Tung Po Pork Belly (Red Braised Pork Belly)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Chinese New Year is coming.

I know the year has not ended yet and there is Christmas before we get there.

But let me alert you again,  CNY is round the corner.

Very soon after you put down the carolling sheets, clean up the mess which your children will make at their Christmas party or finish the NY countdown, it will be ang pow time soon.

For 2012 CNY is happening on the 23rd of January. The same day where Man U will play Arsenal (and beat them of course). That is barely three weeks after the year has started.

If you are responsible for the CNY reunion dinner, as I have largely been since my Mum passed away, you better plan early.

I am starting a new series on some recipes which you may want to try out for CNY dinners. Or maybe they will just give you some fresh ideas.

Why not blog for Christmas, you may ask?

You want me to blog a roast chicken recipe? A roast? Steaks? Just google it and you will find thousands of recipes online, some with instructional videos. But time permitting, I may just blog a few.

You won't find the same when you google for Chinese recipes. And especially the special ones which you would love to have on your reunion table. You may find a few good ones but you will not be spoilt for choice.

So, there I go again, sending into cyberspace some recipes which I trust are a helpful contribution to the cuisine of my ancestors.

I will start with "Tung Po" Pork Belly.

Slow poached Red Braised Pork was a regular feature at our reunion dinners when my Mum was around. What she usually made was Braised Pork Knuckles.

If you are trying to diet (and that is a forbidden word during CNY), this dish of knuckles will literally bring you to your knees.

Braised Pork Knuckles is spectacular as the skin and fat is the first thing you see. In fact, cooked and presented correctly, it should be the only thing you see at first.

And when it is placed on the table, the whole thing shimmers. No kidding. Like the shimmering glass of water on the car's dashboard in Jurassic Park, it will make for a spectacular effect as the dinosaur approaches. (I should pause to add that at your CNY dinner, the tremor is more likely to come from your large uncle or auntie approaching the table.)

And if you look carefully, you can also see yourself after the shimmering stops.

You dig in with your chopsticks, shattering your portrait.

You pick up a luscious golden piece of  the unmentionable layer. With your chopstick, of course.

You let it melt in your mouth.


The flavor and texture hits you as the unmentionable swirls in your mouth.

Rich, creamy, fruity, spicy and aromatically complex.

Swine is indeed better than wine (*what a groaner*).

If you are in PJ or KL, you can hear some fire crackers going off illegally somewhere and the tune of "Kong Si, Kong Si, Kong Si Nee..."
Gan Chao

And you know CNY has arrived.

The recipe I present here is basically what my Mum will use for her Braised Pork Knuckles. Only that here, I am using it for pork belly. In restaurants, the pork belly is normally presented in a large slab. It looks great and you are meant to go for the unmentionable first.

At home, and unless it is CNY dinner, you can braise it in strips if you don't want to bother about presentation as it cooks faster this way. But talking about 'fast', it is all relative as this piece of meat needs to be slow-cooked. One hour minimum and likely more.

As I have been cooking pork belly in all its local variations (here, here. here and here), the learning curve was shorter I  got it about right the second time round. And I think I can still improve on it and will try out some variations. Of course, one of the variations will be a Sous Vide version.

That said, don't be discouraged as it does take a long while generally to master a dish. I heard Gordon Ramsay said that it took him many a year to master Beef Wellington. Coming from a top chef, that is encouraging!

Here is the recipe.


“Tung Po” Pork Belly (Red Braised Pork Belly)

1 kilo
  1. Blanch the pork (in a slab or strips) in hot water for 5 minutes to remove the impurities
rock sugar
young ginger
star anise
licorice sticks (gan chao)
white peppercorns
light soy sauce
dark soy sauce
red glutinous yeast (optional)
chinese wine

Butterhead Lettuce
Coriander Leaves

3 tablespoons
3 cloves (whole)
a few slices
2 tablespoons

1 stick
1 piece
2 pieces

1 teaspoon
3 tablespoon
1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon
2 teaspoons

  1. Heat up the oil in a deep wok or pot.
  2. Add the rock sugar and simmer in low heat till it melts
  3. Add the ginger, garlic & spices
  4. Add the pork and fry for about 5 minutes.
  5. Then add the seasoning
  6. Add enough water to cover the pot
  7. Cover pot/wok and simmer for 2 hours or till it is soft enough to your liking
  8. Add corn starch to thicken the sauce. 
  9. Adjust the taste.
  10. Serve it hot. Place the pork on anew of lettuce and garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with chili sauce on the side.

Some notes:
Induction cooker w a timer
  1. If you are new to Chinese herbal stuff, 'gan chao' can be a put off. It is just a sweet licorice herb and it imparts a nice herbal scent of sweetness. Go easy as one or two can scent up your dish easily. Be easy on your other spices too. Cinammon and star anise can make a lot of difference to any dish. In scaling the recipe, don't scale up spices in the same way. A 3 kg of pork belly will only need slightly more spice that that used for 1 kg of it. If you triple your cinnamon stick, it will overpower the dish.
  2. If you have made Char Siew and Tau Yew Bak, you should see Tung Po as at the end of the scale in terms of how soft the meat should be. You should be able to pick up the fat and meat with one chopstick. The 2 hours indicated here is just a guide as it depends on other variable factors, such as the fire, amount of pork belly, type of pot etc. Remember to monitor the water level as you want to slowly poach the meat.
  3. The caramelized sauce should be thick and concentrated. Corn flour will do the trick and you should know by now that you should always mix the flours first in some water before adding to the pot. Adjust taste with more soy sauce or sugar towards the end if you need to.
  4. My mum always fries the pork first, especially when she is using knuckles. Apparently, it helps the fat to be softer. Or perhaps it helps to keep it in shape. I have not figured out the science nor have I tested he difference. For the moment, we shall obey. The main thing about this dish is to get the texture right and the fat part is the star of the dish. The lean meat should also pulls off nicely. It is best if tung po pork is cooked and served in larger slices so that the tender meat pulls off in larger chunks.
  5. This is best eaten with rice or buns.
  6. As this dish need to be cooked slowly, expect 2 hours or more for larger qualities. I like to use my Induction Cooker as it has a timer. I set it to simmer at lowest setting and go to work, knowing that it will be ready when I am back later.
      Till the next CNY post, happy planning.

      You can add the boiled eggs and tau kwa for a more complete one dish meal.

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      1. It's me again. Jux wonder can I cook this dish using an induction cooker? Thx!


      2. Errata: what I meant was pressure cooker. Thx!


      3. I am not sure whether high temperature will be good for this dish. I reckon it should work. Give it a try and let me know!

      4. Hi, what is red glutinous yeast? Where can one get them? Any possibility to post some pics of it?