Traditionally served as a celebratory dish during religious festivals, as often with fish as pork, it’s simple enough to celebrate Friday night too; the meat cooked down into silky submission, coated with a stickily sweet, yet deeply savoury sauce with just a hint of pepper spice. Here, I’ve added extra ginger for its warming properties, because frankly, we can use all the help we can get during a British February. It’s the kind of dish that pairs perfectly with a well-chilled riesling, whose acid will cut through the richness of the meat while the residual sugar keeps it fruity enough to be more than a match for the sweet warmth of the caramel sauce. As the dish itself is so full-flavoured, I’d recommend enjoying it with nothing more complicated than jasmine rice and simply steamed greens like pak choi or sprouting broccoli.
(Note: if you’re not a fan of pork belly, you could substitute shoulder, but I’d urge you to give it a try; with good meat, the flavour is all in the fat, and by the end of cooking, this will be as soft as butter. Similarly, you could replace the coconut water with an equal mix of water and coconut milk, or plain old water if you prefer.)
- 500g pork belly, skin removed
- 50g root ginger
- 2 plump garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- ½ tsp ground white or black pepper
- 4 round shallots
- 4 tbsp white sugar
- 250ml coconut water
- Cut the pork into roughly 2cm or bite-sized chunks. Peel the ginger and grate or mash half of it into a coarse paste along with the garlic. Whisk in the fish and soy sauces and pepper. Toss together with the pork and leave at room temperature for between 15 minutes and 1 hour.
- While it’s marinating, finely slice the shallots and cut the remaining ginger into short matchsticks. Boil the kettle.
- Put the sugar in a medium heavy-based casserole or saucepan and place on a medium heat, shaking to distribute it evenly. Once it’s deep golden in colour, carefully stir in 100ml boiling water (be careful, it will bubble up), stirring vigorously to redissolve the sugar, and then add the shallots, ginger and the pork along with its marinade.
- Pour in the coconut water and bring to a simmer, then cover, turn down the heat and cook on a low heat for about 90 minutes until the pork is very tender. Serve with steamed rice and green vegetables.
Of course an Alsace or new world riesling would work wonders but we have to head to the grape’s spiritual homeland and suggest the Niedermenniger Riesling Kabinett von Kesselstatt, a wine whose steely racy vibe has just the right amount of sweetness to play perfect counterpoint to this dish.