The classic Chinese dish, Dong Po Pork, is named after the Chinese poet Su Dongpo, who, by all accounts, loved pork belly prepared this way. The dish is an example of the Chinese technique of ‘red-cooking’ (紅燒), meaning that the main ingredients are braised in a soy sauce based cooking medium. Here, as in the classic Dongpo Pork tradition, aromatics and sugar are added for sweetness, and the slow-cooking of the fatty pork belly makes for a result that is rich, unctuous, and absolutely delicious.
The Ingredients for Dongpo Pork
To make Dongpo Pork, you need a single large piece of pork belly with the rind still attached. This is a generally a pretty fatty cut… and it is this that makes the dish so unctuously good… but try and select a piece that is nicely streaked with lean too. The full ingredient list is as follows:
- 1lb. Pork Belly;
- 3 -4 Scallions;
- 4 thick slices Ginger;
- ½ cup Soy Sauce;
- ½ cup Shaoxing Wine;
- ¼ cup Sugar;
- 1 dried Red Chili (optional);
- 1 Star Anise (optional);
NOTES: Some recipes suggest you add five-spice powder but this is not recommended as it can leave an unpleasant texture to the sauce. You could, if you like, also add a cinnamon stick, some fennel seeds, or even a strip of dried orange peel.
Preparing the Pork Belly
The first step is to scald the pork in boiling salted water and let it cook for a few minutes. This allows a little of the fat to render out and ‘cleans’ the surfaces of blood or other impurities. Once done, rinse the chunk of meat in cold water, making sure to wash away any clinging bits or other residue.
Allow the pork to cool and then cut into chunks about 1 – 2 inches square. Quite often, the pieces are then secured into bundles with twine, supposedly to help them stay together over the braising process. To be honest, this really isn’t usually necessary, and you can skip the step if you like, but it does have a certain visual appeal in the finished dish.
Cooking the Pork
To begin the cooking process, put the scallion and ginger in the bottom of a small pot and lay the pork belly, skin side down, on top.
Add the remaining ingredients and bring the pot to a gentle boil over moderate heat. Once it is just starting to bubble, turn the heat down to low and simmer very gently for about two hours or so until the pork is very tender and can be easily pierced with a chopstick. You may wish to turn the pieces over about half-way through, and you can skim away any frothy scum or excess fat that might arise.
Finally, once the pork is cooked, remove the pieces to a warm serving dish and strain the cooking medium, returning it to the pot.
Turn the heat to high and then reduce the liquid until it is about half its original volume and has formed a fairly thick, glossy sauce that will easily coat the back of a spoon. Pour this over the pieces and serve while hot. You may very well not need all the sauce and any leftovers can be stored as the base for another batch, a dipping sauce, or other uses.
Serve as you like, but the Bok Choy, shown in the first picture, always makes a great accompaniment.