Monday, June 13, 2011

Jiangsu's cheesy pork

Without a doubt, the Jiangsu style dish that captivated me completely at first bite was this one. Furu tibang was from then on my idea of celebration food, and if I could have convinced anyone to stick candles in it, this would have been my idea of the perfect birthday cake.

Pork hock is not a cut of meat that is eaten much around here in the States, especially with the skin on. But this incredibly soft bundle of meaty joy is so good precisely because it has that terrific layer of pork skin holding everything together until the last minute, at which point it thoughtfully dissolves into almost a porky custard. 

I have tried making this dish with other cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and so on, and they are okay, but not the stuff of dreams. If pork hock is really and truly beyond the scope of your butcher, you definitely need to find yourself a new purveyor. In the meantime, buy a piece of pork belly with the skin on - half meat and half fat is a good ratio - and you'll still be in good shape.

The best part of the pig
Whenever you can, as always, use pork that's been raised humanely and naturally. The flavor just isn't the same with factory pork. In fact, I was so disgusted by the stuff we bought after we came back from Taiwan that I almost never ate pork for years until people started offering the good stuff. 

And try to use the hock from a front leg, which is what is called the tipang in Chinese; those from the rear legs are called zhouzi, which can be used in a pinch, but they're a lot bigger. These smaller tipang cuts have a special place in the hearts of Chinese diners because they are tender, have the auspicious shape of money bags, and are just darned cute. I mean, look at this boned tipang on the right... I think it's almost cuddly.

Which leads us to today's recipe: Pork Hock in Fermented Bean Curd Cheese.

A few columns ago I talked about fermented bean curd cheese, so if you are unfamiliar with this ingredient, go back and take a peek. The other exotic ingredient in here is Fujian's red fermented rice, or hongzao. You can find this in well-stocked Chinese groceries, usually in the refrigerated section, but if it's not available, use fermented rice and add a bit of beet juice if you want the traditional seductive red hue. (I'll give the recipe for authentic red fermented rice in an upcoming column for all of you home brewers out there.)

Turned into culinary magic
This is really a special occasion dish, but it's also terribly easy to make. And, even better, you should prepare this at least a day or two in advance so that the pork has a chance to soak in that cheesy sauce and become even more succulent. The best garnish for this dish is another Shanghainese specialty, flash fried pea sprouts. These are best in the spring and early summer, so gather ye pea sprouts while ye may.

Pork hock in fermented bean curd cheese 
Furu tipang  腐乳蹄膀 
Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multicourse meal

1 pork hock with the skin on
2-inch piece of fresh ginger
4 green onions, trimmed
2 whole star anise
4 squares red fermented bean curd
4 tablespoons sauce from the fermented bean curd
½ cup Fujian style red fermented rice (hongzao)
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1½ cups Shaoxing rice wine
Boiling filtered water as needed
2 pieces of rock sugar about the size of walnuts
Start boning from the smaller end
1. If your butcher can't bone the pork hock without splitting it up the side (and I can't believe how many times they do that even though I tell them not to), bone it yourself because it's not that hard:

2. Use a long thin blade to work around the bone on the thin end of the hock, and then flip it over and start cutting the meat away from the bone on the thick end. As you can see from the picture down below, the bone isn't round, but has a deep indentation on one side. So, cut away from the bone carefully, keeping it in one piece as much as possible. If any small bit fall out, stuff them back inside. Pick over the skin and either pluck or burn off any hairs. (Don't worry about the ink marks, as they'll disappear later on as the meat cooks.)

3. Place the boned hock in a medium saucepan and cover it with water. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer the meat for about 10 minutes to remove any impurities. Dump out the water, rinse off the hock, and pat it dry with a paper towel. Rinse out the saucepan and pat it dry, as well.

An easy sense of accomplishment...
4. Return the hock to the saucepan. Smash the ginger with the side of a cleaver and toss it and the whole onions into the saucepan. Add the star anise, fermented bean curd, sauce, red fermented rice, soy sauce, and rice wine, and then pour in enough boiling water to cover the pork. Bring the pot to a boil and then lower it to a simmer. Slowly cook the pork for 2 to 2½ hours, or until a chopstick can be poked into the thickest part of the hock without any resistance. The sauce should have reduced by about a half at this point. Remove and discard the ginger, onions, and star anise.

5. Place the hock in a large heatproof bowl with the skin side down. Pour the sauce over the pork and add the rock sugar. Steam the pork for another hour or so until the meat is extremely moist and tender. (Steaming it instead of continuing to cook it on the stove protects it from falling apart.) Pour the sauce out into a smaller saucepan, taste and adjust the seasonings, and reduce it to about ¾ cup. (You can cool the pork and sauce off at this point and either store them together in the refrigerator, or freeze for longer storage. To reheat the pork and sauce, just steam them until the pork is hot all the way through.)

6. To serve, drain the sauce off of the pork and then place a rimmed plate over the bowl; flip the bowl over onto the plate. Pour the sauce around the pork and garnish it with a wreath of the flash fried pea sprouts. Serve with lots of hot steamed rice.


  1. Ooh, this looks brilliant. Thank you for including the info on boning!

  2. You're welcome! But be advised, this dish could be habit forming...

  3. We make a similar dish, but using pork riblets:

    I'd love to try this recipe. We just so happen to have both the fermented bean curd AND the red rice in our fridge.

  4. Pork ribs would be fabulous cooked this way! Excellent idea... Now I want to go grocery shopping.