Sunday, 24 February 2013
Nomad Is An Island - Hakka Braised Pork Belly With Preserved Mustard Greens (Moi Choi Kiu Ngiuk / Mui Choy Kau Yuk 梅菜扣肉)
My earliest memories of Hakka cooking date back to my childhood spent in Ipoh, Malaysia where there is a large Hakka population. Hakka literally means "guest people"(客家) and is a rather apt description. Sometimes also known as the nomads, pioneers or travellers, the Hakka has no homeland of their own. Unlike most Chinese subgroups who can be defined by a particular province in China, the Hakka travelled all over China and take roots wherever they landed. They are known to be a resilient and extremely hardworking community.
Part of my family is Hakka and this particular cuisine also played an important part in my growing up. So what is Hakka food? It is what I would describe as Chinese soul food. It's humble, hearty and strongly flavoured. It is uncomplicated and sometimes seen as peasant food. Due to this reason, it is not often seen outside a traditional Hakka household.
Salty and Sweet Preserved Mustard Greens:
There are however, a few exceptions that managed to make appearances on restaurant menu such as Salt baked chicken or Yam Kuk Gai (盐焗鸡) and also this classic, Moi Choi Kiu Ngiuk or more commonly known by the Cantonese name Mui Choy Kau Yuk 梅菜扣肉. This dish paired two traditional Hakka ingredients, the much beloved pork belly (also known as five -flower pork) and the preserved mustard greens. Admittedly, it might not win the best looking dish of the year award and will hardly be able to compete with all the Michelin starred refined plating out there but what this humble dish lacks in appearance, it sure hell makes up in the taste department. The sweet and salty flavours, combined with a mouth watering soft meat and rich, umami laden sauce is just the perfect comfort food anyone will ever need.
Traditionally, the pork belly slices are marinated, fried, before arranged skin side down over the bottom of a dish. The preserved greens and sauce are then layered over this and steamed for hours. This is then inverted over a serving plate, thus the name kiu ngiuk or 'turn over meat'. These days, many adopted the Cantonese way of braising which is less laborious as it did away with need to constantly topping up the steamer with boiling water. Although I personally still prefer the steaming as the moist heat slowly cook and render the pork to succulent softness.
For the Pork:
1kg pork belly, roughly 2cm thick, cut into 5cm length pieces
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp soft brown sugar
2 tsp five spice powder
Oil, for shallow frying
For the preserved mustard greens:
200g sweet preserved mustard green (teem mui choy)
200g salty preserved mustard green (hum mui choy)
1 tbsp peanut or sunflower oil
1 tbsp chopped shallots
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
For the sauce:
5 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp oyster sauce
3 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 piece of dried tangerine peel
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 star anise
3 thin slices fresh ginger, lightly crushed
Prepare the pork. In a small bowl, mix the salt, sugar and five spice powder and rub the pork thoroughly with this mixture. Set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight for the flavours to permeate the meat.
Heat up the oil in a wok/pan over medium heat, roughly 190ºC. Fry the pork pieces until lightly browned. You don't have to completely cook the pork at this stage. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper. Do this in batches so you don't risk overcrowding.
Chop the mustard greens into 2cm pieces and thoroughly wash them to rid of any grits. Place in a large bowl and fill with hot water. Leave for 30-45 minutes, until the thick stems are slightly soften. Drain, rinse and squeeze out any excess water.
Heat up the wok over medium heat until smoking. Add the oil and when smoking, stir fry the shallots, garlic and ginger for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the preserve greens and stir fry until they are almost dry and thoroughly coated. Remove and set aside.
Combined the ingredients for the sauce in a medium pan. Bring to the boil before lowering the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid reduced in half, to about 300 ml.
To assemble, arrange the pork, skin side down, in 1 or 2 rows in a medium sized shallow heatproof dish. Spread the mustard greens over and around the pork. Pour over the reduced sauce.
Prepare the steamer. Line the lid of the steamer with a clean kitchen towel to absorb any condensation, this will dilute the sauce too much. Steam for anything between 4-6 hours until the pork is tender. Top up the steamer with more boiling water whenever it start to look like it's drying up. Carefully remove from steamer. Set a large serving plate over the dish. Holding both tightly over the sink and quickly invert the dish to transfer the preserved mustard greens and pork onto the plate. Serves with plenty of hot steaming rice.
Note: If you prefer a thicker sauce, drain the sauce onto a pan and reduce slightly over high heat. Pour the thickened sauce over the finished dish before serving.