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, loads of vegetables, a fish stand and a pork stand. When it was my turn at the butcher’s stand, with his huge chopping 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’. He would then cut me a small piece of pork belly and tight it with a bamboo string as I handed over coupons and money.
I still remember how the bundles of dry ‘Mei Cai’, or salted Chinese dry mustard greens, hanging from the bamboo racks at the markets. There were preserved greens as well, being fermented in large brown urns. In the good old days, ‘mei cai’ was popular in China – it was cheap and can be use with so many dishes. If one ran out of money, ‘mei cai’ and boiled rice was considered a far superior option than soy sauce and boiled rice.
Here is one of my grandmother’s favorite dish – ‘mei cai kou rou’, or pork belly with Chinese dry mustard greens.
Recipe is as follows:
- 1kg pork belly (uncut)
- 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, 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)