Peking Pork for the New Year

Seriously, my family doesn’t really observe Chinese New Year. I’m 1/8th Chinese but sadly the heritage hasn’t really been passed down. But when we talk about Chinese food appreciation, now that’s another story. I’m glad that the food culture is pretty much part of Filipino cuisine. It’s so pervasive that lechon (charcoal roasted pig) is in fact Chinese, but most definitely Filipino as well. (Yes, that’s why it’s more fun in the Philippines)
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But since I’m practically in the kitchen and infront of my laptop most of the time, I’d like to honor my 1/8th by joining the festivities all around the world as people, Chinese or not, celebrate the year of the Dragon through food, festivities and everything in between.

I’ve already tried making a few Chinese dishes a while back (Five Spice Stew, Sweet and Sour and Fried Pork), and here I go again with another equally satisfying pork dish. What’s with me and pork, you may ask?
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We go back around 16 years ago, when I was a scrawny little child with weak lungs who loved loved loved okra, malunggay and all the other vegetables conceivable.

Apart from really effective medication from the doctor that helped me gain weight and allay my asthma attacks, my mom just happened to introduce another important player in my eventual food pyramid: BACON. I have never looked back since. Ok, I still appreciate most vegetables (including ampalaya/bitter melon mind you), but as for okra, well, we’re not friends.
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Pork has always been part of my diet. I don’t intend to stop my love affair, but maybe because I’m not getting any younger (says the 20 year old), I intend to lessen the consumption and offset indulgence with running/jogging (which I sorely miss).
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Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with indulging. Peking pork…is indulgent. It reminds me of sweet and sour, it’s just that the former has a deeper and spicier flavor. It’s a perfect way to ring in another year because pork is a symbol for prosperity/abundance. It’s also a perfect weekend dish, so you won’t have to wait for Chinese New Year to enjoy it.

But nevertheless, Kung Hei Fat Choi!
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Peking Pork (serves 6 – 8; adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

  • 2 kg pork belly or chops, cut into 4-inch long slices
  • Oil for deep frying

Breading/Marinade:

  • 3 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
  • 3 teaspoons iodized salt

Sauce:

  • ½ cup tomato/banana ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 tablespoons vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • a pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 4 tablespoons water

Garnish: onion rings, chopped green onions (white and green part), chopped chives (optional)

  1. Pound pork slices with the back of a kitchen knife until tender. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, mix the breading ingredients, add in pork slices, mix well, and marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  3. In a medium saucepan, mix the sauce ingredients. Adjust the taste to your preference. Set sauce mixture aside.
  4. Heat a large wok with enough oil. In batches, deep-fry pork slices for 5 – 10 minutes, or until color changes to golden brown on both sides and slightly crispy. Once cooked, remove from heat and place on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Set aside.
  5. Bring sauce to a quick boil, add deep-fried pork (you may do this in batches), and stir until all the meat is well coated with sauce. When ready to serve, sprinkle the pork with chopped chives, onion rings and scallions. Serve over a bowl of hot steamed rice. Enjoy!

Peking Pork (Jing Du Pai Gu, 京都排骨)

Chinese-style Fried Pork (and about puff pastry)

Throughout this process of bringing out the “chef” in me I get caught up with a few minor setbacks along the way.

I’ve been juggling with the terms “snooty”, “pretentious” and “vapid” a lot lately. Just a few hours ago, I was at this new cafe that sat on top of the deli store that my mom and I frequent. This cafe serves their iced tea along with goblets and no ice. I mean, come on, who drinks iced tea from a goblet? I think it’s…unnecessary. And pretentious.

Well, I’ve called myself a snoot on some occasions. Like this afternoon, when I was plating my dish for the camera. Food styling is my frustration. I look at all these food magazines and page after page of pure awesomeness makes me feel so inferior as an amateur photographer. Sometimes I subscribe to this idea that a great food photo has all the bells and whistles. And sometimes the end product kills me.

What I’ve learned from food styling so far is that a dish looks better if colors just pop. So adding a pop of color I did. I cut some red and green bell peppers into rings and at the end I decided to just put in a red one, to keep it subtle. It doesn’t translate well on camera. I was a bit disappointed. OK, I was really disappointed.

I can’t really believe myself but I actually called my plating vapid and soulless.

But there’s another styling tip that I take for granted. The best way to bring out a food’s soul in the photo (YES I AM THAT PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD!!!!!) is to keep it simple.

Puff Pastry, I’ve learned, loses its light flakiness when it’s overworked. When you knead and mix it to the point of death, it’s not puff pastry any more. That’s a good principle I can live by. There’s a fine line between perfect and too much. I’m heavy handed when it comes to my cooking – I season a lot, I over mix, I over plate, I over think everything. Man, I need to loosen up and pull it back a little.

With that being said, there’s nothing vapid with the taste of what I did. It’s basically fried five spice pork belly. I’m not really over Chinese Five Spice because it takes me back to the days of Peking Duck and this really great stew I made. The meat was tender and the subtle taste and aroma of the five spice was there. I didn’t really have to try too hard with this dish. It’s Chinese-inspired because it uses cornstarch and egg as the breading. No flour.

And if ever there’s a desperate cook out there, I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person that makes great puff pastry.

Five Spice Fried Pork Belly with Honey Soy Sauce (serves 4 – 6) – adapted from yummy.ph

  • 1 kg pork belly
  • 2 tsp five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 three-inch piece of ginger, grated finely.
  • 4 tbsp liquid seasoning (I used Knorr)
  • 4 tbsp gin
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups cornstarch
  • oil for deep frying

Honey Soy Sauce

  • 1/2 bulb of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  1. Mix together pork belly and the rest of the seasonings. Marinate for at least two hours or overnight. When ready to cook, mix pork with beaten egg.
  2. Heat oil in a deep pan. Dredge pork in cornstarch and fry in hot oil. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
  3. Make the sauce: Fry garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, honey and the cornstarch slurry. Allow to reduce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve meat with a steaming cup of rice and drizzled with sauce. Enjoy!