I know a lot of you come here for the Chinese and Malaysian recipes, and it hit me last week that I’ve not produced anything new in that line for a couple of months. This soy and anise pork has been worth the wait, though – here, belly pork is braised in a deeply fragrant and savoury sauce until it’s so tender that it positively melts in the mouth.
Star anise is a beautiful, flower-shaped spice from a Chinese evergreen; it’s an entirely different species of plant from European anise, although it has a similar flavour. It’s one of the aromatics used in five-spice powder, and has a warm, intensely fragrant taste. There’s been something of a shortage of the spice in recent years because an acid found in star anise is used in making Tamiflu, the anti-influenza drug. Happily for the cooks among you (and those with flu), drugs companies have since started to synthesise shikimic acid, so star anise is back on the shelves again. The Chinese use it as an indigestion remedy – you can try it yourself by releasing a seed from the woody star and chewing it after a meal if you feel you’ve overindulged.
This recipe capitalises on the affinity star anise has for rich meats like pork. Belly pork is one of my favourite cuts of meat (you can find some more recipes for belly pork here) – it’s flavourful, has brilliant texture, and the fat gives it a wonderful unctuous quality as it bastes itself from within. To serve four with rice and a stir-fried vegetable, you’ll need:
1 kg pork belly
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons lard or flavourless oil
5 cloves garlic
4 flowers of star anise
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons salt
250 ml pork or chicken stock
Using a very sharp knife or a Chinese cleaver, chop the pork into strips about 1.5 cm thick. (Do not remove the skin, which will become deliciously melting when cooked.) Mix one tablespoon of the soy sauce with the honey and five-spice powder in a bowl, and marinade the sliced pork in the mixture for an hour.
Chop the garlic and shallots very finely. Heat the lard to a high temperature in a thick-bottomed pan with a close-fitting lid, and fry the garlic, shallots, star anise and brown sugar together until they begin to turn gold. Turn the heat down to medium, add the pork to the pan with its marinade, and fry until the meat is coloured on all sides.
Pour over the chicken stock, and add the salt and the rest of the soy sauce. Bring the mixture to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, cover and continue to simmer for two hours, turning the meat every now and then. If the sauce seems to be reducing and thickening, add a little water.
This is one of those recipes which is even better left to cool, refrigerated, and then reheated the next day.