Apologies in advance to my Moslem and Jewish readers, but I have a weakness for belly pork. I love the succulent, fatty cuts. Admittedly, when I child I was rather off-put by noticing the nipple on a particular slice of pork belly, but (thankfully) I’ve grown out of that squeamishness.

One of my favourite dishes in one of my favourite London Chinese restaurants is slices of belly pork braised with slices of yam in a metal pot. The yam absorbs some of the porky fattiness, and the whole dish is suffused with a wonderful coriander taste.

The Chinese refer to belly pork as the “five layers of heaven”; the Thais, a little more prosaically, “three layer pork”, only counting the meat.

Anyway, I came across a recipe a few months ago for red cooked pork which I’ve been meaning to try. The technique for creating caramel is something I hadn’t come across before – rather than heating the sugar in a dry pan, or with a little water (which evaporates), the sugar is mixed with vegetable oil and then heated. This actually worked quite well – the sugar began to brown, then suddenly expanded massively in the oil (returning to white in the process) before (a few seconds later) turning to a toffee-ish caramel. However, without an hawk-like eye there’s a real danger of the caramel burning.

Here’s the recipe (slightly adapted) from http://www.redcook.net :

  • 700 g pork belly (I used slices, but a slab would work just as well)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 rounded tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled (not crushed)
  • 2 spring onions cut into 4 cm long pieces
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 60 ml Shaoxing wine (I didn’t have Shaoxing wine, so substituted Mirin)
  • 300 ml of the water from parboiling the pork, strained
  • coriander leaf and spring onions, chopped, for garnish.

Put the pork belly in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 20 minutes. Skim off any scum that forms on top of the water. Take the pork from the water and allow to cool. Then cut into nice cubes. (I removed the skin, but this is optional.)

Heat the sugar and vegetable oil in a pan over a medium heat until the sugar browns. Now add the pork belly and brown it for a few minutes in the oil/sugar mix.

Add the garlic, spring onion, star anise, dark soy, rice wine and 300 ml of the water from boiling the pork to the pot. Cover, and simmer over a low heat for 40 minutes, stirring regularly. Now uncover, increase the heat and boil for about 10 minutes to reduce the sauce to a nice, thick consistency.

The result is a beautiful mahogany colour – but where the redness comes from is a mystery to me.

Red cooked pork

(Sadly, I’m no food stylist.)

Serve with plain boiled rice, sprinkled with chopped coriander and spring onion.



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