Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (梅菜扣肉)

More rainy, flash-flood-y Malaysian days call for yet more hearty comfort food. This time, we be makin' sum Chinese comfort food! It's a traditional Chinese dish called mei cai kou rou (梅菜扣肉), which is essentially pork belly braised in a dark, umami-rich gravy of preserved mustard greens and soy. It’s a pretty traditional Hakka-Chinese dish, and is a staple in quite a few Chinese restaurants in Malaysia. It rarely gets cooked in my household though, since we’re not of Hakka descent. Regardless, it is a super tasty dish that fills you up with that smothering maternal warmth only a good stew can, and since I'm a sucker for stews, I tried making it from scratch!  

This dish does take time to cook, but the bulk of it is just really idle waiting - waiting for your veggies to soak, waiting for the pork stock to reduce, waiting for the dish to steam. So despite its apparent tediousness, it’s a relatively simple dish. Plus, the complex, umami-laden flavours of the final product comes from the ingredients themselves (the flavour of the preserved mustard greens especially; it really comes through), so you really don’t need any world-class cheffing skills to make the dish taste great!

 

Preserved mustard greens
Messy wok frying

Sidenote: I might’ve put a tad too much dark soy sauce in my dish, which resulted in an inky, unattractive-looking dish. And that was when I learnt how frickin hard it is to take good photos of single-tone, stewy dishes… But oh well, you live and you learn. So please forgive the sub-par photos this time around! I’ve accounted for this mistake in the recipe below though, so all is good.

On a final note, I've been itching to do a sciency, nerdy post for awhile now, soo hopefully the next post will be a full-fledged properly sciency one, possibly on citrus ancestry and incest. *gasp* 

More porrrkkk
Mei cai kou rou

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Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (梅菜扣肉)

Ingredients:

~500g pork belly
~250g preserved mustard greens (see notes)
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, half of it sliced and the rest minced
50g vegetable oil, for frying
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (30g)
1 tbsp light soy sauce (15g)
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine (30g)
2 tbsp brown sugar (30g)
5 pieces of star anise
2 cloves
(quite a bit of) salt
ground black pepper
 

Method:

  1. Season pork belly: Season the pork belly with salt and leave it in the refrigerator for 2 to 6 hours, or overnight if possible.
  2. Prep mustard greens: Give the mustard greens a good wash, and soak them in water for roughly 5 hours or overnight, changing the water halfway through soaking if posstible. After soaking, remove them from the water, squeeze them dry and chop them up into small pieces. (You want a rough mince sorta texture here.)
  3. Cook pork belly: Place pork belly in a pot of water, and add 3 star anise, sliced ginger, black pepper and a bit of salt. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the pork from the pot and set on a wire rack to cool. When cool, place skin side up in the refrigerator for an hour or more to dry the skin. Reserve the porky broth and reduce by two-thirds to intensify the flavour.
  4. Cook preserved veggie sauce: First, fry the garlic, ginger, and shallots in shallow oil. When lightly browned, add the preserved mustard greens and sauté for about 3 minutes. Then, add the light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, brown sugar, 2 star anise and cloves (the latter two ingredients can be placed in a small, permeable herb bag so they can be easily removed after cooking. Then, gradually add the pork stock to the veggies until it has a stew-like consistency (not too watery). Taste for seasoning as you add the pork stock as it might be too salty.
  5. Sear pork belly: After drying the pork belly in the refrigerator, heat up some oil in a pan and sear the pork belly. Sear it first with the skin side down, then just lightly brown all other 5 sides. When the pork belly is seared, remove from the pan to cool it down slightly. Then slice into thin strips, about 1cm in width (yes I’m so used to the metric scale I can’t measure in inches…)
  6. Final steaming: Spoon a bit of preserved veggie mix into a deep pan, then arrange the pork belly slices neatly on it. Then add the rest of the preserved veggies on top of the pork. Steam for 60 minutes. (See notes for alternative method.)
  7. EAT. This dish is best enjoyed steaming hot with a bowl of plain white rice or porridge (not the English sort) to soak up all the salty-sweet, saucy umami-rich goodness.

Notes:

  • There are several types of preserved mustard greens (in Malaysia at least). As far as I know, there’s the sweet kind and the savoury kind, which comes in large heads. There’s also one that is sold in packets already cut into small slivers, which take a lot less time to soak. For this recipe, I used a roughly equal mixture of all three, but any combination of mustard greens should work fine! 
  • An alternative (read: more traditional) way would be to arrange the pork belly slices in the base of small individual-portion-sized bowls, with the preserved mustard green mixture spooned on top. This then gets steamed the same way, and flipped onto a plate when serving, resulting in a visually-pleasing, super neat layer of pork belly on top.