Here's a little secret I will like to share. No, not a dirty secret, more like many fatty layers of goodness, in a big slab of pork belly. I will not admit to liking this artery clogging cut of meat in public. It just seem too unhealthy a thing to let people know when some of my friends do not even eat pork.
A popular way to cook pork belly is to braise it in soy sauce or brine with spices. It is a method commonly used in East and South East Asia. Different parts of China have variations to the braising liquid. The Japanese add dashi stock and sake. Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore like to use galangal, five spice powder and usually toss in some dry chillies for extra spiciness.
The recipe here is a Thai version and one of my favourite. It features the most basic of Thai flavours: pepper coriander paste and fish sauce. The gravy is sweeter due to the generous use of palm sugar while the melt in the mouth pork belly is savory, sweet, peppery and garlicky. If no one is there to stop me, I would have eaten all the pork belly together with 2 big bowls of gravy covered rice and really hate myself for the rest of the month.
Thai Style Braised Pork Belly
500g pork belly with skin, cut into thick pieces
2 tbsp oil
½ tbsp white peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander roots (if unavailable, use the stem)
1 tbsp garlic
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
4 tbsp palm sugar (if unavailable, use dark brown sugar)
3 cups water
Using a mortar and pestle or food processor, grind the white peppercorns, coriander roots and garlic into a fine paste.
Heat a sturdy pan with a lid, add oil and lightly brown the pork belly over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.
Using the same pan, stir fry the pepper and coriander paste over low heat till fragrant. Add the fish sauce, dark soy sauce, palm sugar and ¼ cup water. Turn the heat up to medium and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the pork belly, stirring to coat every piece of meat with the sauce.
Add the remaining water to the pan, bring the sauce to boil again. Turn down to low heat and half cover the pan. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half and the pork belly is tender. This will take about 1 to 1½ hour.
The sauce can be used on other cuts of pork, chicken, eggs, pressed tofu and deep fried tofu.