Citizens, Dongpo pork is a Hangzhou regional Chinese recipe celebrating the glorious fat, meat and textural magnificence of pork belly.
The pork is cut thick, 3 inches square, and should consist equally of fat and lean meat. The skin is left on. The mouthfeel is oily but not greasy and the dish is fragrant with wine. The dish is named after the famed poet and gastronome Su Dongpo.
Su Dongpo (January 8, 1037 – August 24, 1101), was a Chinese writer, poet, painter, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and a statesman of the Song dynasty – truly a renaissance man!
A major personality of the Song era, he was famed as an essayist and most especially as a poet, though his day job was as a high government official.
So fond of pork was Su that not only did he come up with an array of recipes for pork cooking, but he even wrote a poem called “Ode to Pork” – 豬肉頌, which goes like this in Chinese:
the English translation:
“Pork in Huangzhou is plenty
there it costs utterly lowly
The rich detest it; the poor fluff it
The legendary creation of the recipe goes like this:
“One day, he (Su Dongpo) was cooking pork when a friend dropped by. Switching the fire to gentle heat, he left the kitchen to play chess with the visitor. So engrossed was he with the game that he forgot the cooking. It was only at the end of the game he suddenly recalled the pork and rushed to the kitchen.
Expecting to find the pork burnt to a crisp, he was surprised by the aroma when the lid of the pot was lifted. The edible pork had a rich red colour, tender crispy but not flaky with a glutinous texture without the greasy taste. Henceforth, it became a regular dish for himself and his guests, who couldn’t get enough of it. (Source: chinahistoryforum.com)
There are several versions of this recipe, the best of which is from the gorgeous lakeside city of Hangzhou, where only wine, not water, is used in the recipe. This, of course, served as the template for my version of this 1000 year-old recipe, Citizens! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 lb top-quality pork belly, skin on
2 T Vegetable oil
½ cup Chinese yellow rock sugar, smashed into bits (strongly preferred) or brown sugar
Kitchen or butchers twine
3 bunches scallions, washed and cut in half lengthwise
8 slices ginger
1 ¼ cups Shaoxing wine
2 whole star anise + 4 extra points (½ a star)
1 piece cinnamon, about 2 inches long
1 ½ T black peppercorns
3 T dark soy sauce
4 T light soy sauce
½ t Sesame oil
Shredded scallion for garnish
Wash the pork belly as a whole piece. Blanch it whole in boiling water for one minute and drain. This process gets rid of any impurities and also allows you to more easily cut the pork belly into same-sized pieces.
Cut the pork into 3 x 3 inch *exactly square* pieces. Tightly tie up each piece of belly with twine (as if you were tieing up a gift box) so that the meat keeps its shape during the cooking process and stays intact. Set aside.
In a medium-sized heavy pot, put all the sauce ingredients together and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Put the oil into an unheated wok and add the smashed sugar, cooking over low heat until sugar has dissolved.
In a new pot (preferably a Chinese clay pot), like the bottom with scallions and then ginger. Add the pork skin side DOWN on top of these.
Add the sugar syrup into the hot sauce, stir and pour over the pork. Turn the heat to low and let it simmer for 1 ½ hours. You can adjust the seasoning of the sauce at this point but remember that the sauce will thicken and become saltier.
After simmering, put the pork (this time skin side UP) and sauce into a big heat-proof bowl or dish and steam for at least 3 hours. If kept overnight at this point and re-steamed for another hour or more the next day, it’s even better, but not necessary.
Strain out the sauce spices and heat the sauce over medium-low heat, adding salt if you find it too sweet. Then combine some cornstarch and some of the sauce in a bowl (mixed thoroughly) and add a teaspoon at a time back into the heated sauce to thicken the sauce to taste.
After steaming (or resteaming) the pork belly, let it cool down, then pour hot sauce over pork and serve with white rice or mantou buns with shredded scallion as garnish.