Red-cooked pork belly

I’ve made a recipe similar to this red-cooked pork belly before, so I’ll give you a tip: make this one instead.  While I loved the soupy-version from The River Cottage Meat Book, it lacked the texture and the intensity that this version has.  This version, adapted from both the RCMB and from a post on the wonderful blog, the Red Cook, is flavored with anise, ginger, and orange.  The belly meat is caramelized and the surrounding sauce turns syrupy and thick, perfect for coating fluffy white rice.

Now, there’s about a gahzillion versions of red-cooked pork belly and I’m in no way claiming any authority.  As an Asian-style cook, I’m amateur at best, and being that I’ve never had red-cooked pork belly at a Chinese restaurant (why, oh why do we not see this on Chinese menus in America), I don’t have much to base my recipe off of.  But it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and that’s enough for me (and you, I hope.)

The most important difference between my first pork belly recipe and this one is caramelization.  Because of the layer of fat on the pork belly, it tastes best after a quick rendering on high heat, browning the the top of the fat and all the sides, and then adding the flavorings, especially the orange peel, to quickly caramelize too, before adding any liquid.  Then as soon as you put in the liquid, the rendered fat and browned up bits will incorporate and begin to thicken and create the sauce.  With the heat lowered, you allow the pork to cook and everything to meld together for a few hours, the liquid reducing a little.  I add a bit of cornstarch, mixed first with water to create a slurry, to the liquid when it’s close to done, to thicken it up more (and because I love the taste of cornstarch-thickened sauces.)

It just so happens that I returned to the Red Cook’s blog today and saw this post, where Kian revisited his first red-cooked pork belly recipe and came to the conclusion that it’s better to boil the pork belly before beginning the recipe.  While I did this on my first pork belly try, I didn’t this time and now I’m banging my head against the wall—wondering how good it could have been with this step (could it have been better? My head might explode.)  Do whatever you like, it will still be great without the par-boiling, but I’m surely going on Kian’s word next time and adding the extra step.  The rest of my recipe, however, will remain untouched; I don’t think my head could handle anything more delicious.

Red-cooked Pork Belly

adapted from River Cottage Meat Book and The Red Cook

2 lb. pork belly meat cut into two inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
peel from 1/2 orange
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
water to almost cover

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with tablespoon water, to make a slurry

scallions and cilantro for garnish
white rice

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven or pot, melt sugar into oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until sugar turns a deep brown color. Put the pork belly pieces in the pot and brown them on all sides, caramelizing, about 10 minutes.

Add the star anise, ginger, orange peel. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add dark soy sauce, wine and water into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 1 hour . Remove the cover and cook for another hour. Add cornstarch slurry and turn up the heat to medium. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.

Serve with white rice and scallions and cilantro for garnish. Try and save some for leftovers, mixed together in a Tupperware. The rice will be to die for.