When I was a little girl, my grandmother often sent me to the market across the road to get groceries. At the market, there were urns of soy sauce, slabs of tofu, bundles of green vegetables. There were also a seafood stand that only sold small fishes, and a meat stall that only sold pork.
I remember the butcher standing behind the tall timber bench with his huge cleaver in his hand. He looked down to me and asked loudly ‘soup or for stir fry’. I looked up and quietly said: “kou rou’. With enormous speed, he cut me a small piece of pork belly, tightened it with a few bamboo strings and swung it across the bench. I handed over coupons and money and hurriedly walked home.
I remember the bundles of dry ‘mei cai’, or dry salted Chinese mustard greens hanging from the bamboo racks at the markets. There were other preserved greens fermenting in large brown urns, letting out strong aromas. As preserved vegetable were inexpensive and common, it was considered peasant food. As my mum would say, “if you don’t study hard, you will end up having only preserved vegetables and boil rice to live on.”
- 1kg pork belly (in one piece)
- 150g dry ‘mei cai’ (梅菜), dry mustard greens
- 4 tsp mushroom dark soy sauce (use more if you like)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp oyster sauce
- 2 tsp sesame oil (use more if you like)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp potato starch or corn starch, mix thoroughly with 1tbs water
- cooking oil
- a few sprigs of coriander or chopped green shallot, to garnish (optional)
- Soak the ‘mei cai’ in hot water for 10 minutes; rinse well to remove excess salt; drain well; squeeze out excess liquid; slice to 3cm length.
- Heat up some cooking oil in a frying pan, pan fry the pork belly, skin side facing down, until the skin is golden brown; drizzle over 1 tsp of soy sauce; turn over the pork belly, and pan fry the other side briefly; remove from heat to cool; when cooled, cut the pork belly into long strips; keep the strips neatly together and transfer to a heat proof bowl; drizzle over 2 tsp of oyster sauce; don’t wash the frying pan
- In the same frying pan that cooked the pork belly, add some oil, ‘mei cai’ and 1 tsp of sugar, saute for approx 3 minutes; add 1 tsp sesame oil & 1 tsp mushroom dark soy sauce; saute for another 3 minutes
- Lay the ‘mei cai’ on top of the pork belly; steam the pork belly, covered, for 2 hours
- After 2 hours, remove the pork belly from the steamer carefully; drain & reserve all the liquid from the heat proof bowl; turnover the bowl over a serving dish – the pork belly strips should be sitting neatly over the ‘mei cai’
- transfer the liquid to a saucepan; over low heat, add 3 tsp mushroom dark soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp of sugar & the potato starch mixture; stir constantly; bring it to boil; remove from heat
- pour the sauce over the pork belly
- garnish with coriander or green shallot (optional)