AMONG the many orders of chefdom, there are two rarely intersecting sects. There are the zealots of the farmers' market (Alice Waters, Dan Barber), who serve peas only in June, tomatoes in August, kabocha squash in October, and not much from December through May.
Then there are the cult-of-offal aficionados (Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain), who braise brains and tongues, stew snouts and tails, grill gizzards and hearts, and fry any and everything most butchers have to be persuaded to sell them.
Zak Pelaccio, of 5 Ninth and Fatty Crab in Manhattan, worships at both altars. He carefully gathers Thai eggplant and purslane at the Union Square Greenmarket, then pairs them with chicken feet and calves' brains. He waits until autumn for apples, and spring for baby goat heads.
So one summer, when considering what to pair with a dish of crispy fried pork belly, pickled Greenmarket watermelon was the obvious choice. ''I wanted something to counter the fatty richness of the belly,'' he said, pointing to a slab of the stuff in the meat case of the Deluxe Food Market in Chinatown (79 Elizabeth Street, at Grand Street). It was thickly striped in pink and white, like a pork layer cake with fat standing in for icing. Next to it, lined up in bins, were myriad viscera -- kidneys, heart, tripe, spleen -- and feet of all ilk: duck, chicken, pig. Mr. Pelaccio, 32, looked longingly at the pearly white chunks of tendon (''good in stews'') and red cylindrical duck tongues before ordering just the pork belly.
At his first restaurant, Chickenbone Cafe in Brooklyn, where he cooked in 2003, he garnered a Batali-esque reputation for dishes like lamb's head three ways. In its original incarnation, his pickled watermelon salad featured gelatinous chunks of pig's head in place of the belly. But now he shows more restraint, offal-wise. ''Unfortunately, now I have to sell the things on the menu,'' he said, shaking his shaggy head. ''Pig's head will never sell as well as a rib-eye.'' Leaving the variety meat paradise of Deluxe Food Market, Mr. Pelaccio headed to Asia Market (71 1/2 Mulberry Street, near Bayard Street) to pick up Malaysian and Thai ingredients. At Fatty Crab, where this salad resides, Mr. Pelaccio's menu is a seasonal and refined ode to the dishes he cooked while working in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur in 1997.
The folks at Asia Market know Mr. Pelaccio well. They hurried to help him find syrupy kecap manis (a sweetened, concentrated soy sauce), hard cakes of palm sugar, fragrant bunches of cilantro with the roots attached, and jars and packages of the odoriferous fermented fish products that are essential to much of Malaysian cuisine. Arms laden, he crept through the steaming Chinatown streets (''I learned to move slow in the heat in Southeast Asia,'' he said) to the cool sanctum of his parents' SoHo loft, borrowed for the afternoon. Mr. Pelaccio pushed a Merle Haggard CD into the stereo (inspired by a recent Texas barbecue tour). Next, he unwrapped the pork belly and crosshatched the skin to allow the marinade (a mix of kecap manis, fish sauce, vinegar and lime juice) to penetrate, and the fat to render when the belly braises. The fat drips down and bastes the meat as it cooks. ''It's hard to screw up pork belly,'' he said as he pulled another, premarinated belly slab from the fridge, TVFN style. ''It takes up the flavor of a marinade really well, and then confits unattended in its own fat.'' Practically all the cook has to do is show up, belly in hand. Premarinated belly in the oven, there was plenty of time to make the watermelon pickle.
Unlike most pickles, watermelon pickle is ready immediately after its brine of rice vinegar, ginger, tiny bird chilies and kaffir lime leaf cools. ''That's because watermelon is more porous than, say, a cucumber,'' Mr. Pelaccio explained as he sliced the red flesh away from the white rind. Both find their way into the salad; the rind as the sour spicy pickle and the flesh as a sweet and cool counterpoint to both the pickle and the salty, crispy pork. Next, Mr. Pelaccio made the salad dressing, first scraping the cilantro roots, which are more pungent and musky than the leaves, with a knife to clean them. Then he whirled them in the blender with lime juice, garlic, ginger and palm sugar, covering the spectrum of flavors -- sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami -- that, in combination, are the hallmarks of Southeast Asian cooking.
