The pork buns at Momofuku consist of slices of braised pork belly and pickled cucumber, glistening with hoisin sauce, wrapped in flat steamed buns. The pork had a lovely texture - wonderfully tender, with luscious, wobbly fat - but I could barely taste it underneath the hoisin sauce. I'm all for reinterpreting classic dishes in a new manner, but I can't say I like the product of crossing red-cooked pork with Peking duck.
I've been eating red-cooked braised pork belly since childhood. Red-cooking, or hong shao, involves a braising liquid (rock sugar, cooking wine, soy sauce, and various spices) that gives anything cooked in it a dark, reddish brown color. It can be used for chicken, beef, and even fish, but red-cooking pork produces particularly delicious results.
I could have made straight up red-cooked braised pork belly, but I couldn't resist the allure of fusion cuisine. Salt pork belly is a traditional component of choucroute garnie, so I decided to create a braised pork belly recipe using the seasonings found in choucroute garnie. The pork turned out moderately sweet and a little spicy, with a faint, almost piney note from the juniper berries. I am pleased to note that it also tasted like pork.
Now I just have to find another dish to cross it with. Anyone up for a braised pork belly "hot dog?"
Port-Braised Pork Belly
I didn't have any sauerkraut, and the stuff at the supermarket looked very dubious, so I served this pork with cornichons and pickled onions, steamed buns made with cornmeal, white bean mash, and a simple spinach salad. It would go equally well with potatoes and sauerkraut, though, or even cornbread and pickled string beans.
(Serves one for many days. It just gets better every time it's reheated.)
Acquire two pounds of fresh (not salted) pork belly. If you buy your pork belly from a real butcher, ask him or her to cut it into slices roughly two-and-a-half inches wide and half an inch thick. If you, like me, can only find pork belly at an Asian supermarket where it comes in inch-wide slabs, you'll have to do the job yourself.
Place the pork slices upright (or semi-upright) in a heavy pot large enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle over half a teaspoon of coarse salt, and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Add two sprigs of fresh rosemary, four whole cloves, four crushed juniper berries, one bay leaf, and one teaspoon of crushed black peppercorns.
Cover with two cups of cheap, dreadful port, or one cup of cheap port and one cup of cheap red wine, if you're short on port. There should be just enough liquid to cover the pork; add a little water if there isn't.
Cover the pot, and place it on the stove over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low, so that the liquid is at a low simmer. Find something to occupy your time for next three hours, such as laundry, or reading, or
When the three hours are up, check on the pork. The meat should be fork-tender and the fat lusciously wobbly. Leave the lid off the pot, bring the heat up to medium, and reduce the braising liquid until it becomes a thick, glossy sauce.
Serve with something starchy, something pickled, and something green.