Sunday, June 6, 2010

Twice-cooked pork (hui guo rou)

This dish, which literally means "back-in-the-pot meat," is what Fuchsia Dunlop calls the most famous and profoundly loved of all the dishes of Sichuan. This combination of intensely flavored pork and fresh green vegetables is a source of great nostalgia for Sichuanese people living abroad, she says, and it often seems to be tied up with elderly people's childhood memories. It also happens to be a favorite of my friend Jesse, who is living in China for a year. So it's fitting that I used Jesse's present of fermented chilli bean paste for the first time to make hui guo rou.

Twice-cooked pork is so named because the pork is first boiled, then fried in a wok with seasonings. Sichuanese cooks use a cut of pork thigh that is split between fat and lean, with a layer of skin over the top. Dunlop suggests pork belly as a substitute, but I managed to find a cut of well-marbled skin-on pork at the best Chinese grocery in town, Ming's Supermarket in the South End. I have no idea whether it was thigh meat, as the label simply said "pork meat with skin," but it worked great. The amount of fat is gross while you're preparing it, but like with bacon, most of it oozes out during the wok-frying. Dunlop also substitutes leeks for the traditional green garlic, assuming it's hard to find, but green garlic is in season now and in abundance at the farmer's markets — get it while you can.

Jesse, I'll make this for you.

3/4 pound fresh, boneless pork belly with skin attached
6 stalks of green garlic
2 T. peanut oil
1 1/2 T. chilli bean paste
1 1/2 tsp. Sichuanese sweet bean paste
2 tsp. fermented black beans
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. white sugar

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pork, return to a boil, and simmer gently until just cooked, 20-25 minutes. Remove the meat and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight to firm up the flesh. This makes it possible to slice it thinly without the fat and lean parts separating.

2. When the meat is cold, slice it thinly. Chop the green garlic diagonally at a steep angle into thin, 1 1/2 inch long pieces.

3. Heat the wok, then add the oil and pork pieces, stir-frying until the fat has melted out and they are toasty and slightly curved. Push the pork to one side of the wok and tip the chilli bean paste into the space you have created. Stir-fry for 30 seconds until the oil is richly red, then add the sweet bean paste and black beans and stir-fry another few seconds. Add the soy sauce and sugar, tossing well.

4. Add the green garlic and toss until it is just cooked. Turn onto a serving dish and eat immediately with lots of white rice.

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