Tag Archives: soy sauce

Chinese Braised Pork Belly

It was a cold, rainy day at the Duncan Farmers’ Market but luckily, no lineup at Yesteryear Meats. I waited hopefully as the owner riffled through all of his four freezers searching for my request.

“Here it is,” he said, passing me a two pound chunk of Berkshire pork belly. “All that fat is good for you, full of CLAs” he said in his gruff, Aussie accent. “But not everyone appreciates it.”

He kept staring at me, looking long and hard, trying to cess out my pork-belly-loving-nature, before he passed the treasure to my outstretched hands.

“What will you do with it?”

“I’ll cook it real slow, Chinese-style,” I replied.  “I’ll braise it so that the fat stays in big fat, snowy chunks.”

I knew by the way he cocked his head and narrowed his eyes he hadn’t tasted this before.

But I had.

In China – pork belly capital of the world – they kowtow to pork fat and praise its culinary worth. They’re simply astounded that so many Western diners carve away fat and push it to the side of their plates.  My uncle, Hsiung Shu Shu adored the stuff and was faster with his  kuaizi (chopsticks) than myself or Auntie Di.  He’d spear the largest, fattiest morsel  and wail “Ai yo!” before the pork met his mouth, his eyes rolling in ecstasy.

Standing in the misty rain at the outdoor market, I held my two-pound frozen parcel close to my chest, regretting that I hadn’t spent more time in Auntie Di’s Yong He kitchen decades ago. I could see her smiling and braising her pork belly long and slow in a covered clay pot, nestled inside a bamboo steamer basket.  She’d calibrate a braising liquid of soy, stock, ginger, star anise and Shaoxing wine… but how many tablespoons, how many cups, I never bothered to learn the specifics.

My aunt made everything, except bao.  All the steamed buns we ate came out of a cart pushed through the Yong He alleyways by an old woman who wailed out “maaaaaaaaaaaaaan tou!”  plying her yeasty morsels day and night. Besides, Taipei in the 80s didn’t serve pork belly in a bun, the way David Chang at Momofuku has made famous.

Instead, Auntie Di would bring the clay pot to the table, along with four or five other dishes and politely say to our little family of three, “Mei you cai” which literally means “There’s no food”.

Ironic and understated, that was the cultural norm. Auntie Di spent most of every day cooking and preparing a generous buffet of foods for Hsiung Shu Shu and me to feast on.

Oh, how I wish I’d just stood there in her kitchen, observing and learning by osmosis. I have never mastered the cleaver like she who sliced a myriad different shapes, chopping ceaselessly upon a six-inch thick board, cut from a tree trunk. Why hadn’t I watched her prepare the wok, heat the bamboo steamers, clean the fish or stir up the scallion pancake batter?

Now, almost 40 years later, I must rely on the hundreds of taste memories stored in my palate to retrieve and recreate this braise. I know this belly is 90 per cent fat and needs to be browned at high heat to create a beckoning, caramelized surface.  After that, my instinct is to allow the simple passage of time and slow, low-heat cooking. Many classic Chinese braising sauces are too heavy-handed with soy, so I add only enough. I snap a cinnamon bark in half, toss in little stars of anise, pour over the golden elixir that is homemade chicken stock.  Instead of a clay pot and steamer, I turn to my enamelled cast iron Cuisinart and a 275 F oven.  Just before I cover it, I press down a big sheet of parchment paper over the surface to prevent evaporation. Every single drop of this unctuous braise is precious.

I won’t serve it with rice or bring it to the table and pronounce I have nothing to show. My husband David is already salivating in the kitchen, lurking over the turquoise Cuisinart, offering to pull the belly’s buttery strands apart.  While he prepares the meat, I take off the steamer’s lid and a cloud of sweet steam kisses my face.  I can’t stop smiling at these fluffy white buns which open up easily without complaint, ready to receive snowy chunks of fat and tender juicy pork.

At the table, we dig in, our lips and cheeks smattered with the salty-sweet hoisin slipped around the meat, slipped around the spongy bun.  Chef Chang will be proud of me.  I have recreated his pork belly bao all the while remembering the premier Chinese chef in my life: Auntie Di.

Plus, I just heard someone call out  “Ai yo”!

David is guaranteed seconds.

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Chinese Braised Pork Belly

The most difficult part about this recipe is sourcing some quality pork –  I recommend Berkshire pork raised naturally so that you are dining on healthy, fine fat.

2 tbsp              organic canola oil

2 lbs                pork belly

4 cups             chicken stock

2 tbsp              soy sauce

2 tbsp             Shaoxing wine or cooking Sherry

2 tbsp             granulated sugar

1                      stick cinnamon, broken in half

2                      whole star anise

3                      garlic cloves, smashed

2                      green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths

2                      dried red chillies, chopped

1 tsp                ground Sichuan peppercorn

Preheat oven to 275 F. Heat oil at medium-high in enamelled cast iron pot and brown pork belly on all sides. Add stock, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, garlic, green onion, chillies and Sichuan peppercorn. Bring to a boil.  Cover with parchment paper and lid and place in the middle of the oven.  Cook for 2 hours or until meltingly tender.

