Why are pigs so damn delicious and yet they get so much sticks for being just what they are - Lazy? Lack of exercise and intense workout resulted in high fat content, in turn develop into a brimful of umami and that makes them very special and flavoursome indeed. Without the fat, there will be none of those much sort after cracklings, so delicious that the very mention of this crispy treats will lit up the eyes of any pork-lover around and send them into a feeding frenzy, think a-drop-of-blood-in-an-ocean-full-of-piranhas or the-first-day-of-boxing-day-sale and you'll get the drift. Madness, sheer madness!
We Peranakan have an firm affinity for all things porky. We love the swine so much we jump at every opportunities there are to include them in most of our meals. Take fore instance the Buddha's Delight. Traditionally a Chinese vegetarian dish treasured by the Buddhist monks but in the hands of a Nyonya, get a complete makeover into a pork-rich Chap Chye, no more plain old boring vegetable dish.
And then there is this, Babi Assam, which take the majestic fat-ladden pork belly, throw in some tangy tamarind and slow braised for hours and hours until soft and tender. I have made this with pork cheeks before and it taste equally delicious but to me, the flavours from the layers of fat in pork belly is second to none.
Just like many Nonya braised dishes such as Babi Pongteh and Beef Rendang, this just get better with age and I will definitely encourage you to make this at least a couple of days in advance. Stored it in the fridge and then reheat for a rich, delicious supper which is what I did at my recent supperclub. Needless to day, it was very well received and the crowd loved it.
A perfect dish for a wintry night.
Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
600g pork belly, cut into large pieces
3 tbsp groundnut oil
3 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp tau cheo, preserved soy bean paste
2 stalks lemongrass, lightly bruised
3 tbsp Gula Melaka
sea salt, to taste
2 fresh green chilli, to garnish
2 fresh red chilli, to garnish
For the rempah/spice paste:
1 tbsp belacan (shrimp paste), toasted in a dry pan
6 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
10 shallots or 1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
6 candlenuts (buah keras)
3 tbsp chopped fresh galangal
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
Using a mortar and pestle, pound all the ingredient for the rempah/spice paste into a fine paste. Alternatively, blitz the ingredients in a food processor.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and lightly blanch the pork belly pieces. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
Heat the oil in a wok or large pan over medium heat. Stir fry the rempah for 5-6 minutes, until fragrant.
Add the preserved soy bean paste and cook for another minute before adding the blanched pork belly and lemongrass. Stir to coat the pork pieces with the spices before adding the gula Melaka and water and bring to the boil. Place the lid on, lower the heat and gently simmer for at least 2 hours (or 10 hours if like me, you have the time. The longer you cook it for, the more tender it will become), until the pork is tender and the sauce have reduced and thickened. Add a touch more water if it start to look too dry. Season with salt to taste.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot, garnished with the green and red chillies.