Monday, January 31st, 2005

The Best Pork. Ever.

Ever since our trip to Vancouver last week, I haven’t been able to get the Su Dong Wild Boar dish we ate at Wild Rice out of my mind. I did some research and found a recipe at Times Online in the U.K (update: the recipe is no longer online at the UK Times, but you can find it on my recipe website). Apparently Su Dong Po was considered one of the greatest Chinese poets and was a bit of an epicure. It is said that he invented this recipe because of his love of pork—something that we both share.

Once I found the recipe I was determined to make it. I started out by trying to locate skin-on, uncured pork belly (Wild Boar seemed too ambitious for my first go, but next time…). I called both A&J Meats and Don & Joe’s Meats, but they both referred me to Uwajimaya for the pork. I went down and purchased three pounds of it (labeled as rind-on pork side) and was surprised at how cheap it was. I think I paid about $1.50 per pound (Niman Ranch sells it for $4.50 per pound if you’re desperate).

When I got home and opened up the packages, I was delighted by how much it already looked like bacon and had a brief moment where I considered turning it into bacon instead. But I persevered.

I salted it up and let it sit for two hours for a brief cure. Then I boiled it for a few minutes to get the meat scum (i.e. blood albumen) off. Then I rinsed it and started the braise. I used about 1/2 pound more pork belly than the recipe called for and this resulted in not having all the pork fit in a single layer in my oval French oven. In hindsight, this is actually fairly important as having the pork in the liquid for the first two hours of cooking helps to render a lot of the fat.

After the first phase of cooking was done, I cooled the pork and put it in the refrigerator overnight. I think this step shouldn’t be overlooked, because when I put it into the fridge it didn’t seem all that fatty, but when I pulled it out the next day I was surprised that there was a 1/2 inch of creamy white fat coating the entire surface.

When I finished prying off all the cold fat with a fork, I noticed that the “juice” underneath the surface was like Jell-O from all the collagen. The recipe called for straining the juice, but when I tried to remove a piece of the pork, the entire contents of the bowl came out in one solid piece—like a giant, gorgeous meat aspic. So I added the step of re-heating it gently in the microwave to turn it back into liquid form before straining. I was worried about the amount of fat still in the pork, as there were giant striations of fat between the thin layers of meat, so I used my fingers to scoop some of it out.

The pork and the juices went into a makeshift steamer and steamed away for four hours. I can’t even tell you how good my apartment smelled. I was working at home that day, but it was hard to concentrate because I kept day-dreaming of pork. After four hours of steaming, I opened up the package. The pork was swimming in fat and smelled incredible. I tried to gently remove the pieces of pork so I could skim off the fat, but the pork was falling to pieces as I lifted it out. It was the most tender piece of meat I have ever laid eyes on. By the time I got all the pork out, I had caused so much chaos in the bowl that the fat had commingled with the juices again. I absolutely couldn’t wait to eat it, so I proceeded with minimal fat removal, but next time I will either skim before removing the meat or wait for the juices to resettle.

I made a sauce by boiling the juices with a little cornstarch and then pored it over the pork and steamed brown rice. It was truly one of the best things I’ve ever cooked—and possibly ever eaten. The soy marinade just barely flavored the pork giving it a nice salty taste, but the predominant flavor was pure pork. It was still insanely fatty and that took a little getting used to, but it’s also what made it so good and rich; like eating foie gras. Given its richness, I don’t think I could eat this every month, but I’m thinking I’ll be making this at a bare minimum of once a quarter.

I think this amazing dish should be seen and shared with as many people as possible, so I am submitting it as an entry to MeatHenge’s Meat Platter Contest, even though I suspect that Kitchen Monkey’s beautiful entry will win.

33 Responses to “The Best Pork. Ever.”

  1. Viv says:

    Oh my! What’s you address again? I’m on my way to First Hill and from there I can just stop over, fork in hand. :-D

  2. megwoo says:

    Ha ha! I actually do still have leftovers, but that’s going to change after this evening…

  3. You’re too kind. But seriously, that sounds amazingly delicious, and if you manage to track down and make it with wild boar, you are officially my new hero.

    You may have already seen these, but given our shared appreciation of pork, you might want to check out the cooking method for the pork Boston butt I used for this ramen, it stands alone perfectly well without the ramen and is crazy good:


    Also, for a little southern pork culture:


  4. megwoo says:

    Okay Kitchen Monkey, my new goal is to find some wild boar… I’ve never been anyone’s hero before.

