Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly

My last post has only been a few days ago, but I’ve always been accustomed to my daily routine of visiting my blog, seeing my site stats, cleaning my google reader by visiting other food blogs, that a few days without a lot of blog activity from my end seems like forever. Not really forever, a hundred years perhaps.

But I do have good reason for being strangely inactive – I have a new job! Well, like my old one, it’s only part-time, two months tops, but right now, this new responsibility keeps me busy. The workload is pretty intense despite my short stint,  so the past few days have seen me adjust and push blogging to the backseat. This is really because food blogging takes a lot of time and energy – from editing photos, encoding/editing recipes to creating the story. It’s time and energy I need to exhaust elsewhere, because I desperately need money and food blogging doesn’t really pay the bills. And man does not live off his mom alone.

Since I don’t get to channel every ounce of energy into cooking, blogging, and eating (ehem), I just really hope I can still churn out great attempts at cooking. BUT I’M HERE and I’M BLOGGING!
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Over the weekend I did get to cook pure awesomeness for my grandma’s birthday.

Let me tell you about my grandma: she’s eccentric, loud, incredibly thrifty and, dare I say it, an amazing homemaker, cook and baker. She defied the odds by proving that you don’t have to be a victim of your past and circumstance. Born into poverty and without making it past the 6th grade, together with my grandfather, she managed to build a name for herself in the direct sales industry, send her children, including my mother, to school, and pretty much pave the way for a good, secure future for her children and their children. You can’t really do that without determination and intelligence. One time my mom hinted that if grandma would have just finished her education, she would be smarter than all her children put together.

Growing up with her, she would be quick to declare my laurels to anyone who would listen. Embarrassing, really.

According to her, it’s a fact that all her grandchildren are good singers and dancers. Well, I beg to digress but that’s not really the point. My mom always tells me that she’s proud of all her grandchildren.
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Because she’s Chinese and I’m extremely subtle, I made her a Chinese-style oven baked roast pork belly with the crackling. This was a gargantuan achievement for me because Grandma (and the whole family) enjoyed it and was amazed at how the skin was so crispy like chicharon. I got this from Christine’s Recipes, a food blog dedicated to Asian cuisine.
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This recipe reminds me of two things: 1. this tastes exactly like Lutong Macau’s roast pork belly and 2. the aroma really reminds of the food courts and restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, which makes sense because Chinese five-spice is an essential spice to have in Chinese and Macanese cuisine.

Watching the skin silently crackle and explode in the oven, from little tiny bubbles to full-blown crispy crackling, is an amazing sight. The trick here is to get the skin really dry.
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This is something best reserved for a weekend lunch with the family. In order for you to get this on the table by lunch time, start at around 9:00 AM because cooking times may vary depending on how large the pork belly is. Forget the lechon kawali, because this is so much better and less oily because it’s baked, albeit still fatty.  And trust me, this is magnificence on a plate that really deserves a place at the table.
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Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly/Siew Yuk (adapted from Christine’s Recipes; serves 6 – 8)

