I’ve always been rather iffy about cooking pork belly at home. The kind of belly we can buy at our local cold storage here in Bandra used to have very little meat and plenty of fat, which when rendered would yield hardly anything. More recently, Joesph traded in his old Yorkshire belly for a better cross-breed pork belly that is definitely better, and still reasonably priced. There’s still plenty of fat, which is great, and works spectacularly in this Chinese sweet and sour recipe.
It’s quite a bit of effort because I don’t pressure-cook my belly. I used to, once upon a time, but stopped because it yields a rubbery result and anyone who has had a good Chinese bao knows that pork belly should be anything but rubbery. Further, there was always the problem of fat not rendering enough in the cooker. What I’ve learned over time is that pork belly’s fat requires a long and slow rendering time to melt the collagens in the fat. So when you do eventually crisp the belly in a pan, it’s perfectly crisp on the outside and melts on the inside. A gentle simmer over medium to medium-low heat is all you need to cook the perfect belly. Once it’s brought up to a boil and reduced, there should still be the slightest bit of bubbling, and not subside completely. This can go on for 3 to 3 and a half hours, and once a knife goes through without any resistance, it’s done. You can bag and chill both the pork and the stock for later, so that’s perfect.
Seasonal jamun’s tart notes when combined with a pork belly that’s been braised in a sweet liqueur yields a pretty phenomenal result, and I’m frankly surprised that more people aren’t doing this. The Chinese braising liquid is a mix of star anise, cinnamon, brown sugar and soy sauce, which is incredibly fragrant and perfumes the house as the liquid reduces slowly. One of my favourite recipes to go into July with. You can also make this recipe with the season’s plums.
Chinese Pork Belly With Jamuns
Yield 4 as part of a whole meal
This sweet pork belly recipe is a classic, slightly updated with a twist from seasonal jamuns. Cooking the belly long and slow yields the best results and you can just as easily swap jamuns for plums.
Brown sugar 1/2 cup
Pork Belly 1/2 kilo
Jamuns 250g, seeds removed
Fish Sauce 2 tbsp
Lemon juice 3-4 tbsp
Vegetable oil 2 tbsp
Sichuan peppercorns a few for sprinkling over
Light soy sauce 1 1/2 cup (preferably Kikkoman)
Brown sugar 1 cup
Young ginger 80g
Garlic 8 large cloves
Orange rind from 2 oranges, pith scraped off
Star Anise 8 pieces
Cinnamon 4 quills
Toasted Sesame oil 1 tsp
Spring onions 5, halved lengthwise
Start with the stock. Combine together the ingredients of the stock in a large heavy based saucepan filled with water. Bring this to a boil and lower the heat to a medium-low and simmer for the flavours to combine for about half an hour.
Bring a large pot of cold water with the pork belly to the boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to a low simmer and let it simmer for 10 minutes to get rid of any impurities.
Bring the stock up to a boil again and lower in the whole pork belly with a heavy weight on top to keep it immersed in the stock. I used a steel plate turned over with a small weight on top to keep the pork belly immersed. Once the stock is boiling again, reduce it to a gentle simmer and let the belly cook in the stock for about 3 to 3 and a half hours. If the stock reduces rapidly, top it up with some more water but don’t lettuce belly break the surface.
To test if the pork is done, use a knife. If it goes through without any resistance, it’s done. Fish the belly out of the stock. You can reduce the stock a bit more and freeze it for a later use. The same stock would go great with chicken too.
Chop the pork belly into bite-sized pieces and set it aside. You could at this stage, chill the belly and use another time.
Dissolve the remainder of the sugar (1/2 cup) into 100ml water over medium heat until a syrup forms. Add in the jamuns, fish sauce, lemon juice and let the fruit warm through. Taste for salt and more lemon juice. Add more fish sauce if it needs more salt.
In a wok, heat the vegetable oil until lightly smoking and add in the pork belly and fry it until it is browned on all sides. Drain the excess pork fat and add the pork to the jamun mixture. Sprinkle over crushed Sichuan peppercorns from a pepper grinder and serve alongside stir-fried veg and greens.
Note: If you have Kecap manis at home, you an swap that in a pinch for the soya sauce and brown sugar in the stock for an equally flavourful result. If you prefer a homemade kecap manis, here's my recipe