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Braised Pork Belly (Dongpo Pork): A Culinary Masterpiece

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Braised Pork Belly, also known as Dongpo Pork, is a legendary dish in Chinese cuisine with a rich history dating back to the Song Dynasty. Named after the famous poet and gastronome Su Dongpo, this dish exemplifies the art of braising—a slow-cooking method that yields tender, succulent meat infused with deep flavors. Dongpo Pork is renowned for its melt-in-the-mouth texture and the harmonious blend of sweet and savory notes. Here’s an in-depth guide to mastering this exquisite dish in your own kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) pork belly, skin-on
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rock sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 6-8 slices fresh ginger
  • 4-5 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3-4 star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Instructions

1. Prepare the Pork Belly

Rinse the pork belly under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut the pork belly into large, even cubes, approximately 2 inches in size. Blanch the pork belly cubes in boiling water for about 5 minutes to remove any impurities. Drain and set aside.

2. Sear the Pork Belly

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pork belly cubes, skin side down, and sear until the skin is golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes. Turn the pork cubes to sear the other sides briefly. This step helps render some of the fat and develop a rich flavor.

3. Add Aromatics and Liquids

Remove the pork belly cubes from the pot and set them aside. In the same pot, add the ginger slices and green onion pieces. Sauté for about 2 minutes until fragrant. Return the pork belly to the pot, arranging the cubes in a single layer, skin side up.

4. Create the Braising Liquid

In a bowl, mix together the Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and water. Pour this mixture over the pork belly in the pot. Add the rock sugar, star anise pods, and cinnamon stick. The liquid should almost cover the pork belly cubes. If necessary, add a bit more water to ensure even cooking.

5. Braise the Pork Belly

Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the pork belly for about 2 to 2.5 hours, basting occasionally with the braising liquid. The pork belly should become incredibly tender, with a rich, glossy sauce coating each piece.

6. Reduce the Sauce

Once the pork belly is tender, carefully remove the cubes from the pot and set them aside. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer the braising liquid until it reduces to a thick, syrupy consistency. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Return the pork belly to the pot, gently tossing to coat each piece with the reduced sauce.

7. Serve

Transfer the Dongpo Pork to a serving dish, arranging the pieces skin side up for an attractive presentation. Garnish with additional sliced green onions if desired. Serve hot with steamed white rice or fluffy steamed buns to soak up the luscious sauce.

Tips for Success

  1. Select Quality Pork Belly: Choose a piece of pork belly with an even ratio of fat to meat. The fat is essential for the dish’s luxurious texture and flavor.
  2. Blanching is Key: Blanching the pork belly helps remove impurities and excess fat, ensuring a cleaner taste and better texture in the final dish.
  3. Low and Slow Cooking: Braising requires patience. Cook the pork belly over low heat to allow the flavors to develop and the meat to become meltingly tender.
  4. Basting for Even Flavor: Occasionally baste the pork belly with the braising liquid to ensure each piece is evenly coated and infused with the rich sauce.
  5. Reducing the Sauce: Reducing the braising liquid intensifies its flavor and creates a beautiful glaze for the pork belly. Be careful not to burn the sauce during this step.

Variations

  • Spicy Dongpo Pork: Add a few dried chili peppers to the braising liquid for a spicy kick.
  • Herbal Twist: Incorporate additional aromatics such as garlic, cloves, or bay leaves to enhance the flavor profile.
  • Vegetable Addition: Include hearty vegetables like daikon radish or shiitake mushrooms in the braise for added depth and nutrition.

Conclusion

Dongpo Pork is a testament to the artistry of Chinese braising techniques. This dish, with its rich history and delectable flavors, is sure to impress and delight your family and friends. By following this recipe, you can recreate the tender, flavorful, and visually stunning Braised Pork Belly in your own kitchen. Enjoy this iconic dish with steamed rice or buns for a truly satisfying meal that celebrates the best of Chinese culinary traditions.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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