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Casa Mono's Anthony Sasso Makes 'Belly with Urchin'

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Welcome back to Sound Bites, an Eater original video feature in which footage of the city's most badass chefs crafting their signature dishes is paired with tunes from up-and-coming musicians. Regarding the volume: turn it up.
[Anthony Sasso, "Belly with Urchin", recommended in full screen mode]

What happens when you combine pork belly, lobster heads, Jamon Iberico, uni, fresh ramps, and kickass LA band Foster the People? Today's edition of Sound Bites.

Watch above as rising star chef Anthony Sasso at Mario Batali's Spanish spot Casa Mono makes his Belly with Urchin to the beat of "Houdini"...starting with the whole pig. And then read his very in depth explanation as to how it all came together below.


When I was living in Barcelona and cooking in a coastal town near the Costa Brava, I noticed that a lot of chefs were incorporating elements of the land and the sea on the same plate at their restaurants. Catalans are obsessed with their seafood, and they call this marriage of seafood with meat "Mar y Montana." You would often see chicken with lobster, or the quintessential paella with sausages and clams. When I came back to the States, we started experimenting with the combination at Casa Mono with several of our dishes. This was a good way to highlight local meat and produce (ramps, pork from the Hudson Valley, lobster and urchin from Maine), with some of the best ingredients Spain has to offer (saffron from la Mancha, Jamon Iberico, small batch produced sherry).

The hogs we get are raised organically on lots of land until they reach about six months old. They come into us like a heavyweight, weighing in at about 220 pounds. The meat is amazing, pristine and full of flavor, especially in the belly which surprisingly has not only a good fat content, but a higher than usual amount of great tasting meat. Pork belly is kind of having its diva moment around town right now, but for us, we're at the mercy of coming up with ways to use every part of the hog we receive each week, from the bones (boiled down for terrines) to the skin (dehydrated to make crackling chicharrones). The pigs we get have a particularly high meat content around the belly, so they are not just little fat grenades on the plate. But the cut of meat is always screaming for acidity, which this dish has a lot of between the tomatoes, urchin and sherry.

So from there, I just wanted to create a dish to play off of pork belly's fattiness with hints of acid, but focusing on the "surf and turf" theme. It started out with a rich sauce of shallots with some aromatics that we always have hanging around the kitchen: jamon scraps cut off of the bone and lobster heads after the meat has been removed for our lobster dish. Then it gets a lot of help with color from tomato paste and saffron. After that we start incorporating the liquid parts of the sauce: fresh juice from crushed vine tomatoes (you spend a lot of time as an American cook working in Spain crushing tomatoes for use in the kitchen), lobster stock, and a couple splashes of sherry, which lingers in a mysterious way when tasting the dish altogether.

To order we heat up some ramps very briefly in olive oil with the tomato lobster sauce, and then put some juicy fried nuggets of the confit'd pork belly on top. Frying the belly encapsulates all of that flavor within a crispy exterior. Plus lucky for us, the Spanish are equally obsessed with fried foods as us. Then, the exclamation point is the fresh sea urchin on top, which offers a blast of brine. Also, urchin always elevates a dish to "bourgeoisness" so it plays its part in the rich man poor man relationship with the simple delights of pork.

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· Foster the People (Debut album Torches will be available May 24th) [iTunes]
· Previous Editions of Sound Bites [~ENY~]

Casa Mono

52 Irving Place, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 253-2773 Visit Website

Casa Mono

125 E 17th St., New York, NY