Chichi's Chinese: Twice-Cooked Pork
Here's a dish that will make you look like a pro among your friends, but takes just a little know-how to make delicious. Twice-cooked pork is a Sichuan dish of fatty pork leg or belly, skin-on, that gets two very different cooking preparations. The skin is the best part of the dish.
In the first stage, the belly is simmered just until it's cooked through. Then you allow it to cool down in the refrigerator so the fat and the meat firm up. In such a stage, you can slice the meat into very thin slices and already, your guests will marvel at your handiwork. Belly is an impressive cut of meat to manipulate. It looks the strata of some rock—you get a layer of fat, a layer of meat, and then the skin on top.
In stage two, you get your wok hot and you add some oil. Stir-fry the slices of belly until the meat is brown, the fat has rendered somewhat, and the layer of skin is a little crispy around the edges. The slices of meat curl in the heat. Watch for the skin to turn brown and crispy, then add to the wok this holy trinity of Chinese pastes: black bean, chili bean, and sweet bean. Immediately, the pork sops up the flavors: salty, sweet, and spicy with an earthy, fermented undertone. A very winning flavor.
The Sichuanese typically stir-fry this dish with a kind of leek, but state-side you'd be hard-pressed to find leeks so tender. Ramps are a good substitute, as are plain old green onions. The real draw of the dish is the fatty, skin-on pork. The greens take a backseat to the irresistible little squares of thin belly meat. It is probably one of my favorite preparations ever for belly.
Imagine fresh bacon, which is then almost deep-fried, and you'll have some idea of what the texture is like: tender, toothsome, and crisp all at once.
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About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.