St Valentine’s Day – A celebration on February 14th of love and affection between 2 people, or a cynical marketing ploy to get people to spend more money perhaps? Either way, it’s not really something you can ignore as there are reminders of it everywhere you go. I’m currently not in a relationship, so it can be lonely this time of the year but I had a plan to keep me busy – To attempt Dong Po Pork for the first time. That’s right, my Valentine’s Night was going to be spent with a slab of pork belly – Who said romance was dead?!
Finishing work early in the afternoon on Saturday, I headed to the markets in Birmingham as I don’t really get many opportunities to do so and they’re great for food inspiration. I had seen a tried and tested recipe on egullet and was keen to try, so I got myself a nice slab of pork belly (I already had the other ingredients as they’re staples of Chinese cooking, in my house at least).
As per the instructions, I blanched the pork first before wiping it dry and browning off over a moderate heat until the skin was golden brown. Mental note: I deep-fried it at Chinese New Year for the Kau Yuk which you can do here, but I quite liked the look of a nice crisp golden brown skin.
Now to braise the meat: I lined a pot with some spring onions and slices of ginger before adding the pork, then added the braising ingredients: dark and light soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, rock sugar and star anise. Water was added so that the liquid barely covered the meat (without diluting the mixture too much).
From here, it’s onto the hob to boil, then the heat is lowered to a simmer (with the lid on) for 3 – 4 hours, turning occasionally (take care towards the end as the meat with be very soft and tender). I de-boned the meat joint just before I put it in to braise but thinking back, it probably wasn’t necessary as the bones should have come out easily once braised.
Once done, remove the meat from the braising liquor; The meat will have taken on the colour (and flavours) from the braising liquor, turning it from a pink and cream specimen to a rich, deep mahogany colour that smells of soy and Shaoxing with a hint of sweetness and the aroma of star anise. The smells coming from the kitchen were fantastic and it took every ounce of self-control not to bite a chunk out of the meat, but I somehow did.
Resisting the urge to gobble the whole thing there and then, I decided to let it cool down before cutting into portions (as the recipe suggests, not cutting all the way through so that the pieces come apart easily when using chopsticks). The difference is that I reduced the braising liquor a bit before pouring it over the meat. Served with some steamed green veg, it’s a perfect dish to go with (plain) rice. The meat is meltingly tender, the fat soft and unctuous and it does indeed break apart easily when using chopsticks. The depth of flavour from the braising is surprisingly intense and a perfect counterpoint to the plain rice.
This may seem to be a fair bit of effort for what is a simple dish (in terms of ingredients and method, anyway), but the results are spectacular and thoroughly rewarding. The aromas permeating throughout your house will have you salivating throughout the braising process so it may be advisable to buy a bigger piece than is actually required just so when you trim bits off for presentation purposes, you could trim just that bit extra as a cook’s treat. And when the results are this tasty, whyever would you not?