To serve on steamed bao, place a chunk or shredded mound of pork belly inside, drizzle with hoisin sauce and garnish with freshly chopped coriander and peanuts.

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Steamed Bao Buns

This is a simple dough that’s easy to make.  You’ll be thrilled with the sight of these soft and fluffy bao once they are steamed. (T&T or any large Asian supermarket will have plenty in the frozen section if you aren’t up for the task.)

1 tsp          instant yeast

2 tbsp                 granulated sugar

Pinch                  salt

1/4 tsp                 baking powder

1/4 tsp                 baking soda

1 cup                  warm water

2 1/3 cups   all-purpose flour

Canola oil

In mixing bowl, combine yeast, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, flour and water and mix with dough hook for 3-4 min.  Let dough rest at room temperature in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap, for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.

Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 pieces, shaping each into a ball. Roll a ball into a 6 inch x 2 inch piece, baste lightly with oil, lay a chopstick vertically in the middle and gently lift the top of the dough over the bottom, pulling out the chopstick to leave a small tunnel. Arrange on a parchment paper covered baking sheet and cover with a clean tea towel.  Repeat with remaining balls. Let dough rest 30 min to double in size.

Cut the parchment paper around each bun and place into a hot, covered steamer for 12 minutes. (Buns can be frozen once cooled and steamed to defrost).

Getting all steamed up over fish

When I lived in Taipei, Taiwan I discovered steamed fish. It seemed to be on every restaurant menu and highlighted the divine, subtle flavours of fish.

IMG_6932The hallmark of this dish is its simplicity. Any klutz in the kitchen can do it. That’s because steaming is a moist and gentle way to cook the piscine population and even if you steam a little longer than necessary, it won’t (OMG!) dry it out.

Start with a steamer. If you don’t have one, make the trek to the best housewares shop in town: Tap Phong Trading (360 Spadina Ave, (416) 977-6364) where you’ll find many options, from the standard bamboo baskets that fit inside a wok or over a pot, to a full stainless ensemble with pot, stackable trays and cover. The latter is easier to clean and less prone to mildew. Many rice and slow cookers also convert into steamers. No matter the format, make sure you find a steamer that is wide enough to accommodate a pie plate since the fish cooks in sauce and steamer trays are full of holes.

IMG_5109Next step: choose your fish. Salmon, halibut, tilapia, sea bass, cod, haddock, sole… you name it. Anything can work from inexpensive, supermarket frozen fillets to local fresh findings. Both Bill’s Lobster (599 Gerrard St. E; 416-778-0943) and Hooked (888 Queen St. E; 416-828-1861) are walking distance from my kitchen and both offer excellent fish and service. While you are there, nab a recipe or tip from them. Bill’s wife has plenty of quick culinary ideas, as do all the staff at Hooked who use the tagline “we are chefs, first.”

You’ll need to access your inner chef when slicing the fresh ginger. Go thin. Once you’ve peeled a three-inch piece, cut lengthwise into paper-thin slices then stack them together and slice into thin matchsticks.

Mirin makes this dish. It’s a Japanese rice wine similar to sake, but with a lower alcohol content and higher sugar content. Most Asian food stores sell it. In a pinch, you can use sherry, cooking wine, Vermouth or dry white wine but add half a teaspoon of granulated sugar to the cooking liquid if you do.IMG_5110

Simple steamed rice is the perfect compliment. The fish steams up a delicious sauce of its own that will soak into the rice. Stir-fried baby Shanghai bok choy rounds out the meal perfectly.

© 2015 Madeleine Greey

Chinese-style steamed fish

1 lb (450 gm) fresh or (defrosted) frozen sea bass, cod, salmon, haddock, tilapia or halibut fillet, cut into 4 pieces

Sauce:

1 + 1/2 TBS black bean and garlic sauce OR 2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

2 TBS water

2 TBS Japanese mirin

1 three-inch knob ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks

3 green onion OR 1 small leek, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 TBS fresh coriander, chopped

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Place fillets in a heat-proof dish that will fit inside an aluminum or bamboo steamer. (Or, create your own steamer by placing a rack set in a large skillet.)

Using a spoon, place an equal amount of sauce on each fillet. Sprinkle over with ginger matchsticks and green onions or leek.

Bring several inches of water to boil in the steamer. Wearing oven gloves, place the dish with fillets into the steamer.

Cover and steam 8-10 minutes on high, or until the fish flakes at the touch of a fork and is opaque in the middle.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve over steamed rice.

© 2015 Madeleine Greey