January 18, 2009

Stewed Pork Belly

Before you read this stream of obsessiveness below:  please note that food is such a big friggen deal to Chinese people that national treasures aren't crowns or jewelry, but rocks that look like meat.

I'm on the search for this family recipe.  Well, I know it's not just my family's.  All I knew was that we would go to Grandma's and she would make these dark glossy fatty pork cubes and it was so bad for you, but delicious .  It was only in the last couple of years that I figured out this crazy mystery meat was pork belly.  I don't remember much else other than ginger and anise is involved.  Somehow.  Only because accidentally biting into ginger and an anise star is disgusting and mindscarring.  You know.  at six.

Things to know about Grandma.  She's a scientist from Shanghai who was a daughter of a businessman in a time when being a businessman was kind of not a good thing.  She didn't really mess around in the kitchen a lot, so she didn't cook many things, she didn't get fancy, she just made food when we visited and because she had to.  And didn't want people around her while she did it. Which is great when you're six, but not so much when you're obsessing over the mechanics of a dish you last ate 10 years ago.

I've asked my mom a few times what this crazy meat dish is and how to make it, and I've never gotten a straight answer.  We can't even decide what kind of meat it is let alone what it's called and what other spices are involved. Grandma is in Shanghai right now and probably thinks I'm insane for getting all down into the details of this.

I've narrowed it down to a few possibilities and then I'm going to try calling mom again.

Problem is - these preparations all have basically the same gist but way different executions.  I know there's anise in there.  I know it's a little sweet.  But some of these seem way too ..weirdly ingrediented and complicated.  Like Cinnamon and Honey?  That's a little fusiony for NaiNai.   Did she caramelize sugar?  Can I even imagine her doing that?  Did she boil the pork first?  Am I going for authenticity here or something different that I would want to eat as well?  What's paramount - nostalgia or technique?  

I know.  Edge of your seat. 

But no worries Planeteers, I have a pork belly sitting in my fridge now and SUMTHIN'S gonna be made from it family recipe or not.


  1. After looking at the recipe links and trying to remember my mother's kitchen, I'm pretty sure this is how my family did it:

    My mother used soy sauce, brown sugar (the raw kind you buy in bricks or cones), slices of fresh ginger, star anise, garlic, and maybe rice wine or vinegar. No fancy caramelization, just dump it all the pot with some water.

    She would slice the pork belly into a few fist-sized chunks and braise it that way, and we'd tear into it at the table because it was falling-apart-tender at that point. The sauce was the best damn thing on top of rice. She occasionally served it topped with chopped green onion if she felt like it.

    Let's do this!


  2. I made the last link in Kentucky, except I used pork jowl since Wal-Mart there is baffled at why you might want to buy bacon that is not sliced thinly. It didn't come out well, though perhaps it is because it needed a much longer braising time than I gave it. The flavor was pretty close (though I agree, galangal and honey are bizarre Shanghainese ingredients)

    I'm almost certain that you are looking for hong shao rou, though.