The Lure of Shaoxing’s Delights
Pork belly with Meigan Cai, in its braised form, is a relatable version of the grandiose Mei Cai Kou Rou, both tracing their roots to Shaoxing, China’s culinary epicenter. While growing up, the braised dish was a frequent star on our family dinner tables, embodying comfort and nostalgia. On the other hand, Mei Cai Kou Rou, with its elaborate plating, seemed tailor-made for upscale dining. Yet, as Chinese New Year approaches, both variants emerge as festive focal points, bridging generational gaps with each savory mouthful.
Dive into Shaoxing’s Culinary Legacy
If you’ve been an avid follower, you’re familiar with our affection for Shaoxing wine, a staple in many of our dishes. This particular recipe not only celebrates the wine but introduces another local star, méigān cài (often simply called méi cài). The sight of this vegetable sun-drying in abundant trays across Shaoxing – on pavements, rooftops, and windows – is common. While some folks can’t imagine their meals without a dash of pepper, Shaoxing locals feel the same about méigān cài.
With méigān cài, the variety is expansive. The aromatic mustard greens version is most sought-after, while the ones made with choy sum or bok choy are milder. Pricier méigān cài is cleaner, demanding meticulous processing, which means fewer gritty surprises. Regardless of your pick, ensure you wash it multiple times before cooking. My personal favorite is the brand shown in the accompanying photo, boasting not only quality but a hint of another Shaoxing gem: dried bamboo shoots. Combining bamboo shoots and pork belly? Pure magic!
Gourmet Tips and Tricks
One thing to remember: for that authentic depth in color and taste, ensure you have both Chinese light and dark soy sauce. Most Chinese markets stock them, and they’re invaluable in our culinary adventures!
- 1 1/2 pounds skin-on lean pork belly (cut into 1″ slices)
- 3 cups meigan cai (preserved dried mustard greens)
- 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
- 35 g rock sugar (or substitute with 2 1/2 tablespoons regular sugar)
- 2 star anise pods
- 3 fresh ginger slices
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
- 4 cups water
Steps to Culinary Bliss:
- Begin by soaking the mei gan cai in cold water for about half an hour. Drain it ensuring no sand remains. A good practice is to let it settle after every rinse so any dirt sinks to the bottom. Once cleaned, drain the excess water and set aside.
- Prepare the pork belly by trimming any bristles from the skin. Slice it into 1” thick sections. Boil these slices briefly (for about a minute) to cleanse them. Drain and keep aside.
- Heat oil and sugar on low heat in your wok until the sugar caramelizes. Toss in star anise, ginger, and the pork belly. Once the pork has a nice golden hue, blend in the mei gan cai, and stir for a minute.
- Now, lower the flame and introduce the Shaoxing wine, both soy sauces, and water. Ensure no caramelized sugar is left sticking. Bring it to boil, reduce the heat, and let it simmer.
- After about 45 minutes to an hour, the pork should be tender enough to be effortlessly pierced with a fork. If the sauce is too watery, you can reduce it on a higher flame, ensuring it doesn’t completely evaporate.
Relish this dish with steamed rice, and let the authentic flavors of Shaoxing whisk you away on a culinary journey. Enjoy!