    Your ramen looks delicious! I’m totally impressed that you made the noodles from scratch. I’m going to try out the pork recipe, but I may cheat and buy the noodles.

    I’m jealous of your BBQ trip, but I can’t believe how much pork you ate. Good Lord!

  5. Dr. Biggles says:

    Keep in mind, there are 3 of those books to give out for winners and at the rate we’re going, nearly everyone will be winners!

    Hey, I just put up a pork butt recipe. Well, I wouldn’t call it a recipe, more like Biggles in the Lab having fun with pork.
    All about the chile peppers baby!


  6. megwoo says:

    That’s funny. I’m really surprised that more people didn’t send in a submission. I know there are more than just four meat eaters out there…

    The chile pork looks great. Mmmm.

  7. Doug says:

    I’ve just come across this site, whilst searching for chinese recipes.

    I actually visited Huangzhou, where the dish originates, in May this year (2005) and was lucky enough to be invited to one of the best and most beautiful restaurants, just outside the city situated on the East shore of the West Lake.

    The restaurant caters for literally hundreds of diners, both in large dining rooms and smaller more private outbuildings, surrounded by small ponds.

    Despite the large numbers being catered for both the service and the quality of the food was excellent.

    The Dong Po Pork is served sliced almost as thin as a credit card but assembled into a square pagoda shape with the skin side formed into a pyramid shaped roof.

    The dish was presented so cleverly and beautifully that it was almost a pity to spoil the dish by eating it – but I’m glad we did!

    If after trying it you think this dish is too fatty, try using pork shoulder instead. I have used shoulder several times and found it to be ideal, with just as good a taste.

    Doug Price

  8. megwoo says:

    Thanks so much for your comment. Your experience sounds absolutely magical! Do you remember the name of the restaurant? I love that they shaped the pork into a pagoda. That’s amazing.

    I was thinking about making the dong po pork again and I had the exact same thought: tone down the fat content with a pork shoulder cut. I’m glad to hear that it’s an acceptable substitute. Not that I didn’t LOVE the pork belly; it’s just a little too rich for a whole meal.

  9. Doug says:

    Yes, Megwoo, the presentation of all the dishes in the restaurant was truly wonderful. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I will ask my friends in Huangzhou and let you know. Incidentally,I cooked the dish for some friends last Saturday evening using shoulder pork – and they loved it.

  10. megwoo says:

    Very cool Doug!
    If you do happen to locate the name of the restaurant, please let me know. Thanks!

  11. Doug says:

    Hello Megwoo!

    The restaurant name is ZHI WEI GUAN, it located in YANG GONG TI.

    My friends say that if you ever have the opportunity to visit Huangzhou and want to visit the restaurant they will call and book for you.

    Where do you live?


  12. Doug says:

    Hello again Megwoo,

    Have a look at this website…..


    Best regards


  13. megwoo says:

    Thanks so much! I don’t have plans to visit China anytime real soon, but my brother just got back from a trip to that area and told me I had to check it out. He said he had some of the best food he’s ever eaten.

    That “West Lake sweet-and-sour fish” sounds delicious! Did you get to try it??

    P.S. I’m in Seattle…

  14. Doug says:

    Hello Megwoo

    Yes – and a lot more besides!!! I came home about 7 pounds heavier and it’s taken a lot of trips to the Gym to burn it off again.

    The Chinese certainly enjoy their food, but I still haven’t worked out how they can stay so slim. Lucky, aren’t they.

    I can’t wait to go back there again and pick up some more cooking recipes and tips along the way.

    I was taught chinese cooking by second generation chinese family friends here in the UK. People say that it is has a very authentic taste and want to know why I didn’t become a chef.

    The answer is simple – cooking is too much like hard work!


  15. megwoo says:

    Oh no! Ha ha. I tend to come back from vacations with a few extra pounds as well…

    Do you have any favorite (Chinese) recipes you’d like to share? I only cook from the recipes my Grandma has passed down, so it would be interesting to try something new!

  16. Doug says:

    Sorry Megwoo – I haven’t looked at this site since the 26th.

    Like you, most of my recipes are hand-me-downs, learned by watching a friend’s father cooking. He was a merchant seaman and always did all the cooking when he came home – and the family always ate virtually all chinese food when he was on leave – it was fantastic.

