Nothing beats a good steak and there’s something special about the meeting of hot charcoal and lamb. But the meat I keep coming back to again and again, is that of the pig. Maybe it’s familiarity, maybe it’s that I see something of myself in the pig. Maybe I just love the taste of pork.
Whatever the reason, pork is a real comfort blanket of an ingredient. I feel kinda jumpy if i don’t have hanging around. You can do so much with pork, and I just love versatility. Cut some spicy sausage into a prawn jambalya? Magic. Pork shoulder in milk? Pure comfort food. Sizzling bacon sarnie? Hangover cure extraordinaire.
And more than any other cut, I love belly. It’s the texture, all that tasty smooth and wibbly fat attached to tender strings of flavourful meat. What’s not to like?
The Chinese seem to revere the pig in much the same way, eating just about every part of the animal, as I discovered on a couple of trips out this year which covered tripe, intestine, ear, belly, and more.
Tucked away in this veritable porcine smorgasboard was a cold starter of belly and cucumber in a spicy sauce. I lost my heart to it. I’d even choose it over the sea fragrant aubergines. And I seriously love those slippery babies.
I couldn’t not try to make this at home. It would have been too painful to only eat occasionally. And after a nudge by Cooking the books, I delved into Dunlop to find the answer to my porcine pain. And, with a few tweaks this is what I can up with.
The pork itself was gentle and tasty with hints of the ginger it was simmered with. The cucumber added a cooling edge and balanced out the intense sauce.
The sauce itself is what made the dish. Fragrant, deeply sweet, full of flavours, this added layers of taste to the dish. It amplified the gentle pigginess of the belly and soaked into the smooth fat and crunchy cucumber. It sent fragrant fingers through the whole dish. Were I to make this again I would make half again as much and ensure all the meat was covered.
For two *ahem* hungry people with veg
The original recipe from Fuschia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery called for pork shoulder and bean sprouts, but I substituted belly as I think the layers of fat and meat really suit this sort of dish, all those textures melding and melting together on your tongue. I also replaced the beansprouts with cucumber. This was to replicate the dish I ate in Chilli Cool, and I added an extra coolness and a crisp texture to add to the smooth creamy and meaty ones already there.
This is one of those dishes that, while not requiring much work, does need to be started the day before you eat it.
500g slab of pork belly
1 lebanese style small cucumber (or half a regular one)
A large lump of ginger crushed with a heavy blade
4 spring onions – white sections only
Some sesame seeds
The (spicy)hot and garliky sauce
4 tblsp sweet fragrant soy (see below)
3 tblsp chilli oil
2 tsp sesame oil
1 large clove garlic crushed
In a pan wide enough to hold the slab of belly, bring enough water to cover the meat to a rolling boil. Slide in the pork, and skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Turn down to a simmer and add the ginger and spring onions. Cover and simmer gently over a very low heat for 1 hour.
Make the sweet fragrant soy sauce below, jar it and plonk it in the fridge
Remove the pork from the pan and leave to cool in the fridge overnight.
The next day, take your pork, remove any bones, and slice it as finely as you can. I cut my belly in half, and then sliced each half finely in the direction the bones ran. That way you get lovely layers of fat and meat that hold together.
Combine the sauce ingredients, stirring vigorously to ensure it’s all mixed together.
Peel and slice the cucumber so that the slices are the same thickness as the pork. I sliced the cucumber in half lengthways and then sliced each half on the diagonal to get pieces roughly the same length as the pork slices.
Arrange in a bowl, pour over the sauce, scatter over the sesame and maybe some sliced spring onion greens.
The sweet fragrant soy
100ml Dark soy
6 tblsp dark brown sugar
.5 tsp fennel seeds
.5 tsp sichuan peppercorns
.3 Cinnamon stick
Mix all the ingredients together in a pan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar is melted. Simmer for 20 mins, remove from the heat and pour through a tea strainer or fine sieve. This will keep pretty much indefinitely in the fridge and makes for a fantastic dipping sauce.