Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Braised Pork Belly (Lor Bak)

I learnt how to make this dish from my mom, who's a talented cook. It's actually a variation on her recipe for braised duck. She used to make braised duck regularly, and would give them to friends and neighbours. They were always delighted to receive her braised duck, cos the latter was truly delicious and fragrant. I'm not saying this cos it's my mom's recipe, but her braised duck is truly the best I've ever tasted. No store-bought version has yet to come close. I guess it's because she's very generous with the quantity and quality of the ingredients. And of course, you can't beat food that's been made with love. :)

Besides being generous with the ingredients, what sets my mom's braising liquid apart is the use of lemongrass and galangal (blue ginger). Most cooks use dark soy sauce, soy sauce, and Chinese five-spice powder as the main ingredients. My mom eschews the five-spice powder as she finds it too pungent. Instead, she prefers the aromatic and delicate flavors of lemongrass and galangal.

So, when mommy dearest left S'pore for a two-year overseas sojourn, her daughter (yours truly) suffered severe withdrawal syndromes. She developed hallucinations of braised ducks flying before her eyes, and even smelled the aroma of braised duck sauce in her dreams. Finally, she could no longer go without her dose of mom's lovely braised sauce. Picking up the phone receiver, she made an IDD call. "Mommy, teach me how to make your braising sauce! Huh...what? Never mind it's nearly 1am over there! I need the recipe. Now!"

Now, after several attempts, I have come close to recreating my mom's yummy sauce. But I substitute the duck with pork belly, cos the preparation of duck is a lot more trouble than pork belly. Also, I haven't learned how to cut up a whole duck. Anyway, my mom used to save the braising sauce from cooking the duck to braise pork belly too. Such is the versatility of braising sauce. It actually gets better when you reuse it. You can also use the leftover sauce to braise whole hard-boiled eggs, firm beancurd (tau kwa), or livers.

Oh, this was so good! Today's pork belly was braised to perfection. The fat was soft yet succulent, and the meat was very tender. And it wasn't too greasy. The pork almost melted in my mouth. Mmmmmmmm......! My only grouse is that it was a tad too salty.

I'm sorry I don't have the exact recipe, cos when I make this dish, I rely purely on estimation, and taste the sauce as I go along. I'll just try to give you a rough idea.

Julia's Mom's Take-Your-Breath-Away Braising Sauce

galangal (blue ginger)
cloves of garlic
finely chopped shallots/red onions
brown sugar
soy sauce
dark soy sauce
vegetable oil

1. Heat up the oil. Add the aromatics: shallots/red onions, lemongrass, galangal, and garlic. Fry till the shallots are soft.

2. Add the meat and mix with the aromatics. Sprinkle brown sugar generously all over the pork. Let the sugar melt. By now, the whole kitchen should be infused with a mind-blowingly sweet, citrusy and intense aroma.

3. When the sugar has melted, add the soy sauce and dark soy sauce. Then add just enough water to cover all the ingredients. Don't put too much water, otherwise the sauce won't be rich and thick.

4. Taste the sauce when it boils. Add more sugar or soy sauce accordingly. Cover, turn the flame to low, and let the meat braise for an hour.

Clockwise from the bowl: chopped onions and shallots, lemongrass, galangal (dunno why this is also called blue ginger when there's no tint of blue at all), and garlic cloves.

For now, I can have my fix of my mom's lovely sauce with pork belly. But for the real deal (braised duck), I'll still have to wait for the Jedi Master to make her Return.



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