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What To Do With Pork Belly – A Chef Explains

By Guan Tan

 
Felicia Yap / Tung Pham / Guan Tan
 

The massive wave of clean eating has gone on for too long. And it had us hungry for real food – robust Asian flavours in a big, hearty bite. Pork belly, for instance, has been banished down the hierarchy of foods for its high fat content and not-green-foods guise. 

We have forgotten the celebratory burst of flavour from its tender meat. We have neglected the beautiful, interlacing layers of meat and fat. And more importantly, the jiggle that comes with it. 

Pork belly is one of the relatively affordable cuts in the market. Yet "a lot of chefs and households right now are not making use of pork belly," chef Desmond Goh of The Disgruntled Brasserie muses. By day he cooks up a storm for his diners. By night he shops at NTUC and prepares loving meals for his wife and children. 

"They always go with primary cuts – the most expensive loins and ribs," he observes. Pricey doesn't always mean better. A slab of filet mignon will always serve up the same steak. A cheaper cut of pork belly, by comparison, can prove to be more versatile and experimental for home cooks. 

Felicia YapGoh searing the sides of a slab of pork belly to render its fat content for further use.
Goh searing the sides of a slab of pork belly to render its fat content for further use.

"A lot of methods [to] cooking pork belly. You can slow roast in the oven. The French, they usually do it in a casserole. Italians will cure the pork belly – roll or tie it up, and roast it in a pocket. Germans have their own style of pork belly." The Bavarians serve it with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes – an experience I'll liken to a loud orchestra. The flavours (and portions) are overwhelming.

Goh moves on to Asian delicacies, "Japanese use it for Buta Kakuni or Chashu". The Chinese Teochews braise it in dark soy sauce. In mainland China, there's zhu guo dong – otherwise translated into 'pork jelly'. It's basically an Asian-style pork belly terrine. 

"If you don't stew, pan-sear," Goh concludes.

A decade ago, a young Goh lived and honed his culinary skills across several cities in Europe. One of his stops was France. He had many cosy French home cook meals. And they're often very communal – meaning the family shares from a casserole. A family man himself, Goh decided on this pork belly casserole dish. Here's the recipe: 

Felicia Yap
 

Casserole Pork Belly

Serves four

Ingredients

1 kilogram Boneless Pork Belly 
2 pinches Sea Salt
2 pinches Crushed Black Pepper
4 cloves Garlic (sliced into half)
10 cloves Shallots (sliced into half)
4 wedges Round Cabbage
200 milligrams Carrots (chunks)
200 milligrams Leek (chunks)
200 milligrams Celery (chunks)
8 pieces Star Anise
2 pieces Bay Leaves
5 strands Spring Thyme
9 pieces Juniper Berries (optional)
150 millimetres Red Wine
500 millimetres Brown Chicken Stock
50 millimetres Olive Oil
40 milligrams Tomato Paste
50 milligrams Streaky Bacon
50 milligrams Chorizo 

Felicia YapWhen the pork belly has rendered sufficient fat content in the pan, Goh fries bacon and chorizo.
When the pork belly has rendered sufficient fat content in the pan, Goh fries bacon and chorizo.

Method

1. Season the pork belly with sea salt and black pepper on both sides. Sear both sides on a hot casserole. Once done, remove and put aside.
2. Add streaky bacon and chorizo. Render off fats till caramelised. Once done, set it aside.
3. Place the cabbage wedges into the casserole, using the rendered fats to sear both sides till caramelised. Once done, set aside for later use.
4. Sweat the rest of the vegetables with tomato paste till caramelised. Deglaze it with red wine. Bring it to boil to burn off the alcohol. Add the chicken stock. Reserve it in a bowl for later use.
5. Slice the seared pork belly into smaller slices. This allows the pork belly to cook faster and tenderise.
6. Place the pork belly and cabbage into the casserole, and add the bacon and chorizo.

Felicia YapGoh adding stock into the casserole.
Goh adding stock into the casserole.

7. Finally, add vegetables and stock into the casserole. Make sure it covers the pork belly and cabbage.
8. Slow cook with low fire for two hours or more, depending on the desired texture. The longer it cooks, the more tender it gets.

Felicia YapA hearty casserole of pork belly and fresh produce for the family. Serve with a basket of baguette.
A hearty casserole of pork belly and fresh produce for the family. Serve with a basket of baguette.

While we were there, Goh swapped the final step for the oven. Later, he served the dish with a basket of fresh baguette and sat down for an hour's meal and chat with the team. The gravy was brimming with flavours, and the meat delicate. Over a relaxed conversation about Goh's years of work experience in Europe, slices of pork belly melted in our mouths and warmed up our bellies. 

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