One of the dishes that I crave most after moving here is my mom’s braised pork belly (aka tau yu bak). Her fuss-free and ridiculously simple recipe is made with only 5 ingredients! Braised for 2 to 2 1/2 hours on the stove, the fats are melt-in-the-mouth (my absolute favourite part), the meat is so tender and the sauce is soo good to go with a bowl of piping hot white rice.
I’ve never made this dish myself in Singapore before, so when I made it here for the first time, I tried to kay kiang (pretend to be clever; be a smart-aleck) and agak (guess, estimate) the ingredients without consulting my mom. I used a whooping 1/4-cup of dark soy sauce and during the whole braising process, the whole house was “perfumed” with the smell of soy sauce – even X could smell it the moment he stepped out of the lift (the door wasn’t even opened!) Needless to say, we needed a lot more rice to finish the pork as it was way too salty.
After that failed attempt, I called my mom a few weeks later to ask her for the recipe – and she said she doesn’t have one because she also agak the ingredients… alamak! (a mild exclamation expressing exasperation, frustration.)
After much digging, we settled for 1 to 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce for a batch of braised pork. Since the phone call, I’ve cooked the braised pork twice and found that 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce is sufficient for making a batch for 2 people and it makes the sauce less salty. Usually my mom’s sauce is quite salty so I can only drizzle it sparingly on the rice.
I also like to braise it a little longer as I love fats that melt in the mouth. But don’t braise it for too long as the meat will be too soft and break apart. The best way to test is to cut a piece after 2 hours of braising and taste it – if it’s not soft enough to your liking, braise it a little longer.
Pork belly works best for this dish because of its high fat content. However, I will still ask my butcher to give me a less-fat pork belly so that we won’t feel so jelak (cloyed with an excess of something so as to cause disgust; glutted, satiated, surfeited, especially surfeited by an excess of food, too much of the same food, or with food that is too rich, to the extent that one is repulsed by it.)
And here’s how to make it!
|1) Pan-fry garlic in a little oil.||2) Add in pork belly.|
|3) Sear pork belly until lightly golden.||4) Add in dark soy sauce.|
|5) Add enough water to just cover the pork belly.||6) Bring to a boil then simmer for 2 hours (up to 2.5 hours if desired).|
|7) It's done when the pork is soft and the sauce has reduced into a thick consistency.||8) Slice the pork belly and serve!|
- Rinse your pork belly and use a tweezer to remove any hair on the skin. Rinse your pork belly again and cut it into 1.5-inch strips. Pat-dry thoroughly with paper towel and set aside. Patting it dry is to make sure the oil won't spit and spatter later on.
- Heat oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to put the pork belly in a single layer. Rinse your garlic, pat-dry then add it into the oil (no need to crush or peel). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes then add in the pork belly strips in a single layer. Turn the heat up to medium-high and sear all sides of the pork belly (including the skin) until lightly golden, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the dark soy sauce and just enough water to cover the pork belly. Crank up the heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 to 2.5 hours, turning the meat every 30 to 45 minutes to colour it evenly. Top up water if necessary (especially if you are braising it for 2.5 hours).
- After 2 hours (or 2.5 hours) of simmering, the sauce should have reduced into a slightly thick consistency - turn off the heat and cool slightly before slicing the pork. If the sauce is not thick enough, remove the pork belly from the pot, turn up the heat and boil until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- Transfer the sauce into a small bowl and serve it together with the braised pork.
- Cut a slice and taste the meat after 2 hours of braising - if it's not soft enough to your liking, braise it longer.