What good can come from being accused for critising the Chinese emperor of Song Dynasty? Dong Po pork!! Thanks to Su Dong Po (Su Shi’s pseudonym), who was exiled to a life of poverty for critising the emperor, the idea of this dish apparently originated as an accident. He was distracted by a game of Chinese chess and forgot about his pork belly that was cooking, and unintentionally overcooked it, resulting in an incredibly soft, tender, and non-greasy pork belly. It was only when he smelt the amazing aroma, then he remembered about it. Since then, this accidental dish has become a succulent and ‘melts-in-your-mouth’ culinary masterpiece and has been long loved throughout the whole of China.
Dong po pork is traditionally served as small adorable cubes, each approximately 5cm x 5cm. There are two main methods to making this dish. You can either simmer it for hours in the clay pot OR like what many restaurants would do, simmer for about 60 to 90 minutes followed by steaming for another 3 hours. For this recipe, we simmered pork belly for 90 minutes first in the clay pot, then transferred them for further steaming of 4 hours to make them extra soft and tender. We found that steaming gives a less dry result and aesthetically better.
To prepare, make sure to wash pork belly as a whole, and remove most of the hair by burning it off. In some occasions, we even had to pluck them out with tweezers. If you are lucky, you may get a piece that does not have much hair on the skin. Blanch pork belly as a whole afterwards to remove most of the blood, and then cut them into smaller pieces. If you like larger pieces, you may not need to tie them with cooking twine, as they are less likely to fall or shred apart. We like to use more spring onions for extra flavour and extra ‘padding’ to avoid pork from sticking onto the base of the clay pot and burning them. We also use A LOT more ginger, this gives a subtle delicious gingery flavour to it on every bite, instead of it just tasting very ‘soy-saucey’.
For the first 90 minutes, pork belly pieces should be placed skin side down, then later on flipped skin side up for the rest of the cooking, whether it be continued simmering in the clay pot/wok or steaming. Steaming cooks slowly, hence the longer hours. Alternatively, if you choose to simmer, continue simmering for another 90 minutes. We have tried the latter before and found that the meat was drier and saltier.
When pork belly is almost ready to serve, reheat the sauce from the clay pot. You may discard all the solid contents prior to reheating. However, we leave in the ginger slices to infuse more of the ginger flavour to the sauce. This dish is amazing with steamed white rice and green leafy vegetables. We love it with bak choy or Chinese spinach.