Circle B Ranch Pork Belly with Dried Bamboo Shoots
Bamboo shoots, common in the Jiangnan area of China, are a deliciously fragrant addition to Chinese food. They do require some getting used to, but when you have acquired a taste for them, they are addictive, and you’ll understand why pandas love them so much!
Fresh bamboo shoots are best but not easily available, so dried are the next best thing, and they will not disappoint. Bamboo shoots are taken from the new bamboo buds, flattened and cooked in salt water, and then dried. Dried bamboo shoots have a delightful fragrance combined with a delicious saltiness which complements fatty ingredients very nicely, especially pork.
So, put on your panda suit and let’s get started with making Pork Belly with Dried Bamboo Shoots!
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this recipe:
150 g dried bamboo shoots
800 g Circle B Ranch pork belly
35 g sugar
dash of vegetable oil for frying
1 bay leaf
15 g ginger
30 g scallions
20 ml (1 tablespoon) cooking wine
2 star anise
1 small piece of cinnamon stick no more than 2cm
1 small dried chili
20 ml light soy sauce
35 ml dark soy sauce
1 sprig of fresh marjoram for garnish
When choosing pork belly, choose a piece that has a moderate amount of fat. If the fat is too thick, the dish will be too rich with a greasy result, and if too thin it will be too dry. Circle Branch Pork has a good a selection of quality pork to choose from.
Step 1: Soak the Dried Bamboo
The bamboo shoots need to soak in warm water in advance for 3 hours. Change the water a couple of times to keep it clear.
Step 2: Pretreat the Pork
There are a few ways to pretreat pork: shallow frying with a small amount of oil or boiling in water being the main methods. The purpose of pretreatment is to seal the meat’s surface to avoid bleeding and maintain clarity in the dish’s liquid, and also to eliminate the ‘fishy’ odor of fresh meat.
Today we are using the practice of the Western kitchen: cutting the pork into small pieces and shallow frying, which sounds the same as the Chinese method of frying, but there is one main difference. In Western cooking, the meat is left to brown and then turned until each side is browned, whereas the Chinese stir fry method moves the meat around constantly. The Western method is a little more time consuming as each piece of meat is turned individually, but it gives a better golden-brown result – which is what we want for this dish. Stir frying is quicker as it tosses multiple pieces at once and browns more uniformly, but does not produce the golden browning that is best for this dish.
Take a flat bottomed non-stick pan and heat for 2 minutes and add a small amount of vegetable oil.
Place the pork pieces into the pan, and turn using tongs until all sides of the meat are a pale golden yellow. Remove the fried pork and put aside.
Knowing how long to fry the pork in the pan is something that takes experience, but here’s a couple of tips. If you fry the pork for too long the caramelization will be darker and add more flavor and fragrance to the dish, however, due to the loss of fat from longer cooking, the meat itself will be tougher.
A shorter cooking time will mean the meat is a lighter color, making the flavor lighter and the meat will be more tender. If you don’t cook the meat enough, the dish will be too greasy. Thus, a pale golden color is what you want.
The process of shallow frying pork can damage a pan from small droplets of oil splashing onto the sides and sintering, adversely affecting the performance of the non-stick surface. It’s best not to use a brand-new pan for this.
Step 3: Make the Candy
Take an 18 or 20 cm diameter saucepan with a lid (cast iron pot, heavy based non-stick pan, or a stainless steel pot ) and warm slightly. Add 15 ml of vegetable oil, and then pour in the 35 grams of sugar. Heat the sugar on medium until it melts into a liquid.
Reduce the heat to low and watch the sugar carefully as it turns a nice golden color, as in the photo below. Turn off the gas immediately. The sugar will continue to cook in the hot pan, so as it darkens to a golden brown, quickly add in the fried pork.
Working quickly, flip the pieces of pork to coat them evenly with the candy. Sugar is very hot when it is cooked, so you will need to be careful when you add the pork to the candy as the juices will spatter. If you don’t wear glasses, you may wish to wear safety glasses for this step.
Step 4: Add the Spices
Once the meat is evenly colored, turn the gas back on to medium heat and add the sliced ginger, star anise, chopped scallions (including the white part), bay leaf, cinnamon and dried red chili.
Stir in the spices quickly then add the cooking wine and soy sauces. Stir fry to combine.
Pour in hot water against the side of the pot until the meat is submerged. Don’t pour in too much water – we are not making soup here! Remember our teacher Su Dongpo said the secret of a good braised pork is less water and slow cooking on low heat. Try to avoid pouring water directly on the meat, or you will wash away the color.
Cover with the lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the flame to low and start timing.
Step 5: Add the Bamboo Shoots
While the pork is simmering away, remove the bamboo shoots from the soaking water, drain and cut into 2-3 cm small sections.
After one hour, open the lid of the simmering pork and sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt, stir quickly, and then add the chopped bamboo shoots. Press them down into the meat, cover and continue simmering on low for another 30 minutes. Done!
Can you smell that rich, mellow fragrance? Hmm, delicious! Garnish with fresh marjoram and plate up at the dinner table.
Once you taste this dish, you will realize that bamboo shoots are not just for pandas! It’s a good thing pandas are vegetarian, or you’d be fighting them for my Dried Bamboo Pork Belly. Delicious and addictive!