Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lazy person's Dongpo pork

So, my interest in Dongpo pork was a result of going to a new restaurant in town that just opened. If you know me, I'm always on the lookout for the next "IT" restaurant. No, not "IT" as in the coolest, hippest restaurant in town - I'm actually like a fish out of water at those places - but a restaurant that's different, unique and can pique my interests in their dishes. 

Figure 1. Dongpo pork

Anyways, this restaurant, however, did Dongpo pork differently. It was more like a stir-fry with strips of pork meat. Was it good? Acceptable, it's not horrible, but... I always have to look up what the dish is like, the actual dish. When I looked it up, of course, it has NOTHING to do with the one I got from said restaurant. Since then I was on a quest to find a good Dongpo pork. 

Enter another restaurant in town. Their Dongpo pork was... good, closer to the pictures of Dongpo pork on the internet, but it didn't seem quite right, theirs was a bit more "watery". Almost like Indonesian beef steak dish (it's actually a stew dish, but we call it "bistik", which I assume is the Indonesianization of "beef steak").

Being me, I was looking online for the recipe when I stumbled upon the BBC recipe of Dongpo pork (don't you just looooveeee BBC?). Problem is... I'm not one to slave over hot stove like that. No, sir, not me. So I tinkered with the recipe a bit and come up with this one.

Dongpo pork


For pork belly:
1 lb pork belly (skin intact)
4-5 quarts of water
5-6 whole star anise
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corriander seeds
1/2 tbs salt

For the sauce:
1/4 cup Shao Xing cooking wine
2-3 cups stew liquid (from above recipe)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4-5 tbs salty soy sauce
4-5 whole star anise
Salt and sugar to taste

1. In a slow cooker, low setting, overnight, cook the pork belly in water, star anise, sesame oil, corriander seeds and salt.
2. The next day, cut the pork belly in cubes of about 2 x 2 inches squares gently.
3. Coat the base of a shallow pan with cooking spray
4. Pan-fry the pork belly cubes, meat side down for about 2-3 minutes until slightly charred.
5. Add stew liquid, brown sugar, soy sauce and star anise, bring to a boil
6. Reduce the heat to simmer and adjust the flavor with salt and sugar
7. Simmer for 30 minutes
8. Turn the meat so the skin side is submerged in the liquid and simmer for another 30 minutes
9. Serve skin side up, garnished with chopped green onions

1. Choose pork belly with defined layer. The more defined the layers, the more "beautiful" the end result will be. Also, you DO WANT the layers of fat. So, don't pick pork belly from pigs with six-packs abs.
2. Theoretically, you can of course cut the meat before you stew them, however, keep in mind that the meat will shrink as cooked, that's why I like to cut it after stewing them.
3. A minimum of 4 hours is needed to cook the pork on high setting in the slow cooker, any less then that will make the skin tough and rubbery.
4. If your pork belly disintegrated, use twine to tie the cubes
5. The most I cooked is 2 lbs in the slow cooker. This is to make sure that the pork belly is completely submerged.
6. I usually make more of the liquid and stop cooking when the liquid is reduced down to about 1/2-1/3 original volume. 
7. The real Dongpo pork involves braising and a technique called "red cooking", which I have no clue about. I did try braising but the skin was ever so rubbery, plus the cooking process is more involved. This way, you just let the slow cooker do the initial leg work. 
8. Soy sauce/brown sugar is used to adjust the color so it's rich dark brown. Of course when you want it to be darker/lighter you have to adjust the amount of salt/sugar that's added to it.
9. I do not recommend adjusting to final flavor when the liquid is reduced. I think making it to the final taste you desire allows the flavor to penetrate the meat.
10. Don't skimp on star anise. They're your friend in this dish. But do be careful not to overpower everything.

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