Garlic string beans, Cantonese vermicelli lobster, Braised pork belly
I’m not exactly sure how my friends (Elisa, Lisa, Mike) and I decided to cook a Chinese themed dinner, but it was a total success. For all the cooking I’ve done, I don’t venture much into Chinese food, partly because I don’t own a fire pit / wok and Chinese restaurants are very affordable, but mainly because I have my mom / dad make Chinese food for me when I’m at home. However, without the parents around, we decided to make Chinese food, featuring garlic string beans (Lisa), Cantonese vermicelli lobster (Elisa, with Mike killing the poor lobsters), braised pork belly (me), and dumplings (not pictured here). Dessert was raspberry sorbet because Lisa failed to deliver on egg tarts that she promised she’d make.
Profile of pork belly, a thing of beauty
Chinese braised pork belly, or hong shao rou in Mandarin, is my favorite Chinese dish of all time (really, any pork belly dish, but this one in particular). It was also Mao ZeDong’s favorite food (you make the connection). My grandpa and dad used to make this dish for me while I was growing up, so that might be part of the reason I love it so much. The pork belly is braised in a mixture of sugar, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine or mirin for a little over an hour and then laid over a bed of white rice. The pork belly is soft and tender, and the fat melts in your mouth with each bite. Pair each bite of pork belly with a chopstick portion of soy sauce soaked rice and you have yourself one of the most delicious bites of food imaginable.
Hong shao rouMy tips: 1. You must use pork belly. No other cut of pork will work as well. 2. You can substitute mirin for Xiaoxing wine, or look for Xiaoxing wine substitutes (a fruitier wine should work) 3. Add a chunk of ginger into the recipe found above 4. Make sure you control the heat when you are caramelizing the sugar. If your dutch oven or pot is too hot, oil and fat will splash everywhere (which is dangerous and annoying to clean up). 5. Enjoy with white rice. There is no better complement to this dish than white rice.
Hong Shao Rou (reproduced from http://redcook.net/2009/03/01/red-cooked-pork-redux/)
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Slow cooking time: 70 minutes [I would extend the cook time to 60 - 80 minutes so the meat becomes more tender]
1 1/2 lb. pork belly meat
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cloves of garlic peeled
2 scallions cut into 2-inch long pieces
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (老抽)
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (紹興料酒)
1 1/2 cups clear stock (or the liquid from the par-boiling step) or water
Put the pork belly in a wok containing enough boiling water to cover the meat completely. Continuously skim off the scum as it forms on top of the boiling water. Boil for about 20 minutes then drain the pork belly and place on a plate to cool. The boiling liquid can be reused for braising after filtering through a fine sieve. When the pork belly is cool to touch cut it into pieces of about 1.5 inches cubes.
Melt the sugar and the vegetable oil in a wok over medium high heat. Continue heating until the sugar is slightly brown. About 3 minutes. Add the cubed pork belly and brown it with the caramelized sugar. About 8 minutes.
Put the garlic, scallion, star anise, dark soy sauce, rice wine and clear stock into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 40 minutes. Stir the meat every 10 minutes to make sure the pork at the bottom of the pot does not get burnt. Remove the cover and turn the heat to medium high. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.
You can serve this dish right away or keep overnight and reheat the next day before serving. Plate it in a shallow bowl and garnish with shredded scallion and sprigs of cilantro.