China produces and consumes half the world's pork, around 50 million tonnes in 2011. In fact the average person eats four times what they ate in 1980, though still a third less than the average Briton!
One favourite is twice cooked pork, or huí guō ròu [回鍋肉]. Actually the word pork is not mentioned since huí guō ròu literally means 'return to the pot meat'. However, the three words are widely associated with the pork dish.
Twice cooked pork is a well-known Sichuan-style Chinese dish. The process of cooking twice cooked pork involves first simmering pork belly steaks in water, sometimes with the addition of spices such as slices of ginger, cloves, star anise and salt. The meat is then allowed to cool before being sliced thinly and returned to the wok and fried with a spicy sauce.
There is a long standing tradition of enjoying a feast every 1st and 15th day of lunar months, and this dish is often consumed at those times.
There are a few ingredients needed in huí guō ròu that you may not find readily in the average supermarket, but should be able to be purchased online or at Asian or Chinese stores.
The ingredients are as follows: Sweet Yellow Bean Paste, Fermented Black Beans, Dark Soy, Sugar, Chili bean paste, and thinly sliced leeks, cut at an angle so as to create ‘horse ears’.
The amounts used depend on one’s taste and how large a piece of meat is used. But for an average 500 gram belly, one would use about a tablespoon each of Sweet Yellow Bean Paste, Fermented Black Beans, and Chili Bean Paste, about half a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of dark soy.
MSG & salt
A note on MSG [Mono-Sodium Glutamate] and salt. Some recipes call for salt or MSG to be added. However, sauces such as Chili Bean Paste may often contain MSG or salt, and of course soy sauce is naturally very salty too. As such I personally steer away from adding extra salt.
There are health concerns not only with salt but particularly MSG, even though some foods contains it naturally. At the end of the day it is a choice of the consumer, but be aware that many Chinese ingredients often contain MSG, and recipes often call for it to be added.
Getting on with the task in hand, wash the pork belly and place it in a pan of water. One may add a few slices of ginger and a piece of star anise if desired, but it is not obligatory. Bring the pan to the boil and reduce to a simmer and cook the meat for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and allow to cool, preferably up to two hours in a refrigerator.
When sufficiently cool, use a very sharp knife to slice the meat. The thickness is again down to one’s preference but many people prefer the meat as thinly sliced as possible.
Next, take a wok and heat a little oil, sunflower and a dash of sesame for flavour. Once the oil is hot add the slices of pork and fry until nicely browned. Note that the fat may spit considerably, especially if the oil is too hot.
Push the cooked meat to one side or remove it from the wok. Add the Fermented Black Beans followed by the Sweet Yellow Bean Paste and Chili Bean Paste and stir well. Return the meat to the wok and add the sugar and soy. Finally add the leeks and keep stirring until cooked through.
Don’t be afraid to experiment a little. A small amount of grated ginger and garlic added before the sauces and even a dash of Chinese cooking wine or Sherry can enhance this dish, though don’t over do it.