Twice-cooked pork

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This is also known by its Chinese name, “hui guo rou,” or literally, “meat returned to the wok.”

It’s far more appetizing than its name suggests. Traditionally a Sichuan dish from southern China, it is salty, spicy, pungent and just plain delicious. Its name refers to the fact that there are two main steps: first, the meat is simmered in a bath until partially cooked, and then it is chilled and sliced before being returned to the pan for a stir-fry with leeks, peppers, garlic, ginger and some special condiments. I will admit that the version here is not an authentic Sichuan recipe–rather, it is a copycat recipe of a local Sichuan restaurant which is run by a Taiwanese couple.

Like many of the Chinese dishes I grew up with, twice-cooked pork is simple in execution: boil the meat, slice it up, dry-fry in an oil-less pan, add all other ingredients, and stir-fry. That is not to say, however, that it is without its subtleties. It is important to dry-fry the pork for the right amount of time, no more and no less. If the pork isn’t fried enough, you end up with flabby, fatty pieces of pork. If it’s fried too much, you end up with something more akin to stiff bacon, which is really not what you’re shooting for. The second thing to note is that there IS such thing as too much flavor. One of the signature flavors of this dish that of dou chi, or fermented black soybeans. It turns out that too much dou chi can actually be quite overpowering, so make sure not to be heavy-handed or too creative with the amount of dou chi you add.

Other than that, this is a wonderfully simple dish that tastes deceptively impressive.

Twice-Cooked Pork (Hui Guo Rou)
Serves 2-3

1/3-1/2 lb pork belly
1 small leek
4-6 medium-sized banana peppers about 4 inches long, or 1 very small red bell pepper
2 tbs doubanjiang (fermented broad bean paste)
1 tbs dou chi (fermented black soybeans)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbs ginger, sliced

  1. Bring enough water to cover the pork belly by a couple inches to a boil (around 4 cups). Add the pork belly to the boiling water, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. While the pork is cooking, wash the leek and slice into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Seed the pepper(s) and slice into 1 inch-square chunks.
  3. Remove the pork from the boiling water, rinse a couple times under cold water, and refrigerate for one hour to firm it up (this will make slicing the pork much, much easier). After chilling, cut the pork into as thin of slices as you can manage–I shoot for 1/16 inch or less in thickness.
  4. Heat a pan (it doesn’t have to be a wok) on medium heat to about 350F. Add the cooked pork slices in the pan to dry-fry (without oil) for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. You’re done when the pork fat has rendered a bit translucent, and the pieces are browned around the edges, but still flexible. Note: if there is a lot of oil spattering, turn the heat down a bit. You can compensate for high heat intensity with a longer cooking time.
  5. Move the dry-fried pork slices to one side of the pan and tilt the pan to bring the pork fat to the center of the pan. Add the garlic, ginger and doubanjiang. Stir-fry these three ingredients in the pork fat for about 2 minutes, until garlic is no longer raw and the ginger is fragrant. Mix in the pork until coated evenly with sauce.
  6. Add the dou chi and stir-fry for 1 minutes. Add the peppers and leeks, and stir-fry about 2 minutes or until the leek pieces become just barely transparent.

Note: you can find doubanjiang and dou chi at your local Asian supermarket. Because this is a Taiwanese version of the dish, I have been using Har Har brand’s doubanjiang which has a rather different flavor profile from authentic Sichuan brands–in my opinion it’s a little brighter, a little more straightforward tasting (its overwhelming taste is salty, with spicy being a close second and generally lacks the dark, earthiness of Sichuan doubanjiangs) with a uniquely strong olive flavor. Unfortunately, this dish isn’t 100% gluten-free because wheat flour is used to make doubanjiang, but it can still be enjoyed by the only slightly gluten-sensitive because of the small amount of wheat in the spicy paste.

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