I came across a recipe for Babi Kecap, an Indonesian braised pork in sweet soy sauce dish on the blog Almost Bourdain a few weeks ago and saved it. I have a fondness for pork belly [NB: this is the eighth pork belly recipe on my blog] and I am always looking for new ways to cook it. A braise featuring the basic aromatics used in a lot of Asian dishes – shallots, garlic, ginger and soy sauce, as well as some tamarind to give the dish some sour tones to balance the sweetness of the kecap manis sounded like it would be delicious. When I read that the recipe used pork shoulder, I immediately thought of substituting the shoulder with pork belly.
I love using pork belly for braising because as the dish cooks, some of the the fat renders into the sauce so that the pork is cooked in its own fat which enhances the flavour. "Fat is flavour” or “fat equals flavour” are popular food expressions for cooking meat. Full fat milk, ice cream, mayo and yoghurt always tastes better than the low fat variety! I like how flavour absorbs into the different layers of fat and meat of the pork belly, and the moist and juicy textural contrast of the pork fat to the layers of meat, and how the fat oozes flavour into your mouth as you eat the pork.
I adapted the recipe by adding in some Chinese five spice powder to add a bit of depth to the taste and round off the flavours in the dish. Chinese five spice powder is a mixture of five spices, there are variants but the standard spices used are star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel. The five spice blend combines the five primary flavors of Chinese cuisine - sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and salty, and is widely used in marinades and seasoning for dishes. I used the five spice powder sparingly, only ½ a teaspoon as it has quite a strong taste and I didn't want it to dominate the flavour of the dish.
I also modified the method by par-boiling the pork and cooking everything in a wok first, and then transferring to a heavy based pot for braising. This is a method that I commonly apply to braising dishes - I fry everything together in a wok first to sear and caramelize the ingredients, and using the stir frying technique, I toss and combine the sauce and ingredients together thoroughly before transferring to a heavy based pot for simmering to allow an even distribution of heat as it braises.
(Adapted from Rick Stein's Far East Odyssey as seen on Almost Bourdain)
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• 100 g shallots, thinly sliced
• 50 g garlic, crushed
• 25 g peeled ginger, finely grated
• ½ tsp salt, plus extra to taste
• 1 kg pork belly, cut into 3cm chunks
• 4 tbsp kecap manis (thick sweet soy sauce)
• 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
• 3 tbsp tamarind water
• ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
• ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
• 8 red bird's eye chillies, slice in half lengthways and seeded
• 2 cups/500 ml chicken stock
• Garnish – coriander and crisp fried shallots
Par-boil the pork cubes and rinse with cold water.
Heat the oil in a wok over a medium heat. Add the shallots and fry until they are soft and richly golden. Add the garlic, ginger and ½ tsp salt and cook for 1 minute. Add the pork belly to the wok and fry for 2 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the kecap manis, dark soy sauce, tamarind water, pepper, five spice powder and chillies, and fry until the pork is coated in the sauces. Then add the stock to the wok and stir to combine.
Transfer the contents of the wok to a heavy based pot and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours, stirring now and then towards the end of cooking, until the pork is tender.
Lift the pork out of the sauce with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Boil the cooking liquid until it has reduced to a well-flavoured, slightly thicken, shiny, dark brown sauce. Season to taste with salt, return the pork to the pan and stir in. Spoon the pork onto a warmed serving plate, garnish with coriander and scatter with the crisp fried shallots over the top.
Here are some of my other pork belly recipes: