Friday, November 21, 2008

P-I-G. part 3.

The correct way to make dongpo ro, so my cookbook tells me, begins with a neatly trimmed square of pork belly, blanched and then very slowly simmered in a little soy sauce and rice wine with a few aromatics like ginger and scallions. I have never made it, but eat it whenever I can. It is one of my favorite dishes, and when properly made, it is "tender, sweet, fragrant, tasty, rich without being oily...served with an absolutely clear layer of melted fat overlying a smooth brown sauce. The surface is a rich brown color, the fat smooth and custard-like, the meat brown and tender." It is named for the poet Su Dongpo. (The writer of Chinese Gastronomy, from which the above is quoted, does not know why such a dish should be named after the poet, and concludes that perhaps he would have liked it). Sliced into perfect squares and served over rice with a little drizzle of its sauce, it is heaven in a bowl.

Having no perfect squares of pork belly in my fridge, I made do with some of the Mangalitsa pork left over from the rillettes I made last weekend. Since the meat had been identified as "pork trimmings," half fat and half lean, I had no way of knowing what parts of the pig they were, so I selected the pieces most like the belly (as far as I could tell), layered with meat and fat. I sliced them into cubes about an inch square and an inch and a half long, or as near to that as possible. They went into my favorite small Le Creuset pot, just big enough to hold the meat in a single layer, with a few spoonfuls of soy sauce and rice wine, and were left to simmer slowly in a mix of the soy and wine and the pork's own juices (and some of the fat that melted away from the meat). A few hours passed, and I began testing the meat for tenderness. When it was nearly ready, I set it aside for another night. Tonight.

For some reason I always associate red-braised pork belly with stir-fried bok choy. So along with my pork I had some leafy bok choy, bright and dark green together. There was leftover brown rice, ready to be reheated in the microwave. They came together in a simple meal, the nutty brown rice serving as a bed for the crisp-soft greens, the custardy fat marrying gently with the tender meat, all with a savory-sweet sauce of wine and soy sauce and pork juices softened with a little sugar. Maybe next time I will try to do it properly, with a big square of pork belly quickly blanched and then simmered for hours, steaming in its own juices. But this is good enough, more than good enough, for now.

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