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?
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.