I like crispy pork.
I can imagine viewers watching this episode and thinking that Stefan was sent home because "Tom just must not care for crispy pork." This couldn’t be further from the truth. I like -- and like to make -- crispy pork, but that’s not what Stefan gave us. What Stefan made was beyond crispy; it was hard. And it was hard because it was improperly prepared.
The problem was this: if you’re making suckling pig and the skin isn’t so thick, you can leave it on, and it will get crispy. But if you’re preparing pork belly from a bigger animal (and you can tell from the thickness of the belly that it’s an older animal), you need to do one of two things. Either you remove the skin and let the underlying layer get crispy, or, if you want to leave the skin on, you do the following: while you’re first braising it, you need to make sure the entire pork is submerged in the braising liquid so that the skin gets moist. Then, when you reheat it, leave just the top surface above the liquid, and that top surface will get crispy.
I saw that Stefan was in trouble during my kitchen walk-through. He was braising the pork, but way too much of it was exposed, all of which dried out and grew hard -- not crispy, but hard. This was so far past crispy that I really did fear, as you heard me say, that I was going to break a tooth on it. And this was due to a technique issue, plain and simple. It was not the only lapse in technique of the evening, but of all the errors evident in the dishes we were given in this challenge, it was the worst. The greasiness of the dish was an additional headache, but the hard skin was enough, in and of itself, to get Stefan sent home.
As a general note, the pairing of the proteins to create a surf 'n' turf dish was not the difficult part of this challenge. Many cultures have traditional meals with such pairings -- think paella, or Portugese chorizo and clams. I’ve had dishes on my menus over the years pairing clams and pork, seared scallops with oxtail, lobster with foie gras and artichokes, and more.