Experiment: Fish-fragrant Pork Belly with Pineapple
The dish you see pictured above is prepared in the well-known Sichuan ‘Yu Xiang’ (魚香) style, which incorporates the spicy heat of chili against an umami background of bean paste with sweet and sour notes. The name ‘Yu Xiang’ is most accurately translated as ‘Fish fragrant’, but it has, in some unfortunate instances, been translated as ‘fish-smelling’ (as in ‘Fish Smelling Eggplant’) or, in one memorable but unfortunate translation, ‘Pork Shreds with Fish Odor’. The actual origin of the name and its relationship to the traditional ingredients is a fascinating one, and something I intend to cover in a more detailed post sometime, but for now just suffice it to say that no fish will be harmed in the preparation of this experiment, nor will the resultant dish smell, taste, or resemble anything even vaguely fishy…
- 6 thick slices of Pork Belly, cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 slices of fresh Pineapple, cut to same size as the pork belly
- 1 small Red Bell Pepper, chopped into irregular pieces
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1 tbsp. Garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. Ginger, minced
- 2 tbsp. Sugar
- 2 tbsp. Sichuan Chili Bean Paste (la douban jiang)
- 3 tbsp. Vinegar
You will note that the pork belly pictured above is already partly cooked. This is not merely a timesaver but has some collateral benefits as you can see if you follow the directions on my Pork Belly ‘Foodstuffs’ post.
First, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil, or reserved pork belly fat, in a flat bottomed pan and sear the pineapple sections on both sides over high heat. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Heat another tablespoon or so of oil in your wok and, when it is almost smoking, add the pork belly slices. Stir and toss the slices until they are fully cooked through and getting crispy on the outside. Remove them to the same bowl as the pineapple.
Add enough oil or fat to the wok so that there are a generous three tablespoons at the bottom and then add the scallion, ginger and garlic. As soon as they release their aromas, throw in the sugar and then the red pepper. Toss and stir until the pepper is just getting soft and then add the sugar and the chili bean paste.
Stir just a few seconds longer and then add back the pork, pineapple and then the vinegar. Stir rapidly until the sauce is thickened and coats all the solid ingredients and then plate and serve.
This turned out very nicely. I have made variations on this dish many times before but this is the first time I have used fresh rather than canned pineapple and it was much better. I was also a little concerned about the chili bean paste, which was a brand I had not tried before. When I tasted it right from the jar it was exceptionally salty and didn’t seem that hot. Once cooked, however, the saltiness seemed diminished and the chili bite was just right, I thought. Normally, I just add chopped chili and pineapple juice as a sweetener to make a spicy-sweet pork belly dish but the ‘Yu Xiang’ twist (which is definitely non-standard, given the pineapple) is something I will definitely do again…