Brussels Sprouts and Pork Belly
The other week, I wrote about using not-typically-Chinese celery root in a Chinese stir-fry. Here we go again!
Jackie and I have both been reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s autobiographical Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. Of course, this got us hungry for a Chinese dinner, and I turned to Ms. Dunlop’s Land of Plenty: A treasury of authentic Sichuan cooking for simple ideas using our two principal purchases after a frosty walk to the farmers’ market: pork belly and small, firm Brussels sprouts.
What I found was Salt-Fried Pork, which calls for pork belly and lots of leeks, along with a couple of fermented pantry items, but which Ms. Dunlop indicates can be adapted to other vegetables. So adapt it I did, tinkering with the flavorings and modifying the technique to balance the funky solidity of the sprouts and to accommodate my lavishly fatty piece of pork belly.
It’s a tribute more to the original recipe than to my adaptation that the dish’s intense fermenty flavors did not overwhelm the almost buttery pork belly. That said, my additions of fresh ginger and the Barbara Tropp orange-chili “goop” (see recipe below) created a somewhat brighter environment much more hospitable to the love-it-or-hate-it cabbaginess of the Brussels sprouts. And if you’re in the hate-it camp, by all means forget the sprouts and buy yourself a bunch of leeks and Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent book.
- 1 1/4 Pound small Brussels sprouts
- 1/2 Pound pork belly, preferably but not necessarily skin-on
- 1 medium leek, white part only (use the rest for stock)
- 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 Tablespoon Chinese chili bean sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee toban jian)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon fermented black beans, whole and unrinsed
- 1 Tablespoon of the solids (a.k.a. “goop”) from chili-orange oil made according to the recipe in Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook, or use an additional 1/2 Tbsp chili bean sauce
- 2 Tablespoons oil (peanut or a neutral vegetable oil)
- 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 Teaspoon sugar
Serves two or three, more as part of a larger Chinese-style meal.
Trim the stalk ends of the Brussels sprouts and remove all flabby or damaged outer leaves. Halve the larger ones vertically and make a little incision into the stalk end of those left whole. (The latter operation is said to promote quicker and more even cooking; I do it out of habit but am not convinced that it makes much difference.)
Steam the sprouts for two minutes or boil them in salted water for one minute, then drain them, to give them a head start for the coming stir-fry. Set aside to cool. (You can prepare the sprouts an hour in advance if you wish.)
Slice the pork belly very thin, as you might have ham sliced for a sandwich, leaving the skin on (it’s okay if yours is skinless). Halve the leek lengthwise and cut it on the bias a little thicker than the pork slices. Combine the leek with the par-cooked Brussels sprouts.
Chop the ginger fine and measure out the chili-bean sauce, black beans and chili-orange-oil solids (if using). You can combine these ingredients in a little bowl.
Over medium-high heat, heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Add the sliced pork and a moderate sprinkle of salt. Stir-fry, lowering the heat to medium after half a minute or so, until brown and just starting to crisp, about three to four minutes. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, but do not discard it yet. Remove the pork and set it aside.
Add the chili-bean sauce, black beans, chili-orange oil solids and chopped ginger and stir-fry until they smell wonderful, about half a minute. Add the sprout-leek mixture, soy sauce and sugar. Raise the heat back to medium-high and return the pork to the pan.
Keep everything moving in the pan, flipping it over itself and stirring, until the leeks and sprouts are tender, just a couple of minutes at the outside. Be vigilant about moisture: a tablespoon or two of water may be needed if the dish appears too dry (not that it should be bathing in sauce: the goal is more of a glaze than a gravy). During this final stage, you may wish, as I did, to spoon in some of the reserved pork fat both for flavor and for consistency.
Serve with plenty of plain white rice.