    They usedto say that I couldsmell hs cooking from 10 miles away as I always turned up just at the right time!

    At first I thought he was being secretive, because he could never give me the exact quantities of ingredients to use, but I eventually learned that it was more a question of knowing the basic ingredients and then balancing the quantities with the amount that was being cooked.

    I also use good international recipe books.

    Two weeks ago we had some friends around for a birthday celebration and I cooked:

    10 treasure soup/Prawn crackers

    Soya/ginger Beef & pickled vegetables
    Chicken with dipping sauces
    Barbecued ribs in a brown bean sauce

    Beijing Duck

    Su Dong Po Pork!
    Sea Bass roasted with black beans and cabbage
    Sweet & sour chicken
    Sizzling beef and vegetables in oyster sauce


    It was quite a party – we took our time with pleanty of time between courses and the meal lasted for about 4 hours!

    Best regards


  17. megwoo says:

    That meal sounds amazing!!! What a feast!

  18. chuck@china says:

    I found some hits at my website from this website, so I came here to have a look. I’m no pork expert, but I do live in HANGzhou and I do enjoy Dong Po Pork a few times a month (as well as West Lake Sweet & Sour fish). The Dong Po Pork served in the restaurants here (including ZHI WEI GUAN) are usually individual cubed portions (about 1 1/2 inch squares) served in small clay pots. The dish you mentioned (thin-sliced pork shaped like a pagoda) has a different name – one I forget at the moment but it, too, is excellent. It’s sliced pork mounded over some dried, flavored vegetables (gan cai in Chinese). Maybe bamboo shoots sauteed in Dong Po sauce. It has a lot less fat then the traditional Dong Po Pork. There’s also a similar dish which is a specialty of the small village of Zhou Zhuang outside Suzhou which pork lovers will appreciate. Finally, the Zhi Wei Guan restaurant has branched out throughout the city – like a Chinese McDonald’s – and you can find one in almost every neighborhood here. If you visit Hangzhou, look for the restaurants with bright yellow signs with brown writing. They will have an outdoor window (a walk-up selling stuff to go) as well as a counter and cafeteria-style seating inside. The larger ones will have a second floor with table service and a more extensive menu. But just about every big sit-down restaurant in Hangzhou will serve dong po rou. It usually runs 5-10 RMB per individual portion. You can also buy vacuum-sealed bags with 5 or 6 portions in most grocery stores here. By the way, I Know this is a pork site, but the absolute best dish in Hangzhou is the Beggar’s Chicken. Traditionally, a whole chicken was placed seasoned with herbs and wrapped in leaves, then covered in mud and buried in the gorund over which a fire was built. That’s how the beggars used to cook their chicken. When the mud hardened into clay, the chicken was ready and you broke the clay pot, pealed away the leaves, and ate the chicken. They do it in ovens these days, but it’s the best herbed chicken I have ever had. ANd it sure beats the chicken at the KFCs that have mushroomed all over Hangzhou (and China). ANyway, thanks for linking to my page. Just thought I’d add some “local flavo(u)r” to the info about Hangzhou.

  19. megwoo says:

    Chuck, Thanks for your comment!! I can’t believe you can get Dong Po to-go in China… I wish someone did that here. The Beggar’s Chicken sounds fantastic! Do you have a recipe? I’d love to try and make it at home.

    Thanks again!

  20. doug says:

    Hello Chuck/Megwoo!

    Thanks Chuck, your email is very interesting to me. I wish I had been able to spend more time in your city, but I was there on business and had very little time to really explore. I enjoyed my early morning walks by the lake, watching lots of people doing their exercises.

    I’d really appreciate it if you can find out correct the name of the “Pagoda pork” and how the chef makes the shape. I’d love to try it at home.

  21. megwoo says:

    I second that motion. I would love to make Pagoda Pork at home!!

  22. Chuck@China says:

    megwoo: can’t really give you a recipe other than what I related in my first post: a whole chicken was placed seasoned with herbs and wrapped in leaves, then covered in mud and buried in the gorund over which a fire was built. That’s how the beggars used to cook their chicken. When the mud hardened into clay, the chicken was ready and you broke the clay pot, pealed away the leaves, and ate the chicken. I’m guessing that wu xiang (5 Spice) is a major component of the recipe. Fortunately for me (living in Hangzhou), when I’m in the mood for any of these dishes, I just head out to the nearest (of many) places here that make the dish and leave the cooking to them.