  • 2.5 kg pork belly
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine, optional
  • to taste, rock salt
seasoning:
  • 6 – 7 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 4 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  1. To prepare the seasonings: Combine salt with sugar, pepper and five-spice powder well. Set aside.
  2. Use a knife to scrape away any impurities and hair. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Blanch in boiling water for about 20 minutes, until around 70% done, and the skin is softened. I used a large wok and filled 1/4 of it with water. I carefully placed the pork belly in, and to make sure that the meat is fully submerged in water, I just added a glass or two as needed and allowed it to boil. Photobucket
  4. Drain well and wipe dry with paper towels.
  5. Place the belly on a large platter or tray, meat side up and skin side down
  6. Use a knife to make a few small slits on the meat and up the sides but not on the skin, so the seasoning will be absorbed better.
  7. Evenly brush the meat with the rice wine (optional). Let it rest for around 20 – 30 minutes.
  8. Coat the meat BUT NOT THE SKIN with seasoning mixture, otherwise, the five-spice will darken the skin.Photobucket
  9. Flip the meat so the skin is now facing upwards.
  10. Using thick kitchen towels, evenly pat the skin dry. This is important so the skin can properly crisp up.Photobucket
  11. Using a small knife with a sharp tip OR fondue forks, gently poke the skin to make little holes all over the skin. Christine recommends not exerting too much force that the holes have gone through deep into the fat. But still, you can go crazy poking holes all over. During this time, preheat the oven to 200 C/395 F if you intend to cook it immediately.Photobucket
  12. Pat dry the skin a second time, making sure that there is no visible moisture left behind. Alternatively, you can also wrap the meat, but not the skin, with foil and leave it to dry inside the refrigerator overnight. I didn’t do this but the skin was still really crispy and the meat flavorful. Leaving it overnight however, most probably intensifies the flavor.
  13. When ready to cook, place the belly in a large roasting rack lined with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Pour around ¼ cup water onto the foil so when the drippings will fall, it will not burn.
  14. Evenly season the rind with rock salt.Photobucket
  15. Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour to one hour and ten minutes.
  16. Turn the heat dial to ‘broil’ and roast for another 20 minutes, or until the rind has sufficiently and evenly crackled. Photobucket
  17. At this point you may notice that some parts of the skin appear to have charred too much. DO NOT PANIC. You can easily remove the charred bits by scraping it with a knife.Photobucket
  18. When done, remove from oven, chop it into your desired serving sizes – cubes or strips and serve warm with rice, with soy sauce and vinegar on the side. Enjoy!
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Chinese-style Fried Pork (and about puff pastry)

Throughout this process of bringing out the “chef” in me I get caught up with a few minor setbacks along the way.

I’ve been juggling with the terms “snooty”, “pretentious” and “vapid” a lot lately. Just a few hours ago, I was at this new cafe that sat on top of the deli store that my mom and I frequent. This cafe serves their iced tea along with goblets and no ice. I mean, come on, who drinks iced tea from a goblet? I think it’s…unnecessary. And pretentious.

Well, I’ve called myself a snoot on some occasions. Like this afternoon, when I was plating my dish for the camera. Food styling is my frustration. I look at all these food magazines and page after page of pure awesomeness makes me feel so inferior as an amateur photographer. Sometimes I subscribe to this idea that a great food photo has all the bells and whistles. And sometimes the end product kills me.

What I’ve learned from food styling so far is that a dish looks better if colors just pop. So adding a pop of color I did. I cut some red and green bell peppers into rings and at the end I decided to just put in a red one, to keep it subtle. It doesn’t translate well on camera. I was a bit disappointed. OK, I was really disappointed.

I can’t really believe myself but I actually called my plating vapid and soulless.

But there’s another styling tip that I take for granted. The best way to bring out a food’s soul in the photo (YES I AM THAT PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD!!!!!) is to keep it simple.

Puff Pastry, I’ve learned, loses its light flakiness when it’s overworked. When you knead and mix it to the point of death, it’s not puff pastry any more. That’s a good principle I can live by. There’s a fine line between perfect and too much. I’m heavy handed when it comes to my cooking – I season a lot, I over mix, I over plate, I over think everything. Man, I need to loosen up and pull it back a little.

With that being said, there’s nothing vapid with the taste of what I did. It’s basically fried five spice pork belly. I’m not really over Chinese Five Spice because it takes me back to the days of Peking Duck and this really great stew I made. The meat was tender and the subtle taste and aroma of the five spice was there. I didn’t really have to try too hard with this dish. It’s Chinese-inspired because it uses cornstarch and egg as the breading. No flour.

And if ever there’s a desperate cook out there, I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person that makes great puff pastry.

