Legend attributes the creation of dongpo rou, a traditional Chinese braised pork belly dish, to Su Dong Po, a celebrated Song Dynasty poet and scholar. Half-fat, half-lean chunks of pork belly are slowly simmered with wine, soy sauce, rock sugar, scallions, and ginger for hours, until the jiggly, gelatinous squares are soft enough to pull apart with chopsticks. The process slowly renders the fat, so it melts on the tongue without leaving a greasy mouthfeel. One bite—a blur of melting fat and tender meat—and you may be moved to put pen (or calligraphy brush) to paper yourself.
The dish is a specialty of Hangzhou, the historic capital of China’s eastern Zhejiang province, but is well-known and loved across the country. To make it at home, you’ll need a clay pot, a steamer, and most crucially, patience.
It’s important to start by blanching the pork belly to remove blood, impurities, and any gamey flavor. Be sure to begin with room temperature water, as placing it directly into boiling water would cook the surface, sealing in what you want to purge.
You’ll also need some kitchen twine to tie around the pork belly pieces—as you would ribbon around a present—before nestling them into your clay pot. This helps them stay intact during the long cooking process: an hour and a half of braising right on the stovetop, followed by another hour and a half of steaming.
Why both? The initial stovetop simmering helps set the shape of your pork belly presents, but simmering for too long could cause them to fall apart. Switching to the gentler, indirect heat of steaming eases the meat to the finish line still intact—leaving it to fall apart in your mouth.
Dongpo Rou (Braised Pork Belly)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes
- 2-pound slab pork belly, skin on
- 11 long, thick slices ginger, divided
- 1 bunch scallions, cut into 3-inch pieces
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 3 cups Shaoxing wine
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (a few small chunks) rock sugar (or substitute granulated sugar)
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon extra-light olive oil (or another high-smoking point oil)
Prepare the pork belly: Fill a large, deep pan with enough room-temperature water to cover the pork belly. Place the pork belly in the water and add 2 slices of ginger. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes.
Drain and discard the water, and rinse the pork belly with running water.
Trim the pork belly into a uniform rectangle, then cut it into four 2 1/2-inch squares. Tie cooking twine around each piece of pork belly, as you would tie a ribbon around a present, to help keep the pieces intact throughout the long cooking process.
Braise the pork belly: Line the bottom of a clay pot with the scallions, so that the entire bottom is covered in an even layer (this will prevent the meat from sticking to the pot), and arrange the remaining ginger slices on top. Place the pork belly presents on top of the scallions and ginger, skin side down. Pour the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine evenly over the pork belly. Set aside.
In a small pan over medium-low heat, add the rock sugar and water. Cook, stirring, until the sugar is melted and the liquid is very sticky. Carefully add the extra-light olive oil and continue to cook and stir until the syrup is light brown, about 3 minutes; this will give the pork belly its beautiful dark red color.
Pour the syrup over the pork belly. Cover the clay pot, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Flip the pork belly to skin side up and continue to simmer, covered, for another 45 minutes.
Steam the pork belly: In a large steamer, bring water to a boil. Place the clay pot inside, cover, and steam for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
If there is still a lot of braising liquid inside the clay pot after steaming, place the clay pot over high heat and let simmer, occasionally spooning the sauce over the pork belly, until thickened.
Transfer the pork belly to a serving plate and spoon over the sauce. Enjoy!
Recipe by CiCi Li, the producer and presenter of “CiCi’s Food Paradise” on NTD. Join her in discovering the world of Asian home cooking at CiCiLi.tv