Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Indulgence … 焢肉包

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焢肉 kong bak is one of those things which you either love or hate. Slabs of pork belly braised in a thick and dark soya based sauce mixture for several hours in very low heat to create that melt-in-the-mouth textures while the fatty layers and pork rind are still intact but developed an almost gelatine-like consistency. Wobbly collagen packed meat with a plenitude of flavours in savoury, sweetness and spice, highly sought after by some but on the other hand frowned upon with utmost contempt and disgust by some others. Thankfully, I belong to the first category and I’m most certainly proud that I am. If you belong to the loser latter group, give the dish a try and maybe your perception on food would change. 🙂

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Numerous notable classic Chinese dishes use pork belly as a main ingredient, like 梅菜扣肉 created by the Hakka people as a “dish of convenience” which could be eaten for a couple of days and while then were on the run fleeing war up in the north to settle in the south. The most famous of these pork belly creations is probably 东坡肉, whose roots can be traced back to the great Chinese poet-cum-politician, Su Dongpo in the Song dynasty. Su loved braised pork belly so much that he wrote a poem for it! And one of the lines goes like this…

慢着火、少着水、火候足时它自美

this is not very different from the Hokkien culinary technique of “焢”, which distincts itself from a more familiar concept of  “滷” and the morphology of these two chinese characters  summarised it beautifully, the former about “fire” and the latter about “water”. Braising “滷” basically involves submerging the ingredients completely in a sauce concoction which is substantially water. “焢” on the other hand is a technique which uses very little water and relies heavily on the control of the flame. Of course if you were to check it up in proper chinese dictionary, you probably wont find the word “焢” in it, as it is a colloquialised script used only in Hokkien, much like how the Cantonese developed characters like “咩”, “冇” and “乜”. Yet the concept of “焢” is eloquently encapulated in the two lines the poem by Su, an almost uncanny coincidence.
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to prepare braised pork belly

Ingredients

500g pork belly in 1 cm thick slices

4-5 cloves garlic, preferably those used for “bak kut teh”

1 stick of cinnamon

1 star anise

2 cloves

1 small knob of old ginger (appro. 2 cm), bruised with the side of a knife or cleaver

water

Condiments and Seasoning

2 tbsp of dark soya sauce

1 tbsp of light soya sauce

1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp five-spice powder

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Method

pour some water into a pot and when it comes to a full boil, add pork belly and let it be complete submerged for about 1 min. it should begin to cook and pale quickly. the slices might leach blood in some places and that’s quite normal.

remove pork from pot and rinse with tap water. scrape off any scum or gunk that sticks on the surface, especially on the rind

rinse the pot as well to remove any gunk and return blanched pork slices into pot, laying them down neatly if possible.

add the remaining ingredients and condiments

pour enough water just to cover the pork slices

bring concoction to a boil over high heat and lower to a simmer for 2-3 hours. Alternatively bring to a boil using a thermal pot and leave it for at least 6 hours.

When the pork slices have soften considerably after 2-3 hours over low heat, bring the mixture up a boil to reduce the gravy. Be careful not to burn the pork slices at the bottom.

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to make lotus buns 荷叶包/刈包 (adapted from 孟老師的中式麵食)

Ingredients A

160g water

2g instant/rapid-rise yeast

180g plain flour

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Ingredients B

120g plain flour

25g caster sugar

10g vegetable oil

vegetable oil for brushing

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Method

add water and yeast into a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly

add plain flour and mix well to homogenise

cover bowl with cling film and leave to prove for 1 hour

after an hour, add ingredent list B into A and mix evenly.

on a floured surface, knead dough until it is smooth and no longer sticks to hands or working surface

leave dough toi rest for 5 min

roll dough out to 8mm thickeness and cut out circles using a mould

flour work surface and rolling pin, very gently roll round dough cut-outs vertically to lengthen it into ovals

place on greaseproof paper and brush a very thin layer of vegetable oil over the top suface

fold ovals into half and place only tray/plate/steamer

prove the dough in the steaming work for about 1/2 hour cover with lid.

pour tap water into steamer/wok and steam for 18 mintues

when the buns have cooled down slightly, remove from steamer and serve with braised pork belly and chinese lettce
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Reflections and Modifications

the flavours of the pork belly can be adjusted to one’s own liking. moreover, soya sauce comes in many grades, each having very different qualities. I suggest the use of a better dark soya sauce which bears the aroma from the soya beans. a lower grade one would taste rather flat, only saltiness. I use a really thick dark soya sauce infused with red dates.

same with the array of spices used. there are some who do not like cloves, so omit if necessary. 1 stick of cinnamon and a star anise can be really subtle given the richness of the other flavours so five-spice powder is added for more oomph. omit if you find this overbearing.

do not add too much water as it would dilute the braising liquids and affect not only the taste, but the colour of the pork slices

the longer the pork is braised, the softer it becomes. but do not overdo it as the meat might just disintegrate into nothingness when overcooked. Use a very low flame for the braise-simmering process and preferably a lid without steam vents. Otherwise, check the pot periodically to make sure that it does not dry out as the water evaporates and add a little water whenever necessary. save yourself the hassle by using a thermo pot

the amount of flour used should have some level of flexibility as it often depends on the moisture within the flour in the first place. If the flour used is clumpy and “wet”, add more flour or less water.

if a round mould is not available, simple use an empty tin can with both ends cut out. The diameter of the mould should be slightly larger than the width of the pork slices.

