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Monday, September 19, 2011

Taiwanese Pork Belly - ARUGH for Talk Like a Pirate Day

The King of Flavor.  The Godfather of Charcuterie.  The Mistress of Breakfast.  Those are just some random names I made up for Pork Belly, otherwise known as Bacon.  Most people were introduced to pork belly in the form of thin (relatively) slices of bacon.  Coming from a different cultural background, I was first introduced to pork belly in the form of thick pieces cooked in sauces and served with sticky white rice.  This recipe is for my family's version of Taiwanese Pork Belly.  It is often called Taiwanese Pork Belly Stew or Braised Pork Belly.  The stew portion of this recipe can be served with a wide variety of carbohydrates including rice or noodles.

**My mother called me after watching this video.  We differ on the interpretation of this recipe, with hers being "the right way" and mine being an "evolution of the right way."  Nonetheless, here we go.  My mother says that you shouldn't mix the pork belly and ground pork.  Either make the dish with only pork belly or only ground pork.  My mother also says that the size of the dried mushrooms should match the size of the meat.  If you use pork belly, cut the mushrooms to the size of the pork belly.  If you use ground pork, mince the dried mushrooms finely. 

Taiwanese Pork Belly Stew
Feeds 12-16.
  • 2 lbs of pork belly (I would say, the more the better)
  • 2 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup dried mushrooms (rehydrated in warm water for at least an hour before use)
  • 2 tablespoons fried shallots (available at any Asian grocery market)
  • 2 teaspoons of Five spice powder
  • 2/3 cup dark soy sauce (depending on your personal preference)
  • 10 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Pinch of ground white pepper
  • Water (save water used for soaking dried mushrooms for extra flavor)
  • Optional: 6-12 hard boiled eggs, already peeled
  • Optional: Salt if you really need it. 
1. Remove mushrooms from the water and slice or dice into bite size pieces.  I like to slice mine into ribbons.  My mother likes to dice hers into quarter inch chunks. Make sure to discard the stem portion into your bokashi bin or composter.  The stem is tough and very unpleasant to eat, though they are great for giving your dinner guests a great jaw workout.  Set the sliced/diced mushrooms aside.

2. Slice or dice the pork belly into bite size pieces.  Again, much of this is personal preference.  I like mine to be about two inches long and about 3/4 inch thick.  I think it makes for a prettier presentation.  Some restaurant likes to dice their pork belly into smaller 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch chunks.  I think that makes for a more home style look and feel to the presentation of the dish.  Don't fret of the size of your pork belly pieces.  Let the fat do the the flavor talking.

3. Heat a large skillet or pot (at least 8 quarts or so).  When hot, place the pork belly in the pan to get a nice sear on it.  Flip the pork belly over once it is crispy.  If your pork belly is in smaller chunks, sautée in the hot skillet like you would to render bacon, but don't render. Some fat will come out, and that fat will be lovely.  Simply crisp it at high heat and leave it be.

4. There are two variations at this step, but both will yield similar outcomes.  My mother likes to add in the raw ground pork and garlic cloves at this stage, break it up into chunks with a spoon, and then to move onto step 5.  I like to add raw ground pork and garlic at this stage, fry it up so that the fat from the pork belly coats the garlic and ground pork, and then move on.  I like to fry the raw ground pork because I like to make sure my ground pork is really done, and I like the nutty flavors of fried garlic.  I think traditional Taiwanese food purists would prefer the sweet mellow flavor of garlic cooked over low heat over the nutty flavors over higher heat.  To each their own.

5. Add the soy sauce, mushroom pieces, five spice powder, and pepper into the skillet.  Traditional Taiwanese dishes are slightly sweet, so you can add a teaspoon of sugar if you like.  Some people find it odd, but HEY! I'm Taiwanese.  We're descendants of pirates and political dissenters.  Don't talk smack about our food.  Also add enough water to cover the meat, and allow it to come to a simmer.  I would highly recommend using the mushroom soaking water to add a depth of flavor to the stew. 

6. Simmer for at least 60 minutes or so taking care to mix it up once in a while.  You want to make sure that the soy flavors permeate the fat of the pork belly. 

7. Taste and decide if it needs more water, salt, soy, or pepper.  Keep in mind that this is something that you'll eat with a carbohydrate, so it should be a little on the saltier side.  But the final flavor profile is really up to your personal preference.  The soupy part should still be relatively dark with soy at the point.  If you want to add hard boiled eggs to the stew, do it now.  You'll want to add them whole, and make sure they are covered with the soup.  Allow to simmer for another 15-30 minutes until the eggs are tinted with the soy sauce.  The pork belly should be soft and melt right into steamed rice.

8. Remove from heat and serve with rice or over noodles.  Top with green onion and a sprig of cilantro. 

*This dish freezes well.  Once the stew has cooled, you can place it in the fridge to solidify the fat.  Skim off the fat, transfer into storage containers, and freeze until later use.  The texture of the egg whites will change once frozen, but not in a bad way.  It tends to get layer-y, but still totally delicious. 

Taiwanese Pork Belly Noodle Soup
This has got to be one of the easiest recipes ever, besides Rachel Ray's lemon sorbet recipe.

  • 4 cups of Taiwanese Pork Belly Stew (or about half of the previous recipe)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 lb of noodles (cooked until al dente)
  • Garnishes of scallion and cilantro
Combine the 4 cups of Taiwanese Pork Belly Stew and 4 cups of water into a large pot.  Heat until simmering.  Add the cooked pasta, simmer for 60 seconds, and turn off the heat.  Adjust the flavor of the soup by adding more water or more soy sauce to suit your flavor preferences.  Serve with scallion and cilantro for a pretty pop of color.

*My mother would recommend that you use Asian style noodles that come in a box at the Asian grocery store.  I used whole wheat spaghetti pasta for the photos.  It doesn't really matter what kind you use, but you'll be less Taiwanese if you don't follow my mother's advice. 

*I had this with a Brooklyn Brown, and it was tasty.  I think it would also pair nicely with a Chimay Reserve, Dogfish Head Burton Baton, or even an IPA to contrast with the sweetness of the soup. 

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