I promised more Chinese food posts from a dinner I made with my boyfriend earlier this year, so here is part II. Is there anything more heavenly than a bowl of steaming hot rice with a dish of Chinese style red braised pork belly to go with it? No, don’t even think about it, the the answer is no. Red braised pork belly is one of those Chinese comfort food treats that I look forward to every time I visit my parents, because they’re the only ones that can make it so perfect (my dad is a pro at this one). Tender pork belly and ribs with the meat falling off, bathed in a luscious soy-based sauce that is just the right combination of savory and sweet (the signature of a Shanghainese dish done right)… just the thought of it is making me dizzy. My dad’s version is even more uber because he adds kao fu (烤麸), which is “steamed wheat gluten”, aka juicy cubes of spongy vegetarian protein that absorb all the wonderful sauce cooking in the pot with the pork belly. Trying to describe kao fu with words feels so wrong, because it tastes amazing but sounds terrible in English. Just trust me on the kao fu.
Anyway, that’s not the point today, because today I’m writing about a super simple version of red braised pork belly that I can make easily away from home, and it still tastes great (I’d say it’s 8/10 if 10 is the traditional version). Whereas the traditional version can get complicated with things like rock sugar, star anise, five-spice, and maltose, this recipe uses easy-to-obtain ingredients, which is especially nice for students or people with small pantries. The secret ingredient? Coke. Yep, the soda. A few years ago, I described to you that my mom made a similar red-braised chicken dish in her pressure cooker called Cola chicken, which uses a can of coke and soy sauce. The same concept is adapted here to make quick and easy red braised pork belly, because the phosphoric acid in coke is a great meat tenderizer, and the sweetness blends perfectly with the soy sauce to create that mix of sweet and savory necessary for a red braise. The process involves first blanching your meat in boiling water to seal the surface and remove some of the bloody impurities. Then you simply saute the meat in a pot, add your liquids, and simmer away! I recommend letting the meat simmer for as long as possible before you eat it, so that it has time to achieve the absolutely falling-apart texture, but if you’re in a pinch, about an hour or so will get you to an acceptable texture. As always with Chinese recipes, play with the recipe until you find something that works for you! And for those of you uneasy about eating the fatty pork belly… in Asian culture the women believe that the pork skin with its high collagen content is great for your skin. Or just… tell yourself that it’s okay to indulge every once in a while ;)
Easy Chinese Style Red Braised Pork Belly and Ribs (serves 4)
- 1 lb pork belly and ribs (ask your butcher at the store to cut it up for you into chunks)
- 1 large carrot, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 slices ginger
- 2 stalks of scallions chopped into 1″ segments
- 1/2 cup Coke (use classic if possible)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine
1. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Blanch the meat for 2 minutes in the water, then drain and set aside.
2. In a skillet, heat some cooking oil on medium-high and saute the ginger, garlic, and scallions for a few minutes. Toss in the blanched pork belly and rib chunks, and sear until lightly browned.
3. Transfer to a medium saucepot, add in the coke, water, dark and light soy sauces, rice wine, and a few dashes of pepper. Make sure the pot allows the liquid to cover most of the meat. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
4. Simmer for 1 and a half hours, adding the carrots when there is 30 minutes remaining. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks and that the liquid does not boil dry. The sauce should start to reduce nicely. You may optionally stir in a cornstarch slurry (mix together 1 tbsp cornstarch with a few tbsp cold water, and slowly stir into your boiling sauce), watching until your sauce becomes the desired thickness. I left my sauce as is, not quite so thick.
5. Serve with a side of sauteed Shanghai bok choy and fluffy white rice. Did I mention this was heaven?
Previously, I wrote about the honey soy sauce glazed chicken wings which was also part of this Chinese dinner. Look for parts III and IV (a Chinese vegetable dish and soup) coming in the future!
P.S. You may have noticed that the look of My Edible Memories has changed a little! I switched to a new theme today that I thought was a more appropriate feel for a food blog. Let me know what you think!