Introduction: Dongpo Pork
Dongpo Pork is an old and famous Chinese recipe with an interesting history. Cooking this dish will give you a taste of the culture and history of China! This recipe is famous for having fat yet not tasting greasy, while also being fragrant and delicious.
Dongpo Pork was invented by a great poet named Su Dongpo in ancient China. When he was the official of Xuzhou, a great city in the Jiangsu province, a terrible flood came and submerged the entire city. He led the citizens and fought the flood on the front lines. After 77 days of this, the flood was finally defeated. The citizens thanked Su Dongpo and wanted to give him the pork from their pigs as a present. Su Dongpo eventually accepted their present and invented this recipe with it. The Dongpo Pork recipe has endured for over one thousand years.
Step 1: Materials and Ingredients
- 1 kg (2.2 lb) piece pork belly
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon tea leaves
- 4 stalks spring onions - also known as scallions
- 7 cm (3") length fresh, young ginger - cut into matchstick widths
- Optional: 300 g (11 oz) broccoli, cut into small florets
- 1 cup water
- 8 cloves garlic - lightly crushed
- 5 slices old ginger (or 7 slices young ginger)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons yellow wine (e.g. Shaoxing wine, rice wine, Chinese cooking wine)
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Thickening: 1 teaspoon corn flour, 1 tablespoon water
- Cooking Pot
- Small Saucepan
Total Estimated Cooking Time: 4hours
Step 2: Ingredient Preparation
While most of these ingredients should not be very difficult to find, there was some difficulty in locating pork belly, as it is not something that one can usually find behind the counter at the local Walmart meat counter. Pork belly should be able to be found at most Asian supermarkets. The pork we found was at HyVee as Salt Pork, which the butcher informed us was the same thing, just cut up into smaller portions. The best pork belly to look out for would have even amounts of meat, fat, and skin so that each piece is well balanced with plenty of meat.
The first step with the pork is to cut it into squares about 1 x 1 inches in dimension. Now cut the pork so that each chunk starts with the skin on one end, and the meat on the other with fat in between. Properly cut, the pork squares will have a layered appearance, like a cake or a parfait. Cutting the pork can be a little difficult, especially if there is a lot of fat in the meat, so make sure you are using the right type of knife for cutting meat.
The recipe calls for your garlic to be lightly crushed. If you do not have a specific tool that will accomplish this, you may use the method that we used. First, skin your garlic cloves and place them on a cutting board. Then take a chef’s knife in one hand, and place the palm of your other hand on the flat of the blade. With the edge of the knife facing away from you, press down firmly on the garlic. You may need to repeat this or use a light rocking motion before the garlic is crushed to your satisfaction.
If you use black pepper instead of black peppercorns, like we did, use only ½ a tablespoon, since it is more highly concentrated.
Note: When we made this recipe, we used wheat flour and brown sugar, even though the recipe calls for corn flour and regular sugar.
Step 3: Blanching
Fill a nice large pot with water - enough to cover the pork - and set to boil. Blanch* the pork by putting it in the boiling water for 3-5 minutes or until the pork turns a whitish color, then put the pork directly into cold water or ice. Throw out your water when you are done.
*Blanching is a cooking process where the food is plunged into boiling water and removed after a timed interval, then plunged into ice or cold water in order to halt internal cooking. Food is often blanched to soften it and/or remove a strong taste. Since we used Salt Pork in our recipe, this step is crucial in reducing the especially salty flavor.
Step 4: Simmer Session One
Put the pork back in the pot, and then cover with more water. Bring it to boil again, and then let it simmer for 30 minutes. Then drain the water again. While waiting for the pork to simmer, you can prepare the sauce ingredients for the next step. (See step 2 on how to prepare sauce ingredients)
Step 5: Sauce Time
Note: We used an electric stove to cook this, so the time needed to soak up the sauce may vary if you are using a gas stove.
Begin heating the wok at a medium setting. Put all of the prepared sauce ingredients in the wok, mix thoroughly, and then bring it to a boil.
Once it has begun boiling, add the pork and cook each surface for 2 or 3 minutes on each side. This is needed to let the sauce flavor get soaked up into the pork. Remove the pork and pour the sauce into a saucepan or dish - keep for later! We found that the pork absorbed a good amount of the sauce, leaving only a little behind.
Step 6: Frying Time
Clean the wok and heat it. Pour your vegetable oil into the wok, and roll it around until the bottom and sides of the wok are well coated. Fry the pork on all sides until well browned, such that the skin side is crispy and looks delicious. Once they are fried, it is time for another simmering session.
Step 7: Simmer Session Two: Tea Edition
Take your tea leaves and steep them in hot water for a few minutes. Then place the pork in the water and bring it to a boil and simmer for another 30 minutes. This will infuse some of the tea flavor in the meat. Once you are done, drain the pot with a strainer to catch the meat.
Step 8: Steaming
Time to steam; for a steamer, we simply used the same pot with a steamer insert, though any type of steamer will work. Just be aware that cooking times may vary slightly. Place the scallion/green onion stalks in the bottom of the steamer, then place the pork on top. Steam for 1 hour, turn the pork, and then steam another hour for a total of 2 hours. Be sure to add more water as needed; two hours is a long time.
Optional: If you chose to use broccoli for this dish, you will add it to the steamer during the last 5 minutes of cooking time. If there is no room in your steamer, you may boil it in water separately for 3 minutes.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
Once the pork is nearly done steaming, reheat the sauce in a saucepan and stir in the thickening ingredients. Place the finished pork on a serving dish and pour the sauce over top. As a final touch, garnish the pork with the young ginger slivers (and broccoli if you included it), which are meant to be eaten.
Now you are done! Dig in and enjoy the distinctive flavors of a dish steeped in the history and culture of China!