My mum was here just a few months ago and I was thinking that finally, I could ask her to show me how to make Kong Bak, one of my favourite versions of braised pork belly. She did make it once when she was here, but I was not home at the time, and so I wasn't involved in the cooking process. I asked her for the recipe, and as you would know it, she couldn't tell me the exact measurements (her measurements are usually "just a little bit", "eyeball it" or "quite a lot"). So, after she left, I decided to have a go at making this dish.
It turned out quite close to how my mum made it, although I had a feeling that something might be missing. Mum's magic touch perhaps? In any case, it was delicious, with the hint of honey, caramel and chinese five-spice in the sweet and sticky sauce, and that wonderful layer of pork belly skin that had been deep-fried and braised to yield a lovely soft and chewy texture. I served it with steamed jasmine rice, although you can also choose to sandwich it in a steamed bun (see here for bun recipe) which is my favourite way of eating it! Here is the recipe, and I hope you enjoy this popular Malaysian home-style dish as much as we do!
Braised Pork Belly (Kong Bak)
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
1 shallot, finely chopped
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
1 tsp sesame oil
1 1/2 cups water (approx)
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
Tiny pinch of MSG
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 up 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. Serve hot with steamed white rice.