    Doug: Can you ask your friend in Hangzhou what the Chinese name for the “Pagoda Pork” was? “Pagoda” is actually a Japanese word. In Chinese it might be “Ting” or “Ta” or something else. I think I know what dish you are describing, but the Chinese words would help.

    P.S. As a tangent to the whole Dong Po—thing….I recently finished a translation of a Chinese menu for a local hotel. Menu translation both ways – Chinese to English (for Chinese restaurants) and English to Chinese (for western restaurants) – is the bane of translation work here. But in the latest translation, I did learn that the “Dong Po” style is not limited to pork, as they had Dong Po Asparagus, Dong Po Dried Bamboo, and Dong Po Vegetables on the menu. The “Dong Po” apparently relates to the flavor of the sauce and spices used in marinating the pork and vegeatables. You all probably already knew that. But, here in Hangzhou, I only knew Dong Po Rou. I tried the Dong Po Bamboo Shoots this week, and it was so good, I may turn vegggie,

    UPDATE: As I was writing this, I SMS’d one of my closest friends. Her brother is the executive chef at one of the 5-Stars here. He speaks no English. But with her help, we may be able to figure out how to cook this stuff.

  23. megwoo says:

    Thanks for the update Chuck!! Dong Po veggies sound great—I didn’t know that it wasn’t restricted to pork so I might need to do some experimenting in the kitchen!

  24. Doug says:

    I’m looking forward to keeping this conversation going!!!!!!!

    We can all learn a lot from each other.

  25. Stephanie Schehr says:

    I’ve currently got 2 slabs of pork belly steaming away on my stove after enjoying a long braise yesterday. Thank you for posting this description and the recipe. I have a question though. The recipe says to cover the pork twith the strained juice tightly in a bowl and steam. How does this differ from braising in the oven or using a bain marie in the oven? Does it do something different to the texture perhaps? The top of the finished pork in the photos appears to be fairly dry. Does this occur in the bowl in the steamer or does it happen naturally as it awaits plating? Thanks again. Great site!

  26. megwoo says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    That’s a REALLY good question. A question I don’t really have the answer to. Although speaking from experience, the steaming method really did leave the pork meltingly tender and soft. Looking back at the picture it does look like the pork had a crust on it, but it didn’t. There wasn’t anything crisp about the finished pork. So I guess that’s the difference between steaming and braising… I would assume that unless you submerge the pork, the braising method would dry out and crisp the top of the meat.

    Please write again and let me know how it all turns out!

  27. John Haniotis says:

    I actually found this recipe on the web elsewhere but I appreciate your detailed description and hints. I am actually looking for a recipe for belly pork with Ham Choi(salted mustard cabbage?) and/or golden yams. It’s a hot pot dish made with 3-layer (belly) pork, similar to that used in Siu Yok,and the fatty pork taste is offset by the preserved vegetable and the sweet golden yams-five spice powder is a key ingredient if memory serves. Have had this dish in Melbourne Australia, Richmond-Vancouver,and San Francisco Bay Area. ANyone who has a recipe, pls let me know.

  28. megwoo says:

    Oh, pork belly hot-pot sounds incredible. If I find a recipe I’ll let you know!

  29. Doug says:

    Hi Megwoo & Chuck!

    Unfortunately, I lost my laptop after my visit to China in the Spring and with it went all my photos.

    At last, I’ve received copies of thephotos taken by a colleague and would like to share a photo of that marvelous pork dish I told you about.

    Unfortunately I don’t know how to get it on to this page.

    Can anyone help,please?

  30. megwoo says:

    Yes, my blogging software won’t let other users post images or html, but if you want to send the image to me I’d be more than happy to post it!!

    Thanks so much, and Happy Holidays!

  31. megwoo says:

    That is so beautiful!! Now I REALLY want to figure out what it’s called and how to make it. Thanks so much for the photograph…

  32. Doug says:

    Hi Megwoo

    It’s been a long time! Ihope that all is well with you.

    I thought I’d email to see if you are OK?

    I’ve been very busy this year,so sorry for not keeping in touch. Another visit to China,where I enjoyed the pork dish.I’ve also got the recipe, hand-written by the Chef, but it is in Chinese! It’s a great souvenir. I framed it and put it on a kitchen wall.

    I also had my first Chinese pizza – let’s just say that they have a lot to learn about pizza…….

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