Let's talk PORK BELLY.
Just these two words can get me all hot and bothered and make my mouth water...*ahem*
This fatty, unctuous, lip smacking, rib sticking slab of meat has become so popular over the past decade in the foodie world that it can now be seen on many restaurant menus, hipster pubs, food truck menus and more, almost everywhere. I remember a time when American supermarkets didn't even offer pork belly, and we'd have to travel to an Asian market or to Chinatown in New York to get these deliciously fatty cuts of meat. Now, even our local Shoprite in suburban NJ offers it, along with a growing Asian and ethnic foods section. Without a doubt, it has taken the food world by storm and it is here to stay. Pork belly tacos, pork belly mac and cheese, pork belly bbq, pork belly this, pork belly that. If we see it on a menu, we (the WAI SIK team) will most likely order it.
Growing up in my family, pork belly dishes were usually enjoyed in Chinese restaurants for special dinners, usually as Dong Bo Yuk (Dong Bo Rou in Mandarin) 東坡肉 which originated from Hangzhou, China.
For Dong Bo Rou, the pork belly is usually first pan fried, then braised and stewed with wine and soy sauce and is known for its large square chunks and dark, glistening reddish brown color. The picture below is of Dong Bo Rou dishes my dad made as treats for my mom and his friends. (He only sent us pictures on WeChat to show off and make us jealous!). Ugh, it looks so damn good.
We also enjoy the Taiwanese Lu Rou Fan 滷肉飯, which is more like a braised pork belly meat sauce that is poured over rice. What we love about this dish is really the sauciness and the delicious flavor of pork fat that envelopes every rice grain after you mix the sauce in. Every mouthful includes the great chewy texture of rice that has soaked up that pork flavor, pork fat and bits of soft pork.
But while pork belly choices are available far and wide, a popular topic that comes up between myself and Wilson is, "Hmm....I still like the pork belly we make at home." Of course, not to discredit the creativity and hard work that other folks put into their pork belly recipes, I admit that we can be creatures of habit and will always crave and compare our own recipe to the samples we try elsewhere. (If you like to cook, you probably know what I mean.)
Over the years, I've developed my own version of the soy flavored pork belly that both Wilson and I enjoy. It is a happy medium between the chunky meatiness of Dong Bo Rou 東坡肉 and the saucy goodness that comes with Lu Rou Fan 滷肉饭. While Lu Rou Fan is great, there always seems to be...not enough meat. As meat was considered a luxury back in the day, families had to figure out a way to spread the love by chopping it up into tiny pieces, making it into a sauce and spreading it over rice to share with the whole family. Ingenious ? Yes. But be it as it may, now that we can afford pork belly (so thankful for that), we can make a more substantial serving that satiates our WAI SIK tummies.
My recipe involves a bit of preparation and patience, but the end result will be a succulent and soft piece of buttery pork that will melt in your mouth. It's probably not the "correct" way to make it in the traditional sense, but it looks great and tastes pretty darn close to the real thing.
I first cut the pork belly into 1-1.5 inch cubes and marinade it in a sweet soy sauce mixture with wine, spices, shallots, ginger and garlic. After a couple hours, I steam the pork belly for 3 hours on top of a bed of ginger and scallions. Then, I submerge the pork belly in the same sweet soy mixture (having boiled it to prevent cross contamination) and let the flavors soak in and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Add a little cornstarch to thicken the sauce and the pork belly is ready to be spooned on top of a rice of your choosing. I prefer short grain rice or sushi rice, while Wilson likes long grain rice or jasmine rice. Really depends on your personal preference.
I don't make this dish often as it is, unsurprisingly, not very healthy for you. But when I do tell Wilson that I am making it, his eyes light up and he gets so excited. This in itself is rewarding for me because Wilson can be a pretty picky eater, and is hard to impress when it comes to food. Hearing him say that he likes something means that I've hit a jackpot recipe that I need to keep. A way to a man's heart is through his stomach right? (Apparently through mine too, in case anybody was wondering how to get on my good side, hehe).
1. Cut the cleaned pork belly into 1-1.5 inch cubes. Place evenly into a glass container and marinade it with the salt, sugar, sweet soy, shaoxing wine, mirin, white pepper powder, and cinnamon powder. You can let it marinade for about 2 hours at least, or leave in the fridge overnight.
2. Next, slice the ginger into 1/4" slices. Chop up the shallots and smash the cloves of garlic. Slice the scallions into about 4" stalks and throw out the base and roots.
3. Once the pork belly is done marinading, prepare your steamer. Get a deep dish with about a 1-2" rim and place the sliced ginger, shallots, garlic and scallions into the bottom of the dish.
4. Remove the pork belly from the marinade and set on top of the ginger, shallots, garlic and scallions. Make sure it's relatively dry, otherwise if you steam it with the marinade you're essentially boiling it. That will leave you with stringy, dry meat rather than the tender and juicy pork belly we're looking for.
4. Steam the pork belly for about to 3 hours. Be sure to periodically add water to your steamer or pot to ensure it doesn't dry out. You'll probably want to check about every 20-30 minutes.
5. When you have about 10-15 minutes left, be sure to boil the sweet soy sauce marinade to kill any germs from the raw pork belly. Add in the star anise and bay leaf (optional).
6. Once it's done steaming, let it cool and then, submerge the pork belly in the same sweet soy sauce mixture and let the flavors soak in. Let it simmer in this pot for an additional 20 minutes. Add a little cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
7. While the pork belly is steaming cook your rice. For me it usually takes about 20-25 min to cook the rice including the time to wash the rice. I prefer Japanese sushi rice and the chew of it, while Wilson prefers Jasmine or basmati rice. Honestly just cook whatever rice you prefer in your household. If you want to upgrade the rice, stir fry the cooked rice with some garlic and sesame oil to really amp up the yumminess!
And there you have it. Pork belly over rice. This dish is so good, it gives me goosebumps. We hope you like it!
Just a gal who loves to eat and cook ❤