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Smoked foods are on the rise, but chef Daniel Rooney prefers to call it a re-awakening. “Humans have been cooking with fire and smoke for thousands of years, right? I’d attribute the change to the respect that pitmasters and barbecue legends are receiving via YouTube and social media sites,” says Rooney, who heads up the kitchen at J. Lawrence Downtown in Bethel.

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Rooney’s maple sriracha pork belly burnt ends are a testament to his years as a classically trained professional chef and his experience with the age-old technique. “This dish represents my time cooking in the South, the Pacific Northwest, and my overall cooking philosophy — start with great ingredients, give it love, be passionate as you cook. You do that, you’ve got a great dish.”

It all starts with high-quality pork belly, Rooney says. “Seek out a local butcher and develop a relationship with them. If you ask they’ll get you exactly what you need.”

Rooney describes the dish as decadent. “It’s pork belly, so there’s a great impression of flavor from fat. This isn’t a diet menu item!” he laughs. “But with the seasoning and the glaze, everything comes together beautifully. Different textures, sweet and spicy notes all play their role in this dish.” 

Cook the dish using either a traditional oven or a smoker. In the end, you might describe the morsels — which resemble the prized brisket chunks known as burnt ends — as smoky, juicy nuggets of candy. “Part of my goal as a chef is to always bring a bit of surprise with every dish,” says Rooney, noting the sauce gives this dish its kick. “I’ve always had an affinity for maple syrup and sriracha. Using a great, real maple syrup is key, otherwise the dish will never come together as intended. The little details are everything in this recipe and all fine cooking.”


Maple sriracha pork belly burnt ends

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(Conventional oven directions)

Serves: 4–6

Prep time: 30 minutes; cook time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

Pork belly

  • 1 whole pork belly, 4–5 pounds
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup paprika (preferably smoked)
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

Braising liquid

  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup liquid smoke

Maple sriracha sauce

  • 2 cups maple syrup (real is preferred)
  • 1 cup sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup red miso paste
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Pork belly

Trim the top level of fat. You can have your butcher do this for you, but you risk them taking away too much; you want some fat to remain after trimming. Alternatively, you can simply score the top of the belly with a sharp knife. This will help the fat render and break down in the cooking process.

Slice the pork belly into 1½-inch cubes and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the spices, mixing to break up any lumps. Generously spread the mixture over the pork belly cubes, turning and rotating the meat to ensure all sides are equally seasoned.

Braising liquid

Prepare a braising liquid for the pork by combining the four ingredients.

Maple sriracha sauce

Combine all ingredients for the maple sriracha sauce into a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool.

Putting it together

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 

Place the seasoned pork belly into a roasting pan (at least 4 inches deep) and pour the braising liquid around the chunks, enough to cover the meat up to the skin. Be sure not to fully submerge. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast for 2 hours.

Once cooked, remove the pan from the oven, uncover and drain the liquid. Bring the oven up to 400 degrees.

Toss the pork belly in maple sriracha sauce and return to the oven for 10–15 minutes, uncovered. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the pork; it should slide through without resistance. Let cool for 5–10 minutes before serving. 

Chef’s tip: To serve, Rooney says, “It would go beautifully over mashed potatoes, or on a toasted grinder roll with a tangy coleslaw. Leftovers can be used for tacos as well.”


Smoke ’em if you got one (smoker directions)

When preparing the dish using a smoker, all ingredients are the same, except you can use a larger, 8–10-pound pork belly, and there is no braising liquid)

Prepare the pork belly and maple sriracha sauce following the conventional directions.

Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees.

Place the cubed pork belly in the smoker on a tray or wire rack with 3 to 4 wood chunks on the hot coals. (Adjust accordingly if using an electric or pellet smoker.) Close the lid/door and cook for 2 hours.

Once cooked, transfer the pork belly cubes onto a large disposable aluminum pan and cover with aluminum foil. Return the pan into the smoker for another 2 hours.

After the final 2 hours of cooking, uncover the aluminum pan and drain almost all the liquid, leaving about a quarter-inch. Pour enough of the maple sriracha sauce over the pork belly burnt ends and mix until all cubes are evenly coated.

Place the pan back into the smoker (uncovered) and open the air vents (if available) to raise the temperature of the smoker to 325 degrees. Cook for an additional 15–20 minutes. (You can also use a conventional home oven for this step.)

Remove the pan from your smoker or oven and let rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes. During this resting period, you can lightly coat the pork belly with any remaining sauce, if desired, before serving.

Pamela Brown is a former English professor, a freelance writer, a marketing/PR specialist for the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, and author of Faithful Love, her first novel that inspired a love of writing. Pamela resides in Connecticut with her daughter, Alexis, who makes her life an adventure. 

This article appears in the October 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.