If you’ve been to Koya, you’ll know exactly where the inspiration for this dish came from. The end result is nothing like the delicate, tasty and – above all – neat version you’ll find at this delightful Japanese udon specialist. But the key ingredients are there.
I can’t believe I haven’t come across this particular combination more often. Apples, after all, are a natural partner to pork, their tart fluffy flesh an ideal match for fatty rich flesh. And their acidity matches salty umami-rich soy blow for blow too. This a gentle assault on the senses, a slow motion hammer-thwack of a dish.
The pork belly is so meaty and rich, the uber-tender flesh sandwiched like geological layers with thick unctuous, creamy white fat. What ho Stanley, it’s time to go digging! Digging right down till we hit the pork.
The transformation from a solid meaty lump of prime pig into a meltingly soft, smooth thing of beauty, has never ceased to amaze me. It’s like turning water into wine or some other culinary miracle.
And what a miracle it is. The pork absorbs all the flavours, and becomes all wibbly wobbly. Like an overbearing parent it smothers you in a thick duvet of flavourful love. Gentle appley tastes and spicey undercurrents bourne along on a lava like layer of salt, sweet, savoury and uber-umami.
And then there’s the fat… Oh the fat! I can only ever manage a cube or two, but for afficiandoes of the artery clogging stuff, this is the real deal. A soft quicksand of overwhelmingly rich gummy joy.
But the best thing? The best thing is that you can throw all this together, put it on the hob and then forget about it as the house fills with mouth watering, rumble-inducing aromas of slowly transforming pork. Eau de meat, the wonderful water of life.
Pork belly braised Chinese style in cider
Serves about three, unless you have a high tolerance for rich creamy pork fat
This dish is very flexible, you don’t have to use pork stock, you could use chicken stock, water or even dashi stock (in which case substitute Japanese soy, sake and rice vinegar for the Chinese variations listed below) instead.
You could also go Italian and use balsamic, wine and fragrant herbs. There are endless variations on the theme of unctuous cubes of creamy pork fat and delicately tender meat.
500g Pork belly – use something good, no farmed crap
500ml pork stock or water
500ml dry cider (I used Aspall’s)
100ml light soy sauce
75ml Chinese rice wine
10ml Chinkiang rice vinegar
4 spring onions – washed and cleaned
3 star anise
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tblsp demerara sugar
2 thumb sized lumps of ginger peeled and chopped into rounds
Cut the pork into large rectangles about an inch square or so. Mine are always very approximate. Put into a pan wide enough to hold them all on a single layer.
Put the pan over a medium heat and pour in all the liquid ingredients. Add the star anise, chilli, ginger and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Slice three of the spring onions into finger lengths and chuck them in.
Bring everything to a slow simmer, then turn the heat down as low as you can, cover and leave bubbling away for a couple of hours, turning the pork occasionally.
Now remove the meat and set aside, pour the liquid through a seive into a jug and then pour it back into the pan (minus all the solids) and bring to a lively simmer. Reduce to desired consistency.
Reheat the pork in the sauce and serve over rice or noodles, garnished with the last spring onion, finely shredded.