Belly good dish served cold


Suan Ni Bai Rou is a well-known Sichuan starter of poached pork smothered in mala garlic dressing.

The name directly translates as “white meat with garlic paste” and traditionally, the dish uses the top ham cut rather than pork belly.

Some recipes, however, insist that using the pork belly is not negotiable because of the perfect fat to lean meat ratio.

Sichuan peppercorns in red oil feature prominently in the traditional garlic sauce and it is usually drizzled over the meat rather than used as a dip.

Suan Ni Bai Rou comes with garlic dipping sauce. — Photos: CHAN TAK KONG/The StarSuan Ni Bai Rou comes with garlic dipping sauce. — Photos: CHAN TAK KONG/The Star

I find a lot of versions of this dish, and the Taiwanese version doesn’t contain any chillies but has vinegar in the garlic sauce.

My mother-in-law, who introduced me to this dish, calls it Hainanese pork and dips it in just sliced chillies in soy sauce instead of the mala chilli oil. However, I decided to use my mum’s dipping sauce for poached chicken.

I usually make a huge portion of the dipping sauce so I can keep it for other purposes. I just mince a whole bulb of garlic and sizzle it in hot sesame oil. Once it has stopped sizzling, stir in enough oyster sauce until most of the oil has emulsified into the sauce. Then thin it out with soy sauce to dipping consistency. Leftover sauce is excellent for dressing dry-tossed noodles or kolo mee.

Poach the pork belly for 20 minutes in boiling water with ginger and scallions, then turn off the stove and continue poaching in the residual heat for 10 minutes.Poach the pork belly for 20 minutes in boiling water with ginger and scallions, then turn off the stove and continue poaching in the residual heat for 10 minutes.

The most important step is not to overcook the pork because you want the fatty portions to remain crunchy. If the meat is cooked for too long, the fat becomes limp and oozes oil when you bite into it. Then the eater will feel jelak, that cloying feel that overwhelms you when you’ve eaten too much fatty food.

The pork has to be completely cooled down so that the proteins can congeal, and then you can slice it without tearing the meat apart. You may warm the sliced pork up a bit before serving by blanching it with hot broth and draining it, but this dish is usually served cold as a starter or part of the main course.

Suan Ni Bai Rou (Poached pork with garlic sauce)

Stock2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 stalks scallions, chopped

100g fresh ginger, sliced

1 teaspoon salt to taste

1 litre cold water

500g pork belly

Dipping sauce

1 bulb garlic, finely minced

3 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

5 pods bird’s eye chillies (optional)

1 sprig cilantro for garnish

Method

Bring water to a boil with garlic, scallions, ginger and salt in a heavy pot. Poach the pork belly, covered with a lid over medium heat for 20 minutes. Then flip the pork over, cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Allow the meat to continue poaching in the residual heat for 10 minutes.

Let the meat rest and cool down at least 20 minutes before slicing thinly with a sharp knife. Arrange pork in a serving platter with a scattering of fresh cilantro as a garnish. Serve cold with dipping sauce.

For the dipping sauce, place the minced garlic in a heat-resistant bowl or ramekin. Heat up the sesame oil until it reaches its smoking point. Pour the hot sesame oil over the minced garlic and allow the sizzle to subside. Then stir in oyster sauce and soy sauce until combined. Add chillies and cilantro as desired.

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