Mortar & Pestle Story

Mortar & Pestle Story

On top of being one of the most delicious things we’ve ever made, this salad is also what first inspired us to go ‘off the plate’ in our approach to styling a dish and its ingredients.

crispy pork belly salad

The hallmark of a truly great recipe is that after making it once or twice, it inspires you to make it your own. Thanks to Katie Quinn Davies for this sensational salad – the original recipe is hers, but we’re never giving it back.

August 3, 2015 Text: David Rollins | Photography: Rob Lee

It was tough to settle on a name for this one – Spicy Herb Salad with Crunchy Pork Belly, Asian Fusion Pork Belly Confusion… It’s one of those dishes that started off as a faithful recreation of an existing recipe from one of our favourite books. But it’s taken on a life of its own. It calls for no reason in the middle of important meetings. It stays out late and comes home drunk. We have no control over this dish whatsoever – its ridiculous number of ingredients, its outrageous texture, its unrepentant mess of flavours.

The original recipe is from What Katie Ate  – a blog-slash-book that crystallized for us a whole new approach to food styling. A few years back, we watched with fascinated horror as Bon Appétit magazine started going way to far, showing black and white shots of Thanksgiving turkeys burnt, in aluminum roasting tins. Plates nearly falling off of tables. Don’t get us wrong; we’re all about creative risk, and Bon Appétit is once again one of our favourite magazines – a huge source of visual and culinary inspiration. But for a while there, we were worried.


So Katie arrived like a light in the darkness, as it were, with her idea of black as a visual flavour, in all its rich complexity. She showed us the beauty of spent limes, the elegance of frayed linen, of tarnished silver and blunt knives. Of crumbs and seeds not placed into frame with tweezers, but actually scattered. Hurrah. And her food! Juicy, sticky, unfettered, unplated. Her book was a watershed for us. And her Vietnamese salad with crispy pork belly turned us into fiends.

The true appeal
of this salad is
its heart of
vibrant green.

We got carried away with it, adding tomatoes, watercress, Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, sweet peppers, snap peas, and sprouts. We frequently replace the green papaya she calls for with ripe mango or peaches, when they’re in season. The one thing we’re faithful to is the harmony of her dressing. It’s absolutely perfect. The irony of the dish is that while pork belly dominates the recipe’s name, this is truly ‘meat as a condiment’. The true appeal of this salad is its heart of vibrant green. It’s thoroughly refreshing on a hot summer evening, but slot it into your winter repertoire as well, as its ingredients are among the few fresh things you can find year round. And just the smell of pork belly in the oven is enough to feed your bones.

Vietnamese-style crispy pork belly salad

Serves 6 as a main course

NOTES: Make sure the vegetables, especially the tomatoes, are at room temperature before tossing with the pork, as otherwise the fat can coagulate on the vegetables, making for a greasy salad. And go wild with the herbs and sprouts.

serves 6 as a main course

for the salad

  • 2 lb. pork belly
  • 1 lb. peppers (include some hot ones), thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 lb. peaches, about 4, sectioned, and grilled if desired
  • ½ lb. Lebanese cucumbers, cut into shards
  • ½ lb. snap peas, slivered
  • 4 green onions, slivered
  • 2 cups watercress
  • a handful of mint, torn (Thai, Vietnamese, etc.)
  • a handful of cilantro, torn
  • a handful of sprouts (pea, bean, sunflower, etc.)
  • 1 cup unsalted peanuts, roasted and roughly chopped
  • microgreens and edible flowers to garnish
  • salt and pepper

for the dressing

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup tamari
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 6 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. raw sugar
  • large pinch of red chile flakes
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Score the skin side of the pork belly in straight lines at half-inch intervals, going deep enough to cut all the way through the fat, and a little into the meat. Rub about 2 tsp. of salt into the cuts, along with about 1 tsp. ground pepper. Season the ‘meat’ side of the belly with salt and pepper as well.
  1. Slide the pork into the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 400°. After a further 60 minutes, check the pork. If the skin has not crisped all over, cook it under a hot broiler until it puffs and crisps. Cool the pork to room temperature.
  1. Meanwhile, combine all the vegetables in a large bowl, reserving the peanuts and microgreens/flowers for garnish. Combine all the dressing ingredients.
  1. Cut the cooled pork into bite-sized pieces, and combine with the vegetables and dressing.

Publisher: Mortar & Pestle
Photography, Writing and Styling: Les Garçons