When we ordered our first (half) pig, we debated getting some of it cured by the butcher. In the end, partly because I am cheap frugal, we decided to get it all fresh, hams and side and all. I had been thinking we would cure some ourselves, but I’m beginning to suspect we’ll have eaten it all by the time I get serious about it. Oh, well, there’s always another pig.
But in the meantime, we have these nice big roasts of side pork, otherwise known as pork belly, the cut that is usually made into bacon. We’ve eaten it in restaurants a number of times, but this would be my first time cooking it. I decided to play it safe and make red-cooked pork belly, a classic Chinese preparation.
We’ve tried to get fresh pork belly before, at a local meat shop, but to my dismay they had already sliced it like bacon, even though it wasn’t cured. This time things worked out better, as you can see in the top picture. Isn’t that a beautiful piece of meat?
For my braising liquid, I used a combination of Molly Stevens’ recipe and our own “glazed gingery ribs” recipe. I combined chicken stock, water, brown sugar, red chile flakes, star anise, ginger, scallions and soy sauce in a Dutch oven and brought it to a simmer.
I whacked up the pork belly into large chunks and added them to the pot. I covered it up and let it simmer for about 2 hours, then removed the lid, turned up the heat and let the liquid reduce down to a cup or two (it took a while).
After the long simmer, the meat was very tender, but still capped with a fair amount of fat. The chunks were easy to remove, but this is certainly not a cut of meat for the fat-phobic. The sauce, even skimmed lightly of fat, was beautifully unctuous and silky in the mouth. We served the meat and sauce over white rice with baby bok choi and fresh pan-fried scallion-chive breads.
The next day, with the house still smelling of red-cooked pork, I shredded the leftover meat, mixed it with its own sauce and the leftover greens, and stuffed it into fresh hum bao. Fabulous.
This is the way I most like to cook: spending a great deal of time and energy to make something delicious, but then recycling the leftovers into something equally wonderful but different. Just because you’re working with leftovers doesn’t mean you can’t give them your full love and attention. And it doesn’t always have to mean sandwiches .