Dongpo Pork is a minimalist recipe for braised pork belly that needs only a few Chinese pantry staples — ginger, scallions, soy sauce, and Shaoxing rice wine. Ever ordered anything “drunken” at your local Chinese restaurant? Odds are you’ve had Shaoxing. It is the most widely used rice wine in Chinese cookery so invest in a good quality bottle if you plan to fire up the wok often.
Hangzhou braised pork belly shamelessly celebrates fat as the main ingredient. There is no browning or searing in this version, a step usually called for when braising meats, presumably to prevent the fat and skin from taking on any texture other than gelatinous. As the meat simmers underneath the ebony liquid to produce a rich broth, the fat on top steams into wobbly silkiness that is neither solid nor liquid.
I realize that wasn’t the most appetizing description for something you’re supposed to put in your mouth. This is one of those “try it, you’ll like it” recipes.
It takes at least 4 hours to get the best results when making Dongpo Pork. Throw the ingredients in a pot, run errands, do laundry, work out, and come home to a kitchen redolent of ginger and soy sauce. It’s done when the fat, skin, and meat are easily pierced with blunt chopsticks.
recipe adapted from Eileen Yin-fei Lo’s The Chinese Kitchen
東坡肉 (Dong Po Rou)
Hangzhou Braised Pork Belly
makes 8 servings
3 pounds skin-on pork belly, preferably including the ribs
1/4 pound dark brown sugar (about 1/2 cup firmly packed)
7 cups cold water
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine
1-inch piece of ginger, smashed
6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 3 to 4-inch segments
2/3 cup dark soy sauce
- Food-safe string (or banana leaves if you’re a resourceful Filipino)
- It’s perfectly fine to braise the pork belly in one piece but where’s the fun in that? Tying up the small pieces keeps the pork belly from falling apart while braising.
- Seek out the more refined Shaoxing wine marked “Hua Tiao Chiew” or “Hua Diao Jiu.” it will have an alcohol content of 16 to 20 percent. Avoid bottles labeled “Shaoxing wine for cooking” — it is low quality, laced with salt, and jarring to the palate.
Politely ask your butcher to cut the pork belly into 2 1/2-inch squares, especially if it still has the ribs intact. Tell your butcher to go easy on the nipple.
Tie each piece of pork belly as tightly as possible with your binding implement of choice. The pork belly will shrink considerably while cooking as its fat is rendered.
In a pan wide enough to hold the pork belly pieces in one layer, mix the dark brown sugar, cold water, Shaoxing wine, smashed ginger, scallions, and soy sauce. Add the pork belly, skin side down, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and braise for 30 minutes.
Turn the pork belly pieces so that the skin side is up, cover, and braise for another 3 hours. The pork should be immersed about halfway. The liquid will be reduced by about half towards the end of cooking.
Serve with plain rice or steamed buns. Since the banana leaves don’t count, do yourself a favor and serve the pork belly with simply-cooked vegetables. It’s always a good idea to have some greens on the table, but in this case, it’s mandatory.
X marks the spot.