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Foodstuff: Chinese Preserved Pork-belly

Chinese Preserved Porkbelly 1

Preserving pork and other meats is quite common in cuisines around the world but this particular Chinese product, essentially a fattier cousin of the more familiar of jerky, is a favored treat in my kitchen.  The appeal for me is that pork belly, when cured with salt and sugar, takes on a wonderfully fragrant sweetness that mimics the flavor of dried-apples. It is a fatty treat, to be sure… a fact which might make some cautious about eating it… but, in fact, since the cured rashers are typically used in small amounts to flavor other ingredients, you still may wish to give it try.

By the way, curing pork belly in this fashion is not that difficult in the home kitchen and, sometime in the coming months, I promise to do a post on the topic. For now however, I just want to feature one of the many commercial products available in most Asian groceries…

The large Chinese characters on the front of the package pictured above are:

五花臘肉

(wǔhuā làròu)

The first two characters translate as ‘five flower’, which is a poetic description of the layered appearance of fat and lean. The second two characters are most simply translated as ‘preserved meat’, but the actual meaning is a bit more involved. The character ‘臘’, which appears in simplified form as ‘腊’ can mean December, or the twelfth lunar month. It was typically during this period that animals were commonly slaughtered and the meat preserved for winter, so you will often see the term translated as ‘winter sacrifice meat’. By the way, although the character ‘肉’ is strictly rendered as ‘meat’, in Chinese, unless you specify otherwise, ‘meat’ is taken to mean ‘pork’.

Chinese Preserved Porkbelly 2

Here the rasher is removed from the package and you can see that the meat has a wonderful mahogany color and glossy sheen to it. The ingredients listed include Pork Belly, sugar, dark soy, salt, and sodium nitrite as a preservative. The nitrite can be omitted in home preparations but, in commercial products, it extends the shelf-life considerably. It also, as with potassium nitrite, tends to give preserved meat a pink color (think bacon), but, while that may be masked here given the dark soy, I rather think that the preservative is used sparingly here. In some parts of China, notably Hunan, winter sacrifice meat is also smoked after being salt-cured, and those products, generally using less soy and sugar, have a definite reddish-pink hue to them.

Chinese Preserved Porkbelly 3

When seen in close-up, you can appreciate the layering of fat with lean and the inspiration for the ‘five-flower’ appellation. The aroma, as I mentioned, is heavily redolent with the perfume of dried apple and, as long as one is fairly conservative with cooking, the flavor comes through beautifully in finished dishes.

The package suggests simply steaming slices of the meat (and presumably eating as is along with other dishes) or else adding it to rice as it is being boiled. You can also add it to braised or stewed preparations but, as I mentioned, it is advisable to keep cooking times short or else the texture will suffer and the best flavors dissipated.

I find thin slices are great stir-fried with vegetables, or else added to fried rice or noodles, but one of the most common uses is as a topping for steamed rice, with many people adding it into electric rice steamers near the end of cooking time (often with other additions like chicken or greens). I am going to be using some of the package I just opened for a variation on this idea within the next few days but it has also occurred to me that this Asian ingredient might be very nicely employed in the very western ‘Boston Baked Beans’. Indeed, I may well give that a try sometime in the near future as well…

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. I see where you are going with that Boston bean idea. That would be good. I have never seen it vacuumed packed here in HK but that is a good thing as it has to fly all the way to you. Stay warm. BAM

    March 4, 2013
    • I’m not 100% sure, but the name on the label is for a Canadian company. I don’t know if that means it is manufactured here or is just the name of the importer. I’ll look at some other brands when I am in Ottawa next week.

      March 4, 2013
  2. Wah, can’t keep up with you….五花臘肉? you did an exceedingly good job in explaining. This is not my favorite because it is very fatty. But we usually will eat a little during the Chinese New Year.

    March 4, 2013
  3. I love this post! How could I not? It has bacon 🙂

    March 4, 2013
    • I’d *almost* give up regular bacon for this stuff 🙂

      March 4, 2013
  4. Pork and beans would go great with this. Any recipe that calls for lap cheong or Chinese sausages could be substituted for this pork belly. I wonder how long the shelf life of this stuff is? Might be something to stock up for the apocalypse kitchen?

    March 4, 2013
    • I am not sure of the recommended storage period. I kept mine in the fridge rather than on the shelf…. This particular package got forgotten about and was in my fridge for a year or so…. it was just fine.

      March 5, 2013
      • That’s good to know. That’s a very long time. Are they kept in the refrigerator section in store?

        March 5, 2013
      • I have seen them stored both ways. I think the frodge is advisable though.

        March 5, 2013
  5. As a teen growing up outside of Toronto, Ontario (Canada), I helped my mother marinate the pork slices in a soy marinade and hang them on the back porch for drying.

    Yes, we made them. I do remember big bowls of sliced pork. She tried to avoid too fatty slices.

    To use dried pork like this:

    as a condiment within a steamed fresh pork dish. One slices it up in bite size pieces and the whole cooked with a bit of oil, soy, …even abit of salted fish for flavouring. (Just think of it like some olives flavouring the meat…)

    Or put a slice into rice when it starts to boil in rice cooker. Steam of rice cooks the meat. Just don’t lift the lid.

    Flavours the rice. You could even break an egg into the steamed rice…5 min. before done. Egg will be done. Instant meal! :0 🙂

    Thanks for the memories!

    March 6, 2013
    • I have a recipe rather like that wth egg coming up fairly soon…. dried shrimp or scallop is also good in place of dried fish!

      March 6, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Food Day By The Bay | fork in hand
  2. Steamed Rice with Preserved Pork-Belly and Egg | Sybaritica
  3. Homemade Chinese-Style Preserved Pork Belly (五花臘肉) | Sybaritica
  4. Preserved Pork Belly Soup with Conpoy | Sybaritica
  5. Chinese Preserved Pork Belly and Daikon Soup | Sybaritica
  6. Chinese Preserved Sausage – 臘腸 | Sybaritica

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