Monday, March 16, 2009

Chinese Style Pork Belly in a Slow Cooker!

About a month ago my very wonderful girlfriend got me the Valentine's day gift of my dreams. A Slow Cooker. When I opened up the box my imagination ran wild with the dishes I would make. Why stand next to the stove watching the dish cook on low heat.. occasionally stiring and fretting when you can (wait for it) SET IT AND FORGET IT! What tender pieces of meaty creations will I create inside this slow cooker? What culinary epiphanies can I treat my dear readers to that would make them drool and have their stomachs grumble while saving a buck?

I decided to go with one of the most inexpensive.. yet flavorful meats out there, Pork Belly. Now I'm sure some of you are skeptical on the usage of pork belly. I got quite a few "what the heck? people eat pork belly?" comments from my friends when I told them of my little adventure. I'm also sure quite a few of you are fine dining aficionados and have seen the proliferation of pork belly on restaurant menus all over the country. They are popping up everywhere like sweet potato fries! =P.

I perused my local Asian supermarket which had a sale on Pork Belly for $1.50 a pound. A great deal, but you had to buy a whole slab which weighed roughly 4lbs.

I laid that puppy out before I sliced it up into more consumable portions. A nice thick layer of fat ran along the top of the pork. I cut it into 5 pieces from left to right.

You can see, some pieces are fattier than others. There was a large disparity in one piece that's not pictured that was pretty much just fat with a bit of meat. I'd like to find a good source of pork belly sometime that has a nice ratio of fat to meat without the huge disparity.

For my recipe I found a great blog post by "Nou" . He/She had tweaked a braised pork belly recipe to work with the slow cooker. I then tweaked that recipe to do away with the dry sherry (which I didn't have any of) and yellow bean sauce (which I also did not have any of). I don't think removing those pieces were detrimental to the final taste of the pork belly.

First brown your pork belly, season it how you like.. salt/pepper all work well. Make sure that you season each side evenly. I used about 2 lbs of pork belly (two of the strips)

For the broth I...
  • Minced one small piece of ginger (about an inch long)
  • 2 cups of Trader Joe (use whatever you want) organic low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 tsp of 5 spice
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp of hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp of light soy sauce
  • 6 chopped green onions.
As you can see, the broth reaches to about the middle of the fat of the pork belly. I made another rendition of this dish with dark soy sauce and oyster sauce with more liquid to cover the whole pork belly. I thought that resulted in a far softer layer of fat. THe fat was good in this version, but it wasn't nearly as "tender". There was a bit of chewiness to the top that I'm not sure how much more cooking would have done away with. The reason I'm posting this recipe is the meat flavor is far more complex but without a very rich soy based seasoning that would turn many people away. I'd like to experiment at some point with adding a mixture of water/chicken broth to bring the liquid level higher.. or maybe just use a smaller pot.

I deter from the recipe a bit, it asks for 1.5 hours high and 5 hours low. I wanted a very tender piece of meat so I cooked it at 9 hours low. I think it could actually have cooked a bit longer to reduce the fat a bit more.

With about a hour left, I chopped up a bunch of bok choy and tossed it into the pot. I have no clue why I did that... I was hoping the bok choy would somehow soak in all the soup and make a delicious vegetable side. I think if I do it again, I'll put it in with about 20 minutes left so it doesn't wilt and become inedible.

So here we have it, the pork belly after 9 hours. A nice light brown coloring runs through the meat as well as all the parts that were exposed to the broth. The other version I made, was completely browned, very similar to the braised beef shank noodle soup but that was with star anise and other coloring agents (and chopped in pieces opposed to a large chunk).

I took a bite of the top part of the fat and it was a bit elastic for my taste, so I cut off the VERY top layer of fat, probably less than 1cm of fat. What's the point of pork belly if you don't have a good chunk of fat still right? But here's the piece of ultra moist meat. I just softly pealed it open with a fork, you can see the individual "fibers" of pork bunch up as the rich pork fat glistens all around it.

The reason I ultimately enjoyed this recipe more was you got to taste the natural flavor of the pork more with a lighter seasoning. The garlic, ginger, green onion added to the quality of the meat without imposing too much of it's own flavors as dark soy, oyster sauce, and star annise do. As you can see, the meat is still a pale white, without absorbing too heavily the broth around it.

To eat along with the dish, I had purchased some fresh noodles from the local 99 ranch. I LOVE fresh noodles. I really think if you have the opportunity to purchase them from the market you should. They cost about 1.75 per 4 bundles and each bundle is a very nice portion size. And they also cook very quickly.

I tossed in some more bok choy while boiling the noodles. Topped the noodles/bok choy with some pork belly and I was set! Drizzled a little bit of the broth (forewarning, it's VERY oily from all the fat that got reduced so it might seem very greasy.. I highly advocate not pouring too much on your noodles.. the meat itself is rich enough to stand on it's own without too much).

And Walla! Chinese style pork belly =) Hope you enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Mmmm. I love using the slow cooker! The pork belly looks a bit too fatty for my taste though...

Dennis K. said...

Looks Delicious Charlie and you lucky man getting a slow cooker for V-day! I'm currently fascinated by rice cooker cooking and been wanting to try out the pork belly recipe I found online. Again, great post!

Charlie Fu said...

Anonymous: I agree, it is quite fatty which is unfortunate for such a delicious dish.

Dennis: Some people get flowers and romantic letters, I'd rather have a slow cooker =)

caninecologne said...

holy hell! what a great post! i can't wait to try this pork belly recipe. my slow cooker is my best friend right now....

word ver:


Anonymous said...

Looks delicious, I agree.

Charlie Fu said...

Canine: I completely agree, the slow cooker is a great tool =). I just made a seafood stew last night, that was a giant bag of fail for me.

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Anonymous said...

if you like fresh noodles you should check out T&L, they usually have big boxes of them, store in the fridge and you're set for awhile

Anonymous said...

I have made this twice already and a new batch in slow cooker now