A Sous Vide Diary: Roast Pork Belly (Sio Bak)Wednesday, January 04, 2012
(I have since improved on the recipe further. Read it here.)
I continue with my diary on my experiments with Sous Vide cooking.
It has become an indispensable tool in my kitchen and it will be used for this coming CNY dinner. I have said more about it here.
As I have mentioned before, we are getting a glimpse of the modern home kitchen in Sous Vide. But you should not be pressured into jumping on the bandwagon unless you think it will work for you.
Don't expect SV gadgets to be featured by all those lovely elderly housewives pushing the latest woks and pots at the super stores. It will still take some time for the pool of home cooks out there to understand this cooking method.
After all, cooking appliances like the microwave, oven steamers and pressure cooker have been here for many years now. These are not like communication IT gadgets, where you may feel left out if you ignore it for too long. Till today, these appliances are still catching on for many.
So, take your time. I like the Sous Vide Magic a great deal and I think it suits my home kitchen perfectly. It has a geeky feel and can do with some improvement in design elegance. But as my wife has said, it is easy to learn using it - just press buttons. If I can get round to some demos for some friends who are interested, it may help.
I have been using this gaadget to cook dinners for many gatherings by now. Of late, new dishes which I had success with includes a beef short ribs dish which turned out spectacularly (will blog this soon) and Chinese Roast Pork. Please note this: as with every other method of cooking, you will need time and experience to master this technique. So, be patient. And for most recipes, SV does not replace but complements. For Roast Pork, the oven or pan is still used to crackle the skin and the fridge for drying.
Sio Bak (or Siu Yuk if you are Cantonese) is one special pork dish where the skin should receive some well deserved crackling attention. I have no recollection of my Mum making this. But as a boy, I was always very fascinated with the whole roast pig which was offered to the gods on the 8th day (my mother is Hokkien) of Chinese New Year.
So, I had to cobble together recipes I could get hold off, including ideas from David Chang of Momofuku, Thomas Keller, Ieat interesting post on the Chinese version and also a Sous Vide version here.
The marinade is straightforward: definitely 5-spices with added salt and pepper if you are going for a Chinese or local version. This is simple enough. But a good Sio Bak goes beyond just a crackling skin. The meat needs to be moist with the right texture.
The challenge lies in crackling the skin without drying out the meat.
Meat loses its moisture when it is cooked because of constriction. The higher the heat, the more moisture it loses. It is the same in the oven or a vacuum bag. It is a common misunderstanding that the vacuum bag keeps the meat moist. Get your temp too high or cook for too long, and your SV meat will be overcooked or drier. You can tell this quite easily as moisture loss can be seen as it's trapped in the bag. The amount of water indicates the extent of moisture loss.
Coming back to roast pork, SV cooking can be used to cook the meat just right. And then you use the oven to crackle the skin. But the skin needs to be dry enough to crackle. Leaving it skin side up in the fridge for a few hours or overnight will do the trick. Or a good two hours in front of a fan or using the oven blow-dry method (the oven is a great dehydrator: switch on at low temp). Or hang it up in a dry place.
|Pressing the slabs of pork using the granite mortar!|
After that, roast it skin side upwards in the oven for about 15 minutes. These are the steps I use:
- Have the butcher cut up the meat into 4 to 5 in square blocks (to fit into my rice cooker). Choose pork belly cuts which are even. A kilo slab can be cut into two square blocks.
- Then marinate (5-spice powder, salt and white pepper). For better presentation, you may want to have the slabs pressed flat and you can do it but putting some weight on the top tray for a few hours in the fridge, as can be seen in the photo.
- Then, vacuum pack it and SV for 6 hours at 72 C.
- Next, dry up the skin using some of the methods mentioned. I leave it for overnight at the top of the fridge.
- Then grill the skin side up in the oven for about 15-20 minutes at 200 C. Cooked skin crisps easily. If some parts of the skin are still soggy or soft, just grill longer. It is okay to have charred bits as they can be easily scraped off.
- Remember that it is easier to cut the pork when it is lukewarm or cold. Cut the pork meat side up with the skin on the chopping block.
|Leaving at the top shelf of the fridge overnight to dry the skin|
- SV (6 hours at 72C))
- Dry Skin (Fridge or fan)
- Oven (20 mins at 200C)
|After the SV cooking and a few hours in the |
fridge to dry the skin.
When I do get round to making it with a non-SV method successfully, I will blog it up.I have to admit that the SV method gives me the control I need and I doubt I will be enthusiastic with other methods. I remain open to other ideas to improve on this recipe or variate.
|It is gorgeous when served with Mantou (steamed bread) with a dash of good sesame Peking sauce and veg|