Among Chinese literary figures, one of the most famous epicures is poet Su Dongpo (AD1037 – 1101) from the Song dynasty.
He wrote more than 2,000 poems, and one of the most well known is Chibifu (Red Cliff Rhapsody), inspired by the Red Cliff battle in AD208 during the Three Kingdoms era. The battle is the subject of the 2008 movie, Red Cliff, directed by John Woo.
The poet is also known for writing about his travels in essays, including one titled Record Of Stone Bell Mountain, which investigates whether the ancient text found on the mountain was factually accurate.
His love of good food is so well known that he has a dish named after him, Dong Po Pork. The popular dish of slow-cooked pork belly is still served in restaurants today, almost 1,000 years later.
As with many famous dishes, there is no document on the origins of Dong Po Pork, but a number of stories have been passed down through the generations.
The most probable versions are that it was a dish that the poet liked a lot or that he improved the original recipe and made it what it is today.
But the more imaginative story tells that while he was cooking stewed pork one day, a friend dropped by his home. Turning down the fire, he left the kitchen to play a game of chess with his guest and, engrossed in it, forgot about the pork. By the time he remembered, the sauce had been reduced to a thick, sticky consistency and the meat had become very tender and flavourful.
There are various ways of cooking Dong Po Pork, with some recipes calling for the pork belly to be steamed before it is cooked or to be tied up to keep its shape.
However, the best Dong Po Pork is one that is so tender that it wobbles as it is carried to the table. And though the pork belly looks fat, it is not greasy. The sauce must also not be too sweet or salty, but fragrant with the aroma of soya sauce and meat.
The recipe here is provided by Crystal Jade Jiang Nan’s chef Chen Gang, 43, from Nanjing in China.
His method requires simmering the pork in hot water for 40 minutes to get the oil out and deep frying the aromatic herbs for better flavour. He does not use spices as he feels they would obscure the flavour of the meat.
To get the top of the pork perfectly flat, he places a heavy flat object over the meat before chilling it in the freezer.
Crystal Jade serves the dish in all its Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao and Crystal Jade Jiang Nan restaurants, including those at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh. It is priced at $14.80.
BRAISED PORK BELLY
Image: The Straits TImes
Serves four to five.
For the filling:
1kg pork belly
50g ginger, sliced
50g red onions, peeled and halved
50g shallots, peeled and halved
50g spring onions, cut into 5cm sections
45g yellow rock sugar
600ml water or stock
1 1/2Tbs Chinese wine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dark soya sauce
1. Place pork belly in a pot with enough water to cover and simmer over low heat for about 40minutes. Remove from pot and set aside to cool, covered, before placing in the freezer for 30minutes to harden.
2. Cut the chilled pork into 4.5 x 3.5cm pieces (about 20 pieces).
3. Deep-fry the ginger slices, red onions, shallots and spring onions until aromatic.
4. In a wok over low heat with a little of the residual oil from deep-frying the aromatics, fry the yellow rock sugar, stirring constantly, until it melts into a thick caramel.
5. Add the water or stock to the caramel and stir until the caramel has melted. Add Chinese wine, salt and dark soya sauce and mix well.
6. Line the base of a heavy-bottomed pot with a bamboo net, which you can buy from shops selling claypots. Place deep-fried ginger slices, red onions, shallots and spring onions on top of it. Place pork belly, skin-side facing down, in the pot and pour in the braising liquid. Bring the pot to a boil and turn heat down to low and simmer for up to three hours. There is no need to stir the pork during the braising.
7. Dish up and serve the pork and sauce over steamed rice or buns and vegetables.
This story was originally published in The Straits Times.