Another Chinese new year classic, also enjoyed anytime through out the year really. This melts-in-your-mouth savory Dong Po pork is something out of this world. It’s crazy how something so heavenly is created with only 4 ingredients. It’s great with rice or break with chopsticks and serve in a bun!
Dong Po Pork (東坡肉, dong1 po1 rou4) is definitely the classic of classic in Chinese cooking. It’s something that’s actually really simple to make, it takes some time to cook but the results is so worth it. AND it definitely impresses your guests. Just look at that red glaze!
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The dish is named after the famous Chinese Song dynasty writer, poet, painter, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and statesman named Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi 蘇軾, get it, sushi? Just kidding, I don’t think that dish is named after him too. :p). When we were studying Su Dongpo at school, I thought of him as the Da Vinci of China. He was just so talented in so many perspective.
Above all the talents that are named above, it’s also said that Su Dongpo is a great cook and braised pork belly is his specialty. He often wrote about food and cooking in his poems, and his recipe for the braised pork belly is in one of them.
Ode to the pork: Huangzhou has great pork, it is cheap as dirt. The rich refuses to eat it; the poor doesn’t know how to cook it. Slow cooked on fire, with minimum water, it’s beauty shows when given enough time.
Legend has it that during Su Dongpo’s life of poverty during his banishment to Hangzhou(no great poets were born without the banishment 😉 ), he improved on the traditional process of pork braising. He slow-braised the pork with huangjiu (黃酒, yellow wine, like Shao Xing) to make red-braised pork, then slowly stewed it on low heat. When he was in Hangzhou, he helped solve the flooding during the time. The villagers knew that Su Dongpo enjoyed braised pork so they gifted him with pork during Chinese new year. Su Dongpo asked his family to cut the pork into cubes and braised them the way he always did and gifted back to the villagers, everyone enjoyed them so much and they named the dish Dongpo Pork. (This is only one story of how the dish got its name, there are about 10 versions out there!)
Minnesota is a beef state, pork is around but options on the parts seem limited. It’s even harder to find pork with skin on. You might need to go to a butcher shop to find the pork that you need or try an Asian store. Dong po pork is still tasty without the skin but it’s not quite the same. The skin gives it an extra layer of texture, a bit chewy, which I love. It’s best made with fatty pork belly, look for the ones that have even proportions of fat and meat so when the pork is stewed the fat and meat melts together and create a perfect harmony. Because of the layers, pork belly is also called 3-layered meat(三層肉,san1 ceng2 rou4), one of the most common and popular part of pork in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking.
In the most traditional recipe of Dong Po pork, some said that no water is added to the dish. Only huangjiu (黃酒, yellow wine) is added to create that distinct sauce and flavor. The most famous huangjiu and probably the most accessible in the US will have to be ShaoXing (紹興酒, shao4 xing1 jiu3). It’s fermented with sticky rice, originated in the region of Shaoxing, China. ShaoXing is often used in cooking or marinated with herbal medicine for drinking because of it’s distinct sweet flavor and aroma. Drunken chicken being the most famous drunken dish that requires ShaoXing wine. If I weren’t cooking with it, my favorite way to drink ShaoXing as a drink is to add two dried plums to a rock glass and fill it with ShaoXing, let it sit for 2 minutes then sip it with a table full of food and my besties around my side. Eat, talk and laugh all night.
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- 2 lb Pork Belly With Skin
- 3/4 C Soy Sauce
- 1/4 C Sugar
- 1 C ShaoXing Wine Replace with rice wine, 1/2C vodka, or omit
- Bring a pot of water to boil.
- While the water is heating up, cut the pork into 3" x 3" cubes and tie them up with cotton strings.
- Add the pork cubes to the boiling water and boil for about 1-2 minutes, until the pork isn't pink on the outside anymore.
- Drain and remove pork from heat.
- In a pot large enough to fit all the pork pieces in one single layer, heat the pot up with 1 TBsp of oil and add the pork cubes to the pot, skin side down.
- Fry the pork until the skin is golden then fry each sides of the pork for 30 seconds.
- Remove the pork pieces and excess oil, leaving about 2TBsp of lard in the pot. On medium heat, add 1/4C sugar to make caramel. No stirring necessary, the caramel should be a brown, but be careful not to burn it.
- Place the pork cubes back to the pot, skin side down, coating with caramel.
- Add 1C of ShaoXing Wine around the edge of the pot, be careful as it might splatter. Followed by 3/4C of Soy Sauce, again adding it around the edge of the pot.
- Add enough water to cover the pork cubes and bring the pot to a boil.
- Turn the heat down to low, let the pot simmer for 2 hours with the lid on. (You can also transfer the sauce and the pork to a instant pot(1h)/ rice cooker(2h) without having to watch over it)
- After 2 Hours, the pork should be super tender. Remove the lid and continue the simmer until the sauce has reduced to 1/4 of what it was(30mins -1hour), flipping the meat half way. The sauce should be fairly thick by then.
- If thicker sauce is desired, remove the pork from the pot at this point and turn the heat up high to render the sauce down to the desired consistency.