When I was growing up, we rarely got to eat kong bak bao (扣肉包). This was because cooking the meat is a lengthy process involving quite a few steps and people would normally only cook this at large family gatherings or for special occasions.
“Kong bak” simply means pork belly that has been braised in thick soy caramel, and “bao” refers to the steamed Chinese buns that are used to sandwich the meat.
In recent years, however, kong bak baos have become more common. I have seen them being sold in food courts, as well as restaurants, but they are not cheap, and most of the time, not even very tasty.
I have been thinking of making kong bah bao for a while, mainly because everyone at home really likes them. On my last trip to the wet market, I bought a piece of pork belly and since I was free this weekend, I decided it was time to get cooking!
As always, I have broken the cooking process down into simpler steps.
The first thing I did was to boil a large pot of water. Once the water had come to a boil, I placed the pork belly into the water and cooked it for 20 minutes. At the end of this time, the pork was lifted and placed on a cooling rack.
Using a fork, I poked as many holes as I could on the skin, making sure that the fork also penetrated into the layer of fat under the skin. This would allow the fat to render out later.
When the pork had cooled a little, I dried the pork as best as I could with a piece of paper towel. Then I used my hand to rub the soy caramel into the skin.
I placed about a cup of oil in the wok, and heated the wok until the oil was somewhat hot. This is important because they would be a lot of splattering once the pork hit the oil, so start with a lower heat!!
I added the pork (very carefully), then turned the hear to medium high, and covered the wok.
After 6 minutes, I turned off the heat, waited 2 more minutes, then lifted the cover. By this time, the skin would have turned crispy. The pork was transferred onto the cooling rack and left to cool.
In the meantime, I made the sauce by mixing the remaining soy caramel, shallots, garlic, honey, five-spice power, Shaoxing wine and sesame oil in a bowl.
I cut the pork into 1/2 inch thick slices, and coated them with the sauce.
In a skillet, I heated sugar with oil. Once the sugar had caramelised and turned light brown, I added star anise and pan-fried the pork. This need not take too long – I was only searing the pork.
Once all the pieces had been lightly seared, they were returned into the skillet, along with the remaining sauce. I added water, and braised the pork, covered, on low heat for about 2 hours. (Remember to stir once in a while.)
At the end of 1.5 hours, I started checking on the pork more regularly. You want the meat to be soft and the sauce to have thickened.
All that remained was to steam the buns, stuff them with the meat, lettuce and coriander, drizzle some of the sauce and EAT!!
OH MY… OH MY… OH MY… Enough said.
*NOM* *NOM* *NOM*
- 1 kg pork belly (preferably with 1/3 fat and 2/3 lean meat)
- 1/2 tbsp thick caramel (soy) + 4 tbsp extra
- Vegetable oil for deep frying - I used about 1 cup of oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped - I used 4 shallots
- 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
- 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 star anise - I used 2 star anise
- 1 tsp sesame oil - I used 2 tsp
- 1 1/2 cups water (approx) - I used 2 cups
- Salt, pepper and sugar to taste - I omitted the sugar
- Tiny pinch of MSG - I omitted this
- Coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add in the whole piece of pork. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove and rinse the pork. Pat dry and let it cool slightly.
- Using a fork, pierce through the skin (about 50 times) to make many little holes in it. Make sure you pierce right through to the layer of fat beneath the skin.
- Rub the skin all over with 1/2 tbsp thick caramel.
- Heat enough oil in a wok (about 1 1/2 inches) on medium heat. Don't let it get too hot yet because you need to fry the skin-side of the pork.
- Lower the pork carefully into the oil (remember, just moderately hot) and quickly cover with a large lid or splatter screen. Turn up the heat to med-high so that the skin can crisp up in the oil. Be careful as the oil may sputter or splash.
- When the skin is evenly browned and crisp (this may take 5 minutes or so), turn off the fire and carefully remove the pork with a good pair of tongs. Drain off the excess oil and set aside to let it cool slightly.
- Slice the pork into 1/2 inch thick slices.
- Place the pork in a bowl and combine with the remaining 4 tbsp thick caramel, shallots, five-spice, soy, honey, wine, garlic and sesame oil. Mix well to marinate.
- In a medium sized pot, heat up 1 tbsp vegetable oil together with 2 tbsp sugar. When the sugar dissolves and starts to caramelize and turn light brown, add in the star anise and the pork together with the marinade liquid.
- Fry on medium-high heat until the pork is seared all over, then add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until it comes down to a gentle simmer.
- Cover with a lid and simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the pork is tender and the sauce should be reduced to a slightly syrupy consistency. Turn the slices of pork occasionally so that they are evenly covered with the sauce.
- Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste, and MSG if desired. Dish out and garnish with coriander leaves.