My late grandmother often made this recipe whenever people gathered in her home. I regret there are no pictures of those dinner parties, with a table covered with dishes full of differently prepared food and people squeezed in shoulder to shoulder. What strikes me as an adult, is that she made all her feasts on a little coal burning cast iron stove, similar to this one:
Primitive, yes, but this was 1980s China. My grandmother thought her two-burner propane stove was much too technologically advanced.
I remember, out of every dish she made, everyone always raved about my grandmother’s version of the triple cooked pork belly. (It’s actually called Kou Rou, or upside down meat in Chinese, but I think triple cooked pork belly is more descriptive.) There’re several versions of this dish out there, but nothing beats Grandma’s, amiright?
Later, my aunt made this dish for my husband Dave. The juicy chunks or pork and distinct flavors left a lasting impression on him. When he started the ketogenic diet, Dave requested that I recreate the triple cooked pork belly, back here in America. Sadly, there are no written copies of any of my grandmother’s recipes. My grandmother was illiterate and the custom was to pass down family recipes via kitchen-apprenticeships which, until recently, preserved them for generations. So I crowd-sourced various family members for their memories of the ingredients and preparation. What I got from various relatives was a pinch of this and a dash of that. I did my best to approximate how much a unit of “dash” or “pinch” and convert it into a more coherent recipe.
Keep in mind, this is a labor intensive recipe that takes some planning. Give yourself one day at least to soak the mustard greens. Follow the first two steps. The last step can be done an 1 hour and 15 minutes before serving.
Stainless Steel Steamer
large microwave safe bowl
2 lbs pork belly
2 green onions
2 slices ginger
3-4 garlic cloves
2 Star Anise
2 tablespoons oil (I use olive believe it or not)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (doesn’t really matter if it’s light or dark)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar (or rock candy)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste
5-6 oz. dried preserved mustard greens from any Asian grocery store.(About 3 cups after soaked overnight and thoroughly washed)
Now I call this dish triple-cooked pork belly for a very good reason. Here we go:
Flavor a pot of cold water with 1 star anise, 1 green onion and a few slices of ginger root. Put the pork belly into the cold water mixture. Bring to a boil on medium high heat, then immediately reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
Fish out the pork chunks and set aside to let it cool off a bit.
Heat a pan (or wok, if you have one) with some cooking oil over low heat. To make sure the oil is hot, throw in some more of the sliced ginger and wait for it to start sizzling. Then pour in red wine, soy sauce and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Add sugar to thicken the sauce. You want it to turn into a thick caramel texture. If it gets too dry, add a bit more wine. If its not thick enough, turn up the heat a notch and keep a close eye on it till it thickens. Then place the pieces of pork into the pan and let it fry in the sauce. Turn over a few times to glaze the pork belly. Once there’s a nice golden brown coat on every side of the pork, wrap it in a container or plate and refrigerate for 2 or more hours. DO NOT WASH OUT YOUR PAN!
Prepare a large steamer 3/4 of the way with water. Heat the unwashed pan you used to glaze the pork and add the last bit of oil. Heat for a minute or two then toss in the last green onion, the last bits of ginger slices, along with the drained mustard greens. Fry it up until it’s fragrant and turn off the heat.
Now take the cold pork belly out of the fridge and slice it nice and thin with a sharp knife. Line the slices of pork along your large round bowl. Fill the bowl, leaving a half inch at the top and pour in the mustard greens.
Set the bowl in your steamer and steam on high heat for 75 minutes. Once it’s steamed, let it rest for 5 minutes then pour off some of the liquid in the bowl into your pan again and let it simmer and reduce to a nice slightly thick sauce. I refuse to use cornstarch in my sauce, so a little bit of patience is key. Your liquid WILL reduce.
Now, your pork has cooled slightly. Place a large serving plate over the top of the bowl. The plate should overlap the bowl rim. It’s very important that it does as you will hold the plate firmly over the bowl and flip the bowl over. You’ll have a nice mound of pork belly on your plate. Pour the sauce over it and serve to your guests.