Braised Belly Pork from Hangzhou (東坡肉)
We were first introduced to this delicacy in our trip to Hangzhou way back in 2004. Apparently the Chinese name of this dish, Dongpo Rou (東坡肉) is attributed to a well known scholar and state official in the Sung Dynasty. His name was Su Dongpo (蘇東坡), a famous Chinese writer, poet, calligrapher and painter. Rumour has it that he invented this dish whilst playing chess but who really knows.
We were visiting the charming West Lake in Hangzhou which was surrounded by misty mountains and shrouded by the rain. It was lunch time and our guide took us to a lake side restaurant and we were each presented with a small bowl covered with a lid. Upon lifting the lid, we saw a 2 inch cube of shimmering belly pork in a brown sauce. The texture of the braised belly pork meat and fat was extremely tender and the sauce very fragrant and the skin…oh the skin…was wobbly and oh so tasty…the most heavenly taste. That small piece was not enough for us and we ordered another portion. It was so good.
Since then, every time we come across this dish in a restaurant menu, we will order it but so far, none of these has surpassed the memory of that first bite of braised pork belly in Hangzhou.
- 400 gm belly pork or shoulder (1 slab with skin on)
- 40 gm yellow rock sugar (smashed into small pieces)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- Sauce ingredients:
- 1 star anise
- 4 cm cinnamon bark
- 1 inch fresh ginger (thickly sliced)
- 1 teaspoon dark soya sauce
- 1 teaspoon light soya sauce
- 1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 sprig of spring onions (tied into a bundle)
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
1. Pour boiling water over the belly pork and drain. Pat dry thoroughly with kitchen paper towel.
2. Put oil in a pan, add rock sugar and stir over low heat until sugar has melted and turned golden brown. Slide belly pork into the sugar mixture gently skin down first. Take care as oil may splatter. Turn belly pork to fry in the caramelised sugar for 5 mins. Turn heat off.
3. Put all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Boil the mixture for 5 minutes.
4. Add pork (skin down) and sugar from the pan into the sauce and simmer for 1 hour. *see alternative
5. Remove pork and cut into 4 cubes. Put the cubes skin down into a deep dish. Add the sauce to the level just covering the pork belly and steam for another hour. * see alternative
* Alternatively, if you have a slow cooker, just put sauce, pork and sugar into the cooker, set it to high and cook for 4 hours.
6. To serve, carefully place a cube of pork belly into a small bowl, skin side up. Thicken the sauce with cornflour and pour some sauce over the belly pork cube.