This Chinese-inspired pork dish is definitely worth every step of its preparation.
Start off with a good slab of pork belly. Choosing a cut with an even layering of fat and meat will determine this dish’s outcome. I suggest getting it whole from the butcher and processing it yourself at home. This way you’ll end up having much uniform cuts. I cannot think of another cut that can be substituted in here.
Get a pot of salted water to a boil. Put in the meat, and boil for about 2 minutes. Your timer should start as soon as the water comes back to boiling. Make sure you have enough water to get the pork fully submerged.
Blanching the pork would release all its impurities which will be visible as a layer of foam on the liquid’s surface. Skim this off constantly. Also, pre-boiling the pork would make it much easier to cut into perfect cubes.
As soon as the pork has cooled enough to be handled, cut uniform 2″x2″ cubes. Braising it whole would also work but would limit the surface area that would be caramelized.
You may find it difficult to cut through the pork skin. Putting it fat side down on the board, starting your cuts from the meat side, would make this task a lot easier.
Next would be to truss the individual cubes of pork. Secure a single cross of butcher’s twine around each cube, going as tight as you can. This would help the pork retain its shape throughout the braising process, and would make them easier to handle later.
Next, cut those leeks to a length that would cover the base of your slow cooker’s vessel. Arrange them together with the ginger slices, creating a bed for the pork to rest on. On top of adding flavor, this would serve to keep the pork from sticking to the pot. We will be using lots of sugar for this recipe, and that could cause the meat to stick to the pot and eventually burn.
Arrange the pork on top of the leeks and ginger, fat side down. We’ll be flipping them later to get evenly caramelized. Reversing this order would subject the skin to the cooking syrup which by then would have already thickened increasing the chances of the pork sticking to the pot.
The slow cooker I tested this week was the Crock Pot 6-quart SmartPot. This is a nice cooker to use because I can just flick on the switch and not even mess with the timer.
Add the sugar. Try to keep as much of it on top of the pork pieces, and not directly into the sauce. This way, it’ll caramelize slowly, giving the pork a deeper color.
After about six hours on low, carefully flip each pork cube over, ladle some of the cooking liquid on top, and continue for about another four hours. By this time, the cooking liquid would have already developed into a syrup. You may add more stock if it appears to be too thick. Keep in mind that you’ll be cooking this for more time, further reducing those sugars.
When they’re done, carefully take them out of the pot and arrange on a platter. They’ll be so tender and extra fragile at this point if you had skipped on trussing them.
Snip those twines off, arrange them for serving and ladle some of that wonderful caramel on top!