Pork belly – it’s the cut of the moment, isn’t it? On the menu everywhere. Very now. And very cheap, if you buy it in the right places (look beyond the supermarkets, which have copped on to its foodie appeal and adjusted the price accordingly).
This is a recipe that we don’t do often enough. And it’s attributed to Chairman Mao himself, who always made sure he was eating well while starving the rest of the nation. Being left to starve and told to survive on revolutionary zeal alone was good enough for the masses, but let’s face it, you couldn’t lead them through the Great Leap Forward on an empty stomach!
One of the many things I love about this recipe is that the melt-in-the-mouth results don’t take long to achieve. You’re done within an hour. And you can fiddle with the cooking time depending on your tastes – a bit shorter for a saucy conclusion, or a bit longer if you want a more caramelised result.
This crash test draws heavily on Fuchsia Dunlop‘s recipe, as published in the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. We kept an excerpt that was printed in the (London) Observer Magazine a few years back.
We had nearly twice the amount of pork that Fuchsia specifies, so we adjusted the quantities accordingly. You should too, because it’s just as great for leftovers the next day.
Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork belly
800g or roughly 2lb pork belly
groundnut/peanut or vegetable oil
fine white sugar
shaoxing wine or dry sherry
ginger, 30g (1oz)
bit more ginger for grating
clove of garlic
star anise, 1-2 bits
dried red chillies x 3
spring onions/green onions
pak choi, bok choi, choi sumthing-or-other or similar Asian green
Half a chicken stock cube (or real stock)
- Parboil the pork belly for a few minutes, then cut into strips, then bite-sized chunks
- Put 3 tablespoons (75ml) oil in a heavy-based pan over medium high heat. We don’t recommend a wok.
- As the oil heats, add 3 tablespoons sugar and stir in to melt. Continue to heat, stirring, until it caramelises nice and dark but is still liquid (as per the video).
- Tip in the pork and then recoil from the hotplate as things start to pop and spatter.
- As Lenny says, “splash in some shaoxing wine, but we actually don’t have it, we’ve got some dry sherry”. Put in about a quarter, a third or half a cup of whichever. Mix the pork around to coat, then top up with just enough water to cover. Raise the heat to get it bubbling.
- Slice the ginger into thin rounds and add to the pot, along with the star anise, cinnamon stick and chillies. Sprinkle a bit of salt and mixy mix, then turn down to a simmer.
- Now, the lid-on, lid-off conundrum. This is braising, and there’s 50 minutes’ cooking overall, so we suggest doing it with the lid on for 30 minutes, then taking the lid off and jacking up the heat a bit for the last 20 minutes to reduce the liquid.
- In the meantime, prepare rice however you do (watch the video for our tried-and-trusted method).
- As serving time looms, chop your Asian greens into separate stalky and leafy bits. Dissolve your stock cube in some hot water or, if using liquid stock, heat it up in a pan.
- Chop up the garlic clove and grate a tablespoon of ginger.
- Heat a splash of oil in a wok or frypan, toss in the garlic and ginger, then almost immediately add the stalky greens and about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of chicken stock. Turn down low and cover for a few minutes.
- Back to the pork, where we splash in about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and (optionally) sprinkle a bit of salt.
- Chop 3 spring/green onions or whatever you call them into inch lengths and add to the pork – mix in so they soften a bit, though you still want some crunch.
- Add the leafy greens to the wok and toss – 30 seconds to a minute and they’re done.
- Serve up and eat like a dictator!