In 7th grade, I wrote a paper on Chairman Mao Zedong for my social studies final project. During my research, I learned that Mao’s favorite dish was Hunanese red-braised pork. He loved it so much that he called it his “brain food”. I can see why; it’s unctuous, sweet, savory, filling and very easy to make. In fact, if my parents had a long day at work, that’s what would be on the supper table. Recently, I came by a recipe for it in Fuchsia Dunlop’s brilliantly entertaining memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper and adapted it to use up some plums I had on hand.
Braised Pork Belly with a Plum Soy Ginger Sauce, serves 2 for supper or 4 when there are other side dishes
1 lb of pork belly (try to get a piece with less fat)
3 plums, halved and pits removed
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup of soy sauce
2 tbsp peanut oil
3/4 inch of ginger, sliced
2-4 red chili peppers, slit lengthwise
1 star anise
A small stick of cinnamon
1 tea black bag
Serve with a rice
1 eggplant or 2 white eggplants
(White eggplants have a creamier, more delicate flavor than purple eggplants.)
Bring a pot of water to a boil and place the pork belly in so that it is completely submerged. Allow it to cook for 3-4 minutes before taking it out to cool on a plate.
While the pork cools, place the plums in a blender, puree until smooth and strain it into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. You should have about half a cup. Stir the brown sugar into the soy sauce until the granules dissolve and mix into the plum sauce. When the pork has cooled enough to handle, slice it into 3/4 inch pieces, ensuring that there is a bit of skin, fat and meat on each piece.
Heat up the oil on medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven) and stir in the ginger, chili peppers, star anise and cinnamon. Add in the pork belly and plum-soy mixture and enough water to cover the pieces of pork belly. Bring to a boil and let it braise for 35 minutes, before dropping in the black tea bag for the last 10 minutes. When ready to serve, pluck out the star anise, cinnamon bark and tea bag and top with sliced green onions.
While the pork belly is braising, slice the eggplants and place in a colander with a generous sprinkling of salt on either side. The salt helps to remove the bitter taste and draws out the liquid. After 30 minutes, rinse the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the peanut oil in a pan and cube the eggplant. When the oil is hot, fry up the eggplant until it is golden on all sides. Then, remove and drain on a paper towel. When the pork has only a few minutes to go, add in the eggplant.