blue Mountain’s Dark Hollow
Although craft beer fans are becoming more keen to pairing beers with their favorite cheeses and meals; I’ve always found that cooking with beer to be a challenge. If you are not acclimated to the natural bitter flavors of hops and malts, then beer can turn your dish into an overwhelming, unwieldy experience. The upside to this we can now discover new recipes by experimenting with more beer styles. In all my years of cooking; these crowd-pleasing pork rillons may be the perfect vehicle to harness the true flavors of beer.
You might ask yourself, what is a rillon? A rillon (pronounced as “ree yon”) is French meat dish made from cooking seasoned pork belly within it’s own fat made to be potted and preserved. It’s similar to “rillettes” with the key difference being that “rillons” are cut into larger pieces and cooked for less time so they can retain their shape.
My desire to reinvent this concept came from one of my favorite Youtube channels: Binging with Babish. He recently did a video about the basics of Cajun Food where he introduced me to this very fascinating pork dish. When I replicated this recipe at home, I was blown away at how delicious it was from transforming the cubes of pork and leaving me with some incredible wine syrup. I had to find out if the same process could work with beer.
So why “Dark Hollow?”
Dark Hollow is classic of the Virginia Craft Beer scene made by Blue Mountain Brewery. This year-round, award-winning imperial stout is aged in charred American oak barrels for around nine months. The smell and aroma gives off unbridled levels of roasty malts, bakers cocoa, vanilla caramel and sweet bourbon. It’s a body-warming, oily slick stout that’s perfect for enjoying the colder temperature.
I went with an imperial stout to match the alcoholic content of a the wine. The dessert like qualities of Dark Hollow sounded promising thanks to pork’s overall compatibility with sweetness. The touches of rosemary, thyme and hot paprika were added to give a spicy, woody touch with each bite. The fatty richness countered against the acidic wine was already a success; so could you overcome the difficulty of cooking with naturally bitter beer?
Let me tell you, there’s no greater accomplishment as a cook then when the first reaction to your newest dish is “Oh my god” in pure ecstasy.
The answer is a resounding yes. One bite of the rillon transported me back to memories of dipping breakfast sausage into runoffs of maple syrup at my Grandma Judy’s house. The warm, pungent flavors of rosemary and hot paprika keep the sweetness from being too overwhelming. This is like taking candied bacon to it’s more gourmet, culinary evolution.
The striking, mouth-salivating flavors of sweet pork fat matches beautifully with warm bread or butternut squash soup. What’s fascinating is that you can eat these cold or hot. Eaten hot, you really get those herbs and spices coming through the layers of artisanal syrup. Eaten cold, you get more chewy, dense texture that makes the beer flavor comes out the longer it sits on the tongue. I highly recommend taking this to any beer share or sharing with craft beer aficionados and carnivores alike.
- 1.5 lbs of Pork Belly
- 1 1/2 Cups of Sugar
- 2 tbsps of Salt (I’m using Hawaiian Sea Salt)
- 1 tbsp of Black Pepper
- 1 tsp of Thyme
- 1 tsp of Rosemary
- 1 tsp of Hot Hungarian Paprika
- 12 oz of Imperial Stout
- Pre-Heat Your Oven to 400F
- Slice the pork belly into half-inch thick slices.
- Place the pork belly a large mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and paprika to the meat then mix thoroughly with your hands.
- Fill a heavy bottom sauce pan with your imperial stout and sugar. Stir the beer with a wooden spoon until the sugar feels fully incorporated.
- Turn the heat of your burner on a medium-low setting. Allow the liquid to reach a rolling boil. (Chef’s Note: The beer/sugar will have a tendency to rise very fast due to the high sugar content and carbonation. Keep an eye on this mixture as you cook it to be sure it does not overflow or else you’ll have a big sticky mess)
- Let your beer/sugar simmer for about 10 minutes. Boiling for this long will cause the syrup to reduce so it will not rise during the next step.
- Take your syrup off the burner.
- Add your pork belly to the syrup in a baking dish and stir well. Place the pork in the oven. (I used a small dutch oven so I could use it as both my sauce pan and baking vessel)
- Cook the pork for 50-60 minutes. For every 15 minutes, open the oven door and stir the pork with a wooden spoon for even distribution.
- Otherwise, once the pork has cooled down enough, enjoy straight away!
- If you wish to preserve the pork for storage and/or gift-giving, then place the pork while it is still warm in 8 oz mason jar. You want each jar to have 60% syrup on the bottom and 40% fat on top. Fill the jar 1/2 inch away from the lid with a layer of pork fat to solidify. Once you add the lid and the ring, the jars will seal on their own from the changing heat. After they have sealed, store these in the fridge and they’ll last for weeks!
I’ve practiced this dish multiple times already with fantastic success at every beer function. I would even recommend trying the pork rillons with other beer styles for a different flavor profile. I’ve had success with white stouts, sours, and spiced beers!
Hope you all try it yourself!