Main Dishes / Snapshots

Lu Rou — Taiwanese Braised Pork Belly

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This is not the dish I set out to make. This isn’t the dish I thought I would be eating in complete and utter ecstasy. In fact, I hadn’t even thought of this dish for a good year, so when I say the whole affair was serendipitous, I mean it in the original, Islands of Serendipity way. This is basically my childhood in a bowl, and quite possibly the best reason to occasionally consume a little wheat-free soy sauce if there ever was one.

So be warned. This recipe contains a dash of soy sauce, a drizzle of honey, and a whole lot of my-diet-can-go-sit-in-the-corner, because it is just that pan-scraping, bowl-licking, spoon-sucking good. I’m also Asian, so a weakness towards bowls of soy sauce soaked rice are a weakness, okay?

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My journey towards Lu Rou began after a recent trip to Chinatown, where I fell in love with the spices and smells of Chinese cooking all over again. When I was offered an irresistible deal on a chunk of pork belly and a package of pig jowls at my favorite farmer’s market, I knew it was fate. Pork is the favorite protein of China. After an exhaustive search on how best to prepare my pork belly, I settled on a cross between a Vietnamese braised stew and a  Japanese slow-cooker dish. But I had to work with what I had, and I wasn’t completely happy with either recipe, so I took them as a point of departure and sort of ran with it.

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After my pork belly was chunked, browned, and happily bubbling away on the stove, I called my mother and excitedly told her about what I was making. When I finished, there was silence on the other side of the phone. I pressed on, asking if she thought it sounded delicious.  Finally, she burst out laughing and informed me I had inadvertently made a dish that was eaten at least three times a month in our house my entire childhood –Square Meat!

Square Meat was aptly named for it’s…little squares of meat (I named it when I was four, cut me some slack), and the early years of my life are peppered with memories of my brother and I jumping around in glee when we heard Square Meat was for dinner. The name stuck, and I only just now learned the actual name for it in Taiwan – Lu Rou. I still like the nickname, but that’s just me.

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When the dish had finished, my little kitchenette smelled like home, and I had a big bowl of rice and cabbage to pile my Lu Rou onto, I dove in.

And it was heavenly. Lu Rou is flavorful and rich and slightly sweet. The pork belly literally falls apart at a touch, and the mix of meat and fat is transcendental. Best of all, it tastes like home.

Dark Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound piece of pork belly
  • 1 large or 2 small green onions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 knob ginger (enough for 1 tsp minced and a piece to leave whole)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ tsp honey or agave nectar
  • 2 ½ cups water

Spice mixture:

  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt and pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

1. Take that beautiful chunk of pork tummy and cut  into 1 inch by 1 inch cubes. Roughly chop the green onions, and mince the garlic and ginger.

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2. Heat up a high sided cast-iron skillet or dutch oven (if using more than a pound of pork belly) and brown the pork cubes. No fat is required, trust me.

3. Once the chunks are brown and gorgeously crispy on all sides, remove to a platter and immediately add your green onions, ginger and garlic. Allow to soften and cook down for about 2 minutes, then add your spices and let them get toasty for a minute or so.

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4.  Add the meat back in, then the water, soy sauce, honey, and ginger knob get to join the party. Bring to a low boil, then reduce to simmer, and allow to braise, covered, stove-top until the meat is tender and your house smells like happiness. This should take around 2 hours.

5. Steam some rice, blanch some Chinese vegetables, and CONSUME like your life depends on it.

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3 thoughts on “Lu Rou — Taiwanese Braised Pork Belly

  1. Hello! I tried making some variation of this braised pork belly (over rice). I noticed that most of the pork bellies I see on the internet or in restaurants have a very caramelized, thickened gravy quality to them. However, whenever I make this dish, in the end the pork just looks like it was boiled in thin soup. After braising the pork belly for about 2 hours (I browned it beforehand), when the meat was really soft, there was still a lot of soup left. I tried taking out the pork and boiling the liquid out, hoping that the broth would thicken, but this only made the sauce very salty once it reduced. I added more water to this salty liquid, but then I was just back at square one — thin soup. Can you give me some insight on how to make this dish rich and not thin/soupy? Am I supposed to add corn starch? Thank you in advance! -Cammy

    • Unfortunately, since I didn’t use sugar, flour, or cornstarch, this Lu Rou Fan was definitely a bit more watery. The caramelized onions helped to give the broth body, and I let the sauce reduce a bit, but if you want the sticky pieces, you’ll need sugar and a thickening agent.

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