Hakka-style Pork Belly Steamed with Preserved Mustard Greens
Happy Lunar New Year to you all, and wishing you a prosperous start to the Year of the Monkey!
I should confess though, much of the time I spend celebrating Lunar New Year is really just an excuse to eat lots of delicious food while paying lip service to the wider traditions and obligations of the season.
So this year, to make up for being a terrible Chinese son and sibling, I’ll be making a big batch of pork belly and preserved mustard greens, better known as Mui Choy Kau Yoke/ Moi Choi Kiu Ngiuk. This dish is regarded as a quintessential Hakka offering, very much in the vein of rustic but comforting food, something which reflects the soul of Hakka cuisine – uncomplicated but bold, heavy on salty flavours and generous with pork. Mui choy stands the test of time as part indulgence, part comfort food and has been a family favourite of ours for many years.
I recently bought a copy of Linda Lau Anusasananan’s The Hakka Cookbook, and it has been a true treasure for me – I have Hakka connections on my mother’s side of the family, but really I am not connected to much of this heritage beyond a tiny bit of the dialect and an appreciation for the food. The Hakka Cookbook has not only given me access to some of these traditional recipes, but also the a greater appreciation of the history and resilience of the Hakka people.*
I have previously made the more traditional (and more simple) version of mui choy on a few occasions, but while reading through The Hakka Cookbook I was intrigued by a recipe for “Chef Soon’s Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens”, a more intricate version of the dish cooked with a plethora of spices.
So I gave it a shot and first impressions were very good indeed. It was delicious, yet different enough to the “standard” version to give me pause.
The pork is prepared almost like Cantonese roast pork / siew yoke – the pork is placed under a grill to blister the skin and then it’s roasted before being sliced and steamed with the greens and sauce.
If you’ve not made this before, this is what the preserved mustard greens look like after soaking (sorry – had I remembered I would have shown you what it looks like in the packet). Just be sure you’re getting the salted kind which is dry and dark, rather than the pickled/brined variety.
Eventually, all the components – pork, mustard greens and sauce – are layered in a dish and steamed till the pork is tender and all the flavours have mingled. Once cooked, the whole thing is turned upside down to serve (kiu ngiuk is supposed to translate as “turn over meat”). All you need then is a good serve of steamed white rice, and if you’re a long lost member of our family, a fried egg on top!
The resulting texture of the pork is a little different to what I would normally expect from a typical rendition of mui choy – tender, but with more of a meaty bite than what I’m used to. I particularly liked the complexity you get from the sauce. I did initially wonder if all the different spices might overpower the dish, but it was all perfectly balanced and really added a further depth to the overall sweet-savoury nature.
I would happily make this again, though what I might be inclined to do is to cook this with the standard preparation for the pork (give it a quick blanch before cutting it into thick slices and frying them) as I did miss some of the soft melting fattiness of the classical style.
While this may be a more complex rendition, the concept still remains a simple one – fat streaked pork and salty, pungent preserved vegetables accented with savoury-sweet notes from the sauce all working together in perfect mouth-watering harmony.
*This is a purely personal view on the book, and has in no way been influenced by any affiliations with the author or publishers.
Adapted from The Hakka Cookbook by Linda Lau Anusasananan.
**Note – the original recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon of fresh orange zest, which I left out – if you’d like to try it, add it to the sauce after you have reduced and strained it.