My friends and I have a semi-regular thing we like to do called 'corkasian'. The premise is simple: go to one of the many bustling restaurants in Chinatown (Cafe Kowloon, BBQ City, and East Taste usually) and take advantage of their tasty asian food and criminally cheap corkage ($1.50 per person! What?!).
At our first visit to BBQ City we ordered a pork belly hotpot dish that at the time was, quite simply, amazing. The pork was so tender you could cut through it with chopsticks, and the sauce was aromatic and perfectly seasoned. A few weeks later we revisited BBQ City and its famed hotpot, but it wasn't the same. It could have been the fact that I was taking an alcohol-free day, but even my more jovial tablemates agreed. Still, the seed had been planted and I have made it a personal mission to make my own delicious pork belly hotpot.
This recipe is adapted from Simon Bryant's red-cooked camel recipe. It's as simple as anything, too. Just put all your ingredients into a pot, then say goodbye to them for 6 hours. Unfortunately it's quite hard to photograph well, but do take my word that it tastes much better than it looks.
See you in 6 hours!
Pork belly hotpot
- 800g pork belly, in thick slices
- 3 cups boiling water
- 1/2 cup dark soy sauce
- 1/2 cup shaohsing wine
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 1/2 a medium onion, diced
- 30g sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
- 3-4 cm piece of ginger, sliced thickly (skin on is fine)
- 2 star anise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 pieces of dried mandarin peel
1. Preheat an oven to 150ºC/300ºF. Select a heavy, oven-safe casserole dish that will fit the pork belly snugly. Place all of the ingredients except the pork belly inside, and stir to dissolve the sugar.
2. Submerge the pork belly in the liquid and cook, covered, in the oven for 5-6 hours.
The first time I made this I ate it as is, straight out of the oven. However pork belly being what it is, a lot of fat melts into the sauce. Because the pork skin and connective tissue also produce a lot of gelatin, my usual technique of refrigerating and pouring the liquid through a strainer doesn't work here (because the sauce sets as well as the fat). Instead while the sauce was warm I strained once to get hold back the solids, then used Jen's handy method. At this stage you can also pick out the whole spices so no one gets an unpleasant surprise.
So did I do it, did I recreate that first glorious meal? I'm getting there. I reduced the amount of dark soy from the original recipe by a third, but I could still afford to knock that down just a little more, adding a bit of stock to mellow things out. Also, while the star anise is absolutely crucial, two might be too much. However those are minor tweaks in search of perfection — even short of perfection this is a damn fine way to treat a belly of pork.