Thursday, 24 January 2013

Aromatic pork belly hotpot

My husband absolutely loves Chinese food. If you want to make him seriously happy, ring him up and say "Shall we go out for dim sum?" This year for his birthday I am going to make a thing happen that I've failed to every year we've been together to do, and organise a party at a Chinese restaurant, get one of those tables with a big swirly round glass rotating thing in the middle. It's all he wants really, ever - to be about to sit down to a big spread of Chinese platefuls.

But as well as dainty dim sum bites, he also likes the scarier aspects of Chinese food; he is completely down with the Chinese love of texture - finding a plateful of cold jellyfish or chicken's feet as interesteing as a steamed pork bun. Often even more so.

I've never had that much success cooking Chinese food. Curries are easy, but I start out trying to make something Chinese and it turns into a Thai stir-fry.

But the other day I stumbled across a recipe for an Aromatic (i.e. Chinese) pork belly hotpot. There is a very famous Singaporean restaurant in North London called Singapore Garden, which does something very similar and I thought I would re-create it for Giles last night.

Because he is a bit down in the dumps, my husband. He is so, so bored. It is dark. We are not in the middle of an exciting boxset. I am grumpy and fat and not interested in anything except lying down and not being spoken to or looked directly in the eye.

Anyway this thing, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, was absolutely terrific. Really amazing. And very simple, in fact - it only required a few things and the prep was easy.

I had been considering doing a Massaman curry but the list of ingredients was quite bonkers. Reading it and losing more and more heart as the ingredient list went endlessly on brought to mind that thing of when someone suggests a night out and it all sounds great but then they start saying "... the restaurant's in Putney... then we could all go out dancing...." and you look outside and it's just started snowing again and you say "Oh actually I think I've got a bit of a throat coming on, might give it a miss *Click Brrrr.*"

So if you like the sound of this hotpot, please give it a go because it produces something really quite echt and marvellous. It is, because it is pork belly, quite fatty and glutionous, so if you've got a bit of a "thing" about fat, this isn't for you. I mostly mean you, Becky B.

The only other drawback is that, like a lot of Chinese food, that it makes you thirsty as hell afterwards.

Aromatic Pork Belly Hotpot
Serves 4

1kg pork belly, skin on
8 spring onions
dried chillies
1 fresh red chilli
1 pint chicken stock
100ml light soy sauce (absolutely not dark)
75ml Chinese rice or mirin wine
25ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
3 star anise fruits (fruits??? have always thought that was stupid)
10cm fresh ginger peeled and cut into slim pieces. Yes I know it is hard with a knobbly bit of ginger to achieve this, but just do your best
1 nest of fine egg noodles per person
1 little whatsit of baby bok choi per person

1 Chop up your belly into chunks, leaving the skin on

2 Put it in a pot and cover it with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Scoop off the yukky scum that floats to the top. Try to ignore the slightly nasty porky stench.

3 Drain the pork, give the pan a rinse and then put the meat back in. Chop 5 spring onions in half and chuck these in then add the stock, soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, sugar, star anise, ginger and a good pinch of dried chilli.

4 Now simmer all this for 2 hours with a lid firmly on.

5 After this time, lift the pork out with a slotted spoon and put to one side. If you have a gravy separator, run the remaining liquid through it to get the worst of the grease off. If you don't, do your best skimming the top off the liquid with a spoon.

6 Now boil the liquid briskly to reduce it a bit. Keep tasting as it boils because what you don't want is to reduce it too much and just get a far, far too salty thing. Better it still be a bit runny but edible.

7 Put the pork back into the liquid and turn the bok choi in the stew for 5-10 mins to steam.

8 Serve on a bed of noodles with some fresh chilli (no seeds) and spring onions cut on the diagonal over the top.

Eat and try to look on the bright side.


  1. You got me at pork belly. This sounds and looks fantastic. Star anise fruits? I agree, that's stupid. Will give this hotpot a go sometime.
    I can't stomach chicken feet, but do love cold jellyfish.

  2. This looks really good. Does most of the skin-fat come off after the simmering/skimming stage? Or are you still left with it on the meat? I don't mind fat when it's roasted, but wouldn't be sure about it it was sitting on the chunks of pork.

    1. Some of it melts off during cooking, other bits stay on. The idea is that you eat it - it's perfectly tasty - but I sympathise with those who are squeamish about it. You can eat around it, or remove it before serving if you like, but it must be on the pork while it's cocoking.

  3. Star anise nubbins - much better.

  4. This sounds perfect for my husband. He is always trying to smuggle pork belly into our shopping basket.

  5. Thanks, now I need to get some pork belly tomorrow! Have done something similar and quickly seared the pork on chargrill before plating.

  6. Not sure about the cold jellyfish or the chickens feet, but I could definitely do this. Sounds gorgeous. I hate that fat and grumpy stage of pregnancy (oh, actually, that was all of both my pregnancies). How long have you got to go?

  7. This sounds delicious! I've been living in mainland China for two years now and the novelty of hotpot has worn off - it's fun to take visitors to but cooking my own meat in the soup then chasing it round the pot with chopsticks is an effort. Will have to try this when I'm back in England.

  8. Your blog is very entertaining, love your free writing style but 'scuse me I see chilli seeds on that dish!

  9. This is one my fav recipes from the Meat cookbook. Perfect for a sunday night, although I'm lazy and just chuck in a premixed spice blend, which seems to work just as well.

  10. *Runs to the shop for pork belly and pok choi*

  11. Absolutely any dish featuring pork belly gets my attention. This sounds perfect although I never would have been able to stomach the smell of boiling the pork for a few minutes whilst pregnant.
    I will be making this soon.

  12. Do you think it would be possible to cook the pork and make the sauce the day before? And then just add bok choi and cook noodles the next night?

    Trying to think of something for a dinner party that I can cook night before, and anything mince based (i.e horse) is obviously off the menu.


    1. Eliza yes this is ideal for that. Any stew or braise is, also, much better for being reheated the next day