It was time to check on the belly. Mr. Pelaccio speared it with a knife as if it were butter, and knew it was done. Without bothering to let it cool, he cut it into cubes, sprinkled them with flour, and deep-fried them until they turned dark brown and caramelized all over, in part from the sugar in the kecap manis. He arranged them on a plate with the two kinds of watermelon, fresh rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and Thai basil from the Greenmarket (of course), and a drizzle of the dressing. Juicy from the watermelon, bright from the herbs, tart from the pickle, and crunchy from the cubes of fried fatty belly interlaced with chewy bits of fat and skin, the salad was an addictive triumph of contrasting flavors and textures. It was at once voluptuous, yet still light enough for summer.
But was it as good as Mr. Pelaccio's original version? Mr. Pelaccio chewed for a moment and sighed. ''If pig heads are the trip you're on,'' he lamented, ''it's really hard to get off the bus.''
Pork and Watermelon Salad Adapted from Zak Pelaccio
Time: 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours, plus at least 24 hours' marinating
For the pork belly:
3 pounds raw, uncured pork belly, skin on
2 cups kecap manis
6 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
Canola oil or peanut oil, for frying
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Salt, if needed
For the watermelon salad:
5 pounds watermelon
2 cups rice wine vinegar
3 shallots, sliced
2 Thai bird chilies, sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 ounce (2 inches) fresh gingerroot, peeled and sliced
1/2 round (1 ounce) palm sugar or 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
For the dressing:
1 1/2 rounds palm sugar (3 ounces) or 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
6 ounces gingerroot, peeled and sliced
6 cilantro roots and 1 inch of stems, cleaned and trimmed
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 scallions, trimmed and sliced, for garnish
1 cup torn Vietnamese coriander (rau ram) leaves, for garnish
1 cup torn Thai basil leaves, for garnish
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
1. Crosshatch pork belly skin with sharp knife, making cuts 1/2-inch apart. Place pork belly in non-reactive dish. Combine kecap manis, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and lime juice, and pour over pork belly. Chill for 24 to 48 hours, turning several times.
2. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place belly, skin side up, in baking pan with 2 cups marinating liquid and 2 cups water. Liquid should come halfway up the pork; if not, add more water or use smaller pan. Cover pan with foil. Bake until a skewer penetrates the belly with little or no resistance, 3 to 4 hours. Remove pork from liquid and let cool. Leaving skin on, slice belly into 1-inch chunks.
3. To make salad, cut watermelon flesh into 1-inch cubes (discarding seeds). Reserve rind. Refrigerate flesh until ready to use. With sharp knife, remove outer green skin of rind, reserving white part. Dice white rind into 1/2-inch cubes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl.
4. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine rice wine vinegar, shallots, chilies, kaffir lime, ginger, palm sugar, salt and 1 cup water, and bring to boil. Cook until sugar dissolves. Strain liquid over white rind. Let cool, then chill for at least 1 hour or as long as 2 days.
5. To make dressing, roughly crush palm sugar using a mortar and pestle or place in a plastic bag and crush with a hammer or heavy can. In a food processor, combine sugar with vinegar, lime juice, ginger, cilantro, garlic and salt, and blend until smooth.
6. In medium saucepan or wok, heat 3 inches canola or peanut oil to 375 degrees. Lightly dust pork belly cubes with flour, shaking off excess. Working in batches, fry pork belly until dark golden brown and crispy, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Season with salt, if necessary.
7. In a mixing bowl, toss the watermelon flesh with just enough dressing to coat. Divide pork among serving plates, and top with watermelon flesh and a few cubes of pickled rind. Drizzle additional dressing around plate. Garnish with scallions, coriander leaves, basil, and sesame seeds, if using.
Yield: 8 servings.