The second proving process is done directly on the plate/tray/steamer. This is to avoid moving the dough during/after the proving process which make cause it to deflate.

the second proving process can be hasten by pour warm water to the base of the wok/steamer.

do not open the lid immediately after the steaming process is completed. THIS IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE! the sudden escape of steam would result in a temperature shock to the just-steamed buns causing them to deflate rapidly making them very dense and compact.
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I’m submitting this in support to Edith of pReCiouS MoMentS ‘s Heritage Food Trail. Hoping to see many familiar ethnic delights there!

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25 responses

  1. Looks so delicious…makes me drool! 🙂

    August 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      you should try it too Ann 🙂

      August 19, 2011 at 11:40 pm

  2. Ok…. I was going to bed and now I’m hungry again because of your amazing post! 🙂
    Very well explained and looking forward trying it at home for sure!! Thanks!

    August 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Chef! let me know how it goes!

      August 19, 2011 at 11:40 pm

  3. Alan, what happened my comment? Lately I find my comments disappeared quite often. Strange! Anyway, I belong to the 1st category and this is one of my favorite Hakka dish. I can eat this 3 meals a day especially yours. Looking at your photo I already know those braised pork belly is going melt in my mouth. I wish I have a bowl right now.

    August 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      I’m glad you belong to the first category, Veronica! The Hakkas have a very similar dish 梅菜扣肉 . then againm the recipes all very sama sama la. 🙂

      August 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm

  4. Alan, you know what, I was thinking eating this on Tuesday when I was in Toa Payoh!!!! Yours is really to die for, soooooooo deliciously looking and you even make your own pau! Pei fu!

    August 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      its something which I wanted to make for more than a month already. Wanted to submit it for Aspiring Bakers’ “bread” theme last month but was too lazy to make it. But thanks to your heritage trail, i finally have no more excuse to make it. 🙂

      August 21, 2011 at 1:57 am

  5. Ah I always wanted to make that bun ! thanks for sharing the recipe ! And wow you have so many tart rings, that ring is pretty expensive lol

    August 20, 2011 at 4:26 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      hi Wilson, same here! I’ve been wanting to make “lotus buns” for a long time and finally gotten round to do it. 🙂

      got the tart rings at a good price some time back. couldnt resist 🙂

      August 21, 2011 at 2:00 am

  6. Alan – I belong to the ‘loser’ group 🙂 . If I do eat this, I actually remove the fatty portion and just have the lean portion… I know, go ahead and shoot me , I have bullet proofed myself. However, I can recognise a good kong bah when I see one – yours certainly looks amazing. Love that 口诀!

    August 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      hahaha at least you would still eat the lean parts. Some would just shudder at the sight of it!

      still got a long way to go in making good kong bah. didnt braise them long enough for that really “melt-in-the-mouth” kinda textures. Will definitely try again soon!

      August 21, 2011 at 2:02 am

  7. Hahaha ! I like the strikeout on the loser/latter part. I belong to the first group. give me Kou Rou/ Dong Bo Rou anyday! Beautiful shots as always Alan!

    August 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      I agree, Jacob! But cannot eat too frequent la.dont wanna clog those arteries too quickly, still got lotsa good food to try out!

      August 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

  8. oh alan, i belong to the first group..i even eat that rich cheek and ears so this one’s not stopping me. Must make sure i get the fatty layer one! thanks for sharing the pau recipe, looks like a great one!

    August 25, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      exactly my point! what’s life without some fat yeah? I love your braised ears and cheek recipe. must try it someday. need to find some pig ears first! LOL

      August 27, 2011 at 6:59 am

  9. Oh my goodness, but this kong bak looks so melt in the mouth delicious! Not good for the arteries but what the hack, once in a blue moon won’t kill ya right? 😀

    August 31, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      very true Jeannie! we only live once yeah? Carpe diem!

      September 1, 2011 at 9:47 pm

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  15. Kathy Teo

    What do you mean by “proving the dough in the steaming wok” ?

    September 1, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      the second proofing is always done in the vessel in which the buns would be steamed in to prevent the risen buns from deflating, In my case, it is my wok, it would be a steaming basket for you.

      September 2, 2014 at 1:18 am

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