Five Spice Fried Pork Belly with Honey Soy Sauce (serves 4 – 6) – adapted from yummy.ph

  • 1 kg pork belly
  • 2 tsp five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 three-inch piece of ginger, grated finely.
  • 4 tbsp liquid seasoning (I used Knorr)
  • 4 tbsp gin
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups cornstarch
  • oil for deep frying

Honey Soy Sauce

  • 1/2 bulb of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  1. Mix together pork belly and the rest of the seasonings. Marinate for at least two hours or overnight. When ready to cook, mix pork with beaten egg.
  2. Heat oil in a deep pan. Dredge pork in cornstarch and fry in hot oil. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
  3. Make the sauce: Fry garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, honey and the cornstarch slurry. Allow to reduce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve meat with a steaming cup of rice and drizzled with sauce. Enjoy!

Five Spice Chinese Pork Stew

No, this isn’t adobo.

It’s Chinese pork stew. And it’s slightly different from adobo in that it’s not cooked with soy sauce and vinegar per se. The stew has soy sauce but it has stock/water as well (it’s a stew afterall). The ratio of the stock to soy sauce is around 2:1.

I was compelled, after eating canned chinese pork stew time and time again, to replicate the recipe and make it less…oily. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy eating the stuff. I like how the stew has just the right amount of saltiness in it and the pork is extremely tender. But the last time I ate it, I was left scarred, bloated and extremely unhappy with myself. The Narcissus brand in particular was extremely oily, and I was unlucky enough to taste it. It was so fatty and oily that I could not taste the stew because there was so much visible oil. The meat was completely immersed in oil but because I was hungry and I needed to satiate my cravings, well, I yielded to sin. The Gulong brand is better, albeit still fatty, but more stew-y.

This is actually my second attempt to make this. I was inspired to make it again because I wanted to remind myself of the smell of Hong Kong hole-in-the-wall eateries – which oozed with the aroma of Five Spice powder. It has a strong cinnamon-y attribute to it, but when you add it to food in gentle amounts, a little goes a long way. This stew is amazing, hearty and lightyears away from the canned kind.

And this is embarrassing but what the hell….if somebody can tell me what paikut is in English (and no, it isn’t spareribs), please enlighten me. The cut is a vertical strip of pork with fat on top and a great marbling of the meat. The bone runs along one side of the meat.

Five Spice Chinese Pork Stew (serves 6 – 8 )

1 & 1/2 kilo pork paikut, sliced into cubes – sorry I don’t know what the cut is called in English

for boiling the pork

  • water enough to cover the pork by 1/2 inch more
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1/2 tbsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tbsp iodized salt
  • 3-5 bay leaves
  • 2-4 celery stalks

For the stew

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • 2 medium-sized shallots/sibuyas na pula, sliced
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 3 cups pork stock (the water used for boiling the pork)
  • 1 ginger, two inches in length, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/2 tbsp anise seed
  • 1 /2 tbsp cracked pepper
  • 1 198gram can whole mushrooms, sliced in half (it’s chunkier that way)
  1. In a large pot, add the pork with the rest of the ingredients for boiling. Add water, enough the cover by pork by 1/2 inch.
  2. Boil on medium heat until the pork is fork tender. Once done, remove the pork from the pot.
  3. Reserve the stock and run it through a fine sieve to strain the impurities.
  4. In a wok or large pan, heat the oil and add the garlic. Allow to toast but be careful not to burn it.
  5. Add the shallots and the white onion and saute until it sweats and goes slightly limp. Add the ginger and fry until very fragrant. Remove around 1/4 of the onion and ginger and reserve for garnish.
  6. Add the pork and mix everything well until the pork is lightly toasted, around 2-3 minutes. Add the pork stock, followed the the soy sauce.
  7. Add in the remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover the pot and allow the stew to reduce for 2 – 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another minute. Remove from pan and serve hot, garnished with the sauteed onions and ginger, and with a heaping scoop of rice. Enjoy!

And this is the part where my cousin grabbed his plate of rice because he was hungry and it’s time to eat. He really didn’t appreciate me using his rice as a prop.