Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sticky Pork and Fried Eggs

First published in the Canberra Times 1 December 2010.
The secret to this peasant style Chinese dish is in the long cooking time that allows the pork to caramelise and turn sticky and melt-in- the- mouth. I learned this dish from my former mother-in-law. She was a Chinese-Malay and she had learned it from her mother, who had migrated from China to Malaysia about fifty years ago.

Although I didn’t speak a word of Chinese and she not a word of English, we managed to communicate nonetheless. She used a combination of sign language and hand signals, insisting that I cook the pork for her while she watched over my shoulder, nodding and shaking her head wildly in approval, and flailing her arms in displeasure when things were not right. This was disconcerting, to say the least, considering it was to be served up for the extended family dinner later that day.

Whenever one of the family members felt unwell, she would make this dish, adding dried ginseng and sesame oil to it, believing that it healed upset tummies and provided longevity. She always served it with a side dish of her version of fried eggs and boiled rice.

This dish is very easy to make, although you do need to take the time to cook it properly, as forcing it to cook quickly will toughen the meat. The quantities are approximate, although try to stick to the same ratio of soy sauce to water, as this provides the flavour base. If you aren’t a pork eater, you could cook this dish using chicken instead of pork, and in this case, the cooking time can be shortened to about an hour.

This dish keeps really well for a few days and improves with age although we never have much left over and more often than not end up moving into the realms of overindulgence. I cooked this recently and matched it perfectly with a fruity and viscous Clonakilla Viognier 2008. The dried mushrooms and fungus are available from Chinese grocery stores.

Photo by Steve Shanahan
Serves 4

Pork

1 kg pork belly, chopped into 3cm lengths
2 large white onions, diced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp ginger, chopped
¼ cup dark soy sauce
½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
3 cups of hot water
5 star anise
3 cinnamon quills
¼ cup Chinese dried black fungus (cloud ear fungus), softened in 1 cup of boiling water
6 dried Chinese mushrooms, softened in 1 cup of boiling water

Combine the soy sauce, water and five spice powder and set aside. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat, add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger and fry for 2 minutes. Add the chopped pork belly and cook until browned. Add the water and soy sauce mixture to just cover the pork. If there is not enough liquid to cover the pork, add some extra hot water. Add the star anise and cinnamon quills, and bring to the boil. When boiling, reduce the saucepan to as low a heat as possible and cover with a lid. After cooking the pork for about one hour, add the Chinese fungus and mushrooms and continue cooking for approximately another hour or until the meat is fall off the bone tender. Skim the oil that has settled on the top at this point if you prefer. You can use the soaking water from the fungus and mushrooms to add to the dish for flavour, instead of the extra hot water. Serve with a herb salad of mint, basil, coriander and Chinese cabbage. If cooked the day before you can scrape the settled fat off the top of the dish before reheating.

Photo by Steve Shanahan
Fried Eggs

5 large free range eggs
4 shallots, sliced
2 chillies, sliced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp oyster sauce

Break the eggs into a bowl without breaking the yolks. Heat the oil in a hot wok and slide the eggs gently into the hot oil keeping them whole. Fry for about one minute, then spear to release the yolks, cooking for another minute until the eggs are crispy on the bottom. Sprinkle the eggs with the chillies and shallots and drizzle with the oyster sauce. Slide the eggs out with an egg-lifter onto a platter and season with pepper. This is a great dish to share.