Saving My Braised Pork Belly

From forgetting to remove the plastic wrap inside my hood before switching it on while cooking in the kitchen to almost dropping my glassware because of my butter fingers, I am a bona fide klutz and a real disaster in the kitchen. But there is one thing I’m very good at, and that is being stubborn as hell. If I want to do something, no one can stop me, and if I don’t, no one can make me do anything.

Take it from The F Man. He spent 7 years or so asking me to make him a sandwich and I have always refused (just a joke ah people, please don’t get #triggered and up in arms about the patriarchy). No one can make me make them a sandwich ever, let alone whip up something substantial in the kitchen.

But domestic disaster here decided that yesterday was the day for me to use my kitchen and make the F Man and myself some good Braised Pork Belly or Lor Bak (滷肉). Also, I wanted to cook something simple on Sunday for my dad when he pops by to visit and this was what came to mind.

After a couple of hours (three to be exact), this was my finished product.

My first attempt at making Lor Bak

This is my absolute first time trying this recipe and I have never learnt how to make it from either my mom or my dad. I was always a pretty lazy kid, so I never bothered to learn. So I went online to research a couple of different Lor Bak recipes.

I analysed the different steps and decided to roughly follow the steps based on the recipes I found on Budget Pantry, while incorporating some tweaks to the ingredients based on the other recipes (here and here). I also wanted to achieve the “watery” type of Lor Bak I grew up eating in my childhood, instead of the thick sauce-like gravy version.

Ingredients

All agak-agak because I screwed up

Placed spices in easy to reach glasses for ease during cooking

I did a lot of agak-ration (rough estimation), because I became a bit too determined to “cover the pork belly with water” during simmering and added way too much, so I don’t know if these ingredients are accurate. I spent a lot of time tasting the sauce as it simmered to see if the flavour was right and adding a bit more of this and that from my ingredients list to make sure everything balanced out.

It turned out not bad for a first attempt.

Here’s roughly my list of ingredients:

  • 2 slices of pork belly and 3 pieces of boneless pork shoulder for stewing
  • 3 eggs (hard boiled)
  • 4 pieces of tau pok (tofu puffs)
  • Cooking oil (just a thin layer in the pot during searing)
  • 3 teaspoon of rock sugar (during searing) and another 3 teaspoons while simmering

For the gravy

  • 1.2L of water
  • 2 tablespoons dark soya sauce, and then another 3 generous tablespoons after realising I added too much water
  • 1 tablespoon light soya sauce, and then another 2 generous tablespoons
  • 6 tablespoons of Shao Hsing Hua Diao Jiu (Cooking Wine)
  • 1 star anise, and then another 2 star anise
  • 4 cloves, and then another 4 – 5 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, and afterwards I added another stick

For added flavour (to taste)

  • Pinch of salt (or rather, a few)
  • Ground white pepper (to taste)
  • 4 thin slices of old ginger (a last minute addition)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

I didn’t have garlic, so I left it out, but it would probably have added more flavour and depth to the braised pork belly. Too bad.

Steps

I tried my best to follow them, but improvised a little

Simmering in progress! Check on the tenderness of the pork belly by cutting them.

1. Searing the Pork Belly

One of the best tips I’ve read through the various food blogs was to start off by searing the pork belly on both sides for a couple of minutes with melted sugar, so that the meat would be nice and caramelised before braising. I chose to use rock sugar. Let me repeat again, BEST TIP EVER. It does take a bit more time, but completely worth it.

I did however overcook it by going over 4 minutes on each side and heat was something I was still trying hard to control. On retrospect I’d probably shorten the time to maybe 2 – 3 minutes since I’m clumsy, rather slow and need time to “scoop out” the pork. I thus risk overcooking the slices. I was saved by Jolyn who recommended that I just cut the pork into smaller pieces to reduce the braising time required for the pork to soften.

I seared the pork in a Happy Call wok-pan. While I was advised to remove the excess oil, I left it there as there wasn’t much left, but took out the seared pork pieces.

2. Preparing my Eggs

Hard boil my eggs in a separate pot at the same time for 10 minutes. Once done, I just leave the eggs to cool down before peeling them. If you peel them when they are super hot, the shell tends to stick to the egg white. So I patiently wait until they are warm to the touch before I peel off the shells easily.

3. Preparing the gravy-sauce

With the same Happy Call wok-pan (with all those juices and oil leftover from the searing), I added water, light soya sauce, dark soya sauce, cooking wine and all the spices.

I return the pork pieces to the mixture and leave it to simmer.

As I added so much water, I had to wait for it to simmer and reduce itself, but I took the time to make adjustments to the gravy, adding extra rock sugar, ginger slices and pepper to taste. I also added little pinches of salt because there was a point the gravy was so watery, it was tasteless. I also added a tablespoon of sesame oil as I was braising for extra flavour.

4. Patience while braising

Braising is like a fool-proof way to get super tender pork. Braising is basically a method where you cook something on low heat, in a liquid concoction for a long period of time. The longer the pork is left simmering, the softer it becomes as the connective tissue breaks down.

The recipe I followed suggested 1.5 hours, but I braised the pork belly for about 2.5 hours because I added too much water and overcooked the pork in the first place during searing. To be absolutely sure the meat wouldn’t be tough, I left it cooking for a longer period.

This is the tedious part… I’d check on my braised pork belly every 10 minutes to make sure everything was okay. Towards the end (last thirty minutes), I just kept it on really low heat and left it alone. I was getting tired, okay! 

5. Adding in Finishing Touches

I placed the already hard boiled eggs into the wok-pan with the braised pork belly towards the last 30 minutes of cooking. I added the tau pok during last 5 minutes of cooking.

Some Great Tips

For consideration only

Added hard boiled eggs to simmer with the pork belly and spices

  • I’d highly recommend instead of over fire, to use a pressure or slow cooker to braise the lor bak as if you cook it in a pot/pan/wok, you’ll need to be really careful and check on the braising every 10 minutes or so.
  • Leave eggs and tau pok in for longer if you want them to absorb the gravy properly. At least an hour or longer is required.
  • Consider adding five spice powder (just half a teaspoon) and try not to leave the garlic out
  • Store your spices in a storage container or similar that is easy to access. The last thing you want is to struggle with getting the spices out of the bottle before you need to place them in your mixture!

I made a batch that could potentially serve 3 – 4 people

The F Man rated this a B+ and I’m pretty happy with that score. I personally enjoyed eating it and thought it was quite similar to that home-cooked feel from my childhood that I was going for. Wish I had thought of preparing rice, but we didn’t have rice at home, so I guess the slightly more “watery” consistency with less intense saltiness was a good thing in the end.

I guess this Lor Bak recipe is one that anyone can get ready and that’s really awesome for a newbie like me. Next up, maybe Chai Por Egg?

So that’s the end of my first attempt at cooking in my brand new home and kitchen. What do you think?

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