Twice-Cooked Pork Belly
I’ve read a lot recently about a Chinese dish that almost no Chinese restaurants serve abroad. Twice-Cooked Pork Belly, yep, that’s fresh, uncured, unsmoked bacon boiled and then slow-baked (or if you’re lucky enough to cook on a grill, barbecued. Now I’ve READ a lot about this dish but have seen almost no recipes that specify clearly HOW the pork should be cooked. Or they suggest boiling first then stir-frying it in pieces, which I find unappealing. And most online mentions of the term are descriptions of the delicious food you can order in Australia’s better restaurants. Any Australians or Chinese out there who can give me a heads-up on this? I really wanted a step-by-step guide to this since I’m wondering how I’ll get enough of the fat (and there’s a LOT!) rendered, so this’ll be good, not excessive and disgusting. So today, I’m winging it. I figure that if I first boil the pork whole in salted, garliked water until the water has completely evaporated and then let the fatty side brown in the pork’s own rendered fat, I’ll be halfway to getting the bacon to be more like a really tender regular piece of meat, not bacony at all. Then, I’ll rub on a sort-of spice paste and put it in a not-so-hot oven for a couple hours. After that, we’ll see if the meat turns out tender and yummy. If I had access to a grill, I’d slow barbecue it.
1.5 pound slab of fresh pork belly
2 teaspoons salt
4 whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, bruised*
water to barely cover
*How to bruise a garlic clove: Place you knife flat on top of the garlic clove and whack it so that the garlic is a bit mooshed but ideally, still in one piece.
First I put all the above ingredients in a large, non-stick stock pot and set to the boil. In the first 10 minutes of cooking, I skimmed off a lot of foam until the meat stopped producing it. This cooks a long time, over an hour until all the water is evaporated, but once it does, it begins to make loud crackling sounds of the meat frying in it’s own fat. If you’re even in the vicinity of the kitchen, you’ll hear it long before it gets a chance to burn. I let the fattier side get brown and then took it out of the pan to cool a bit.
While I was boiling the pork, I made something between a barbecue dry rub and Rick Bayless’s “Essential Garlicky Achiote Seasoning Paste”. The result looked like this:
1 tbsp achiote (annatto) seeds
1 tsp whole black pepper
¾ tsp dried oregano
3 tsp chili powder
3 tbsp cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves peeled
½ tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
I pulverized the achiote and black pepper in a spice grinder then added the oregano to pulverize that as well to a fine powder. In a very small food processor (in a medium or large one, there would not be enough stuff to whiz around), I placed the peeled garlic and processed until it was in small pieces. Music to whiz garlic by: The White Stripes' "Suzy Lee" on their eponymous release. Then I added 1 tbsp cider vinegar at a time and processed each time until, after the 3rd addition, I had a relatively smooth liquid. I then added the spices from the grinder plus the other ingredients and processed to a thick paste. I slathered most of that onto all sides of the cooled pork and placed it on a roasting rack over the fitting roasting pan.
I baked the pork at 325F for 3 hours. If you do this, between hours 2 and 3 check periodically to make sure the crust doesn’t burn. I took the meat out of the oven, let it stand for 15 minutes so the juices would not run when I sliced it, then I served ¼-inch slices with an extra daube of the chili BBQ paste. The meat was indeed more meaty and less bacony, that is, most of the fat rendered and the outer layer of fat got really crispy and delicious. The meat, itself was extremely tender. I’ll definitely do this again and when I do, I’ll brine the meat first to get some spice flavor into the interior. For more info on brining, see here. So sorry for the lack of photos. I've done something unforgiveable to my camera's memory chip and it hasn't forgiven me yet.