Twice cooked spicy pork belly (回鍋肉)

Posted on July 15, 2014

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I’ve been a bit distracted lately and hence have neglected this blog because life demanded my attention to a rather tedious and  irritating task, but fret not I’m still alive! This dish is a little metaphoric for my return given its Chinese name, 回鍋肉, translates literally to “returned to wok meat”. Why is it returned to the wok? Because the wok is the epitome of a kitchen workhorse in a Chinese kitchen; it’s used for everything, from steaming through to deep frying. The pork belly’s first cook is a gentle poaching in the wok, then it’s returned for a final flash frying with added spices and flavouring. The result is tender pieces of fatty pork dressed in a smoky spicy sauce. Recipe for yumminess right there!

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This recipe is inspired from the one I saw in the BBC documentary series Exploring China: A Culinary Journey. Side note: I highly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in Chinese food, particularly those wanting to learn about the different regional cuisines. I found it really well presented, the narrators Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang have excellent food knowledge, a genuine interest in the country’s cultural history and it was really enjoyable hearing their personal views of China and Chinese food as Chinese people brought up in a western country.  Certainly from my perspective, many of the thoughts and feelings they reflected on were mirrored in the way I felt when I travelled around China.

The exact version of the recipe cooked on the documentary isn’t available on the BBC website, so this version is from my memory and potentially influenced by some of my own knowledge of Chinese food. Twice cooked spicy pork belly is a well known dish from the Sichuan region. Many restaurant versions of this will feature cabbage as it’s a cheap greenery to bulk up the dish. I wouldn’t bother with that because in my opinion, it should be all about the meat. This particular version of the dish isn’t very spicy (though I do have a pretty decent spice tolerance), it has a little zing from the ground Sichuan peppercorns and warmth from the chilli bean paste. Feel free to ramp up the spice level or add in dry chillies. The usual suspects of garlic, ginger and spring onion give it a bit of freshness, then sweet and savoury notes are introduced through rice wine, soy sauces and a bit of sugar.

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RECIPE – Twice cooked spicy pork belly (回鍋肉) serve as part of a multi course meal

Ingredients:

  • 500g strip of pork belly
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, ground
  • ~2.5 cm piece of ginger, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ~1 tablespoon oil for cooking
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chilli bean paste
  • 3 spring onions, cut into ~6cm lengths

Method:

  1. Bring water to a gentle simmer in a wok (or large pot) and poach pork belly until cooked through (~35 minutes. It’s ok if it’s still a touch pink in the centre, you’ll be cooking it again anyway).IMG_8918
  2. Slice pork belly thinly.IMG_8919
  3. Rinse and dry wok. Heat ~1 tablespoon oil in wok and fry Sichuan pepper, ginger and garlic until fragrant. Turn up heat, add pork belly slices and toss around.
  4. Stir in rice wine, sugar, soy sauces and chilli bean paste. Adjust seasoning to taste. Lastly add in spring onions and mix well.
  5. Serve immediately with steamed rice as part of multi course meal.IMG_8922IMG_8929

So homely and warming for these cold nights. Nearly halfway through winter now! 🙂

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