He’s the man who taught me how to filet a fish. He also made the only chicken wings I’ve ever enjoyed. And he has, more than once, let me live out my fantasy of working in a restaurant kitchen.
His name is James Clark, and he’s the executive chef of the Carolina Inn.
For the last year and a half, the Crossroads restaurant has been undergoing renovations. They had the grand reopening on September 18th. On September 17th, Petey and I were invited to dinner there for a sort of dress rehearsal.
And in honor of the new decor, Chef James has a new menu.
His food philosophy is simple. He gets the best quality ingredients he can and with them elevates Southern favorites.
On his menu is the number one comfort food of America—macaroni and cheese. But like always, Chef waved his magic wand and transformed it. This is a creamy unctuous dish topped with slices of slowly braised, browned pork belly.
Braised Pork Belly with Smoked Cheddar Mac
Crispy Pork Belly:
2 pounds Fresh Pork Belly
2 cloves Garlic
3 Springs Thyme
2 Liter Bottle Barq’s Root Beer
Salt and Pepper
– First in a cast iron pan season and slowly pan sear the Pork Belly so to not burn the outside. Once it is crispy on all edges remove from the pan and place in a braising pan with deep sides and rack underneath.
– Back in the Skillet add the shallots and garlic and sweat until soft add the root beer and pour over the pork belly until the liquid covers it. Add the thyme, cover with foil and place into a pre heated 225 degree oven and braise for 5 hours
– After 5 hours remove the belly from the oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. With a pair of tongs in each hand pull out the pork belly that is on the rack. Remove any of the shallots or thyme stems and transfer the belly into a clean pan. Take a similar pan place on top then weight it down as to form and press the belly.
– Place into the refrigerator and allow it to sit for 1 day.
Smoked Cheddar Mac:
¼ Pound AP Flour
¼ Pound Butter
1 quart Heavy Cream
2 cups mild cheddar shredded
2 cups smoked cheddar shredded
1 pound Mini Mac Noodles cooked
– In a heavy bottom sauce pot on medium heat melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Continue stirring and once it begins to simmer keep stirring until the roux have a nice dark blond color.
– Slightly heat the cream in a separate pot then add it to the roux stirring out any lumps.
– Once the roux and cream are well mixed turn the heat down to a slow simmer and continue to cook and stir until the flour pasty taste goes away about 10-12min.
– Add your cheese and season with salt and pepper
Heat the smoked cheddar sauce up and add in the mac noodles and stir.
Sear the cooked pork belly until crispy and slice. Top the mac with it!
Each time Chef feeds me, I eat like a camel, ingesting as much as possible until the time comes when I can eat his cooking again. But there’s a really good chance I might be eating his mac & cheese a couple of times before I visit the Carolina again.
Thanks for your time.