蒜泥白肉 Szechuan Pork Belly with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Mondays are usually “reserved” for unwinding after the weekend kueh making frenzy. Some “me time” to do some gardening, whip up some of my favorite dishes (I am a creature of comfort) while some keyboard music like Bach’s Goldberg variations or 古琴 tunes like 潇湘水云 or 渔樵问答 play in the background. Yesterday was Cho Seong Jin’s Debussy “Suite Bergamasque” (yes where the famous “Claire de Lune” came from) while I dig in some 蒜泥白肉, 番茄滑蛋 and homegrown sweet potato leaves and sambal udang kering stir fry. Eclectic yet sublime…
The roots of this dish is a bit “hazy”. While most would regard it as one of the signature dishes in Szechuan cuisine, with the earliest records documenting this dish dating all the way back to the Song dynasty. But the earliest known culture of eating “白肉“ i.e. poached pork comes from the shamanism practising Manchurians in the northeastern regions of China. The inclusion of a spicy garlic sauce as a condiment to the thinly sliced poached pork belly is however uniquely Szechuan without doubt.
The dish itself is fairly straightforward to prepare. It involves a gentle poaching of a good slab of fresh pork belly over a bare simmer and while this is taking place over the stove, one prepares the sauce which is packed with a myriad of piquant flavours.
Few things to take note of in the preparation of this dish. Firstly the choice of meat. Has to be pork belly with a reasonable fat/rind to meat ratio. The fat layers slowly breaks down during the prolonged simmer and plunging the entire slab of barely cooked meat into a large vessel of icy water not only serves to truncate the cooking process by rapidly bringing down the heat, but also cause the meat to contract slightly making the textures of the fat and skin more gelatinous and less cloying. As the term “白肉“ implies, no seasoning is added directly unto the pork belly during the cooking process. Only some slices of ginger and a splosh of cooking wine are added to help eradicate any “porkiness”. That said, the slab of meat should ideally be fresh and not frozen.
The water must be kept barely simmering at all times and not a rolling boil. This keeps the meat tender and succulent. The term we use in Chinese culinary arts is “冒鱼眼儿” to describe the occasional bubbles that rise and pop on the water surface while it remains relatively still most of the time. Boiling
蒜泥白肉 Szechuan Pork Belly with Spicy Garlic Sauce (serves 4-6)
500-600g whole piece of fresh pork belly
Thumb knob of old ginger, sliced
2-3 tbsp chinese cooking wine
1 Japanese cucumber, julienned
Drizzling Sauce Ingredients
2 bulbs of garlic, peeled, crushed and minced finely
2-3 tbsp of szechuan chili paste with chili oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soya sauce
1/2 tbsp dark soya sauce
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp fine grained sugar
1/2 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
2 sprigs spring onion, chopped finely
1 sprig Chinese coriander leaves and stem, chopped finely
2 bird’s eye chili, deseeded and cut into rings (optional for additional heat)
Bring a small pot of water at room temperature add the pork belly slab. Bring to a boil before turning the heat down to the lowest possible leaving the water as a bare simmer.
Add slices of ginger and Chinese cooking wine. Let the meat sit in the poaching liquids with low flame until the meat is just cooked. Depending on the thickness of the pork belly slab chosen, it can take anything between 40 min to 1 hour. Skim and discard any scum which collects on the surface.
Test by sticking a wooden chopstick into the thickest part of the slab. The meat is done if it stops oozing bloody water as the chopstick is pressed into it. DO NOT OVERCOOK.
Place the cooked meat in a large bowl of icy water until the meat is sufficiently cooled.
Cut the poached pork belly into thin slices.
Mix all the drizzling sauce ingredients in a bowl.
To assemble, first place some julienned cucumber in the middle of the serving plate. Plate the poached pork belly slices as you wish and drizzle the sauce generously over the meat slices. It can also be served as a dipping sauce on the side.
Garnish with more toasted sesame seeds, chopped spring onion, chopped chili padi and chopped coriander leaves as desired.