The Festive Delight from Canton
The delectable Cantonese braised pork belly with arrowhead root, often referenced as cí gū mèn nan ròu in Mandarin, has etched itself as an integral dish in our family’s Chinese New Year celebrations. While Bill ranks this particular preparation at the pinnacle of pork belly delights, its echo to the Red Cooked Pork is palpable. What sets it apart, however, is the distinct layering of flavors from the fermented bean curd and the nuanced essence of the seasonal arrowhead root.
Interestingly, arrowhead roots seem to grace the markets primarily during the winter. Elusive during other seasons, their palate feel merges the textures of potatoes and water chestnuts. If they play hide and seek with you, fret not! Potatoes can be your savior, especially if legacy traditions aren’t on your mind.
Gathering Your Ingredients
- 2 pounds pork belly (about 1 kg)
- 10 arrowhead roots (or 2 – 3 chunky potatoes for a handy substitute)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2/3 oz. rock sugar (20g)
- 2 chunks of red fermented bean curd (include 1 tablespoon of its liquid; sometimes tagged as “bean cheese”)
- 1/4 cup shaoxing wine
- 1 ½ teaspoons dark soy sauce
- 5 cups water
Crafting the Cantonese Magic
- Chunk the pork belly into generous pieces (0.75” x 1.5”). Parboil these chunks in simmering water until they take on a pale hue. Refresh under cold water and set aside.
- Prep the arrowhead roots. A simple top and tail, followed by skinning should suffice. Plunge them into cold water immediately to retain their freshness. If using potatoes, hold off on chunking them since they cook faster than arrowhead roots.
- Gear up to cook! Halve the arrowhead roots, pre-soaked in water. With a wok on low heat, warm the oil and dissolve the rock sugar in it. Introduce the fermented bean curd with its liquid, followed by the parboiled pork belly and arrowhead roots. If you’re going the potato way, hold your horses on adding them now.
- As the symphony of flavors melds on medium heat, pour in the shaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, and 2 cups of water. Cover the wok and let the magic simmer.
- Vigilance pays! Check in every 5-10 minutes, replenishing the evaporating liquid with water, a cup at a time. Persistence is key until the pork belly becomes irresistibly tender, and the gravy adopts a velvety consistency. This dance of flavors might take around 5 cups of water and approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. If you’re teaming up with potatoes, chunk them and introduce them after the pork has enjoyed a 45-minute simmer.
- A pro-tip: If the pork feels tender, but you’re greeted by an abundance of liquid, unleash the heat to medium-high. A constant stir will reward you with a thick, sumptuous gravy.