Monday, June 22, 2015

How to successfully endure a chilly SF night

The Chinese name for this Zhejiang dish is Pork Belly with Dried Squid and Eggs. 

I know, the main ingredients don’t make this sound especially enticing. But believe me, this is the sort of thing that gives you a reason to celebrate a cold, foggy evening with its rich flavors, complex textures, and utterly homey vibe. The Chinese word for umami is xiān , which is a fish next to a goat. In other words, it’s the combination of two very nuanced flavors that amplify and complement each other.

Gorgeous pork belly
Pork belly really doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation here. It’s simply fresh bacon that’s been given a bow tie and spats. As it simmers away in a braising sauce perfumed with way too much Shaoxing rice wine, some warm spices, good soy sauce, and a touch of sugar, this is bacon that has died and gone to heaven.

The dried squid is there to supply a sensuous textural contrast to the pork, its gentile tensile nature sidling up perfectly against the custardy meat, but you can use fresh squid if you can't find the dried ones; just prep them and toss them in at the end so that the squid barely has time to curl up a bit, as this will keep them tender. You'll notice that this recipe does not ask you to cut the squid into blossoms, like we did for this recipe. That is because the dried squid can be cooked until it's tender here, and so it really doesn't need to be fiddled with. If you opt for fresh squid here, cutting them into blossoms would be a fine touch. 
Soaked cuttlefish ready to go

By the time you serve this dish, the fat layers in the pork have surrendered any semblance of greasiness and have turned into savory strata that remind me of the silkiest butter as they slide across your tongue. The eggs will have absorbed all of those rich flavors and turn into pure xianwei bombs. And the squid has lent its suggestion of the sea to everything while maintaining a good bit of structure. This is seduction food, pure and simple.

Pork Belly with Dried Squid and Eggs
Mòyú dàkào jiā dàn  
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multi-course meal  

3 (8-inch long) dried squid, or thereabouts
Tap and boiling water, as needed
8 large eggs
1½ pounds (more or less) pork belly with the skin on
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
5 green onions
2 inches fresh ginger
1 or 2 large shallots, optional
1 cup Shaoxing rice wine
2 whole star anise
Half a stick of cinnamon, optional
¼ cup regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon (or so) rock sugar

1. Start this recipe about 4 days before you plan to serve it. First soak the squid in cool tap water for about an hour. Rinse the squid, place it in a resealable plastic bag, cover it with fresh cool water, and refrigerate the squid for 3 days, changing the water once a day, if you remember. Drain the squid in a colander set in the sink and then remove the clear cuttlebone in each squid. Slice off the triangular tip and then cut the bodies into squares around 1 to 2 inches wide. Cut the tentacles into lengths around 2 inches long.
Remove the glassine cuttlebone

2. Boil the eggs for about 8 minutes, drain, cover with cool water, and then tap the shells all over. Peel the eggs when they are cool and then refrigerate.

3. The day before you plan to serve this, remove any hairs on the pork belly and freeze it for an hour or so to firm up the fat and make it easier to handle. Cut the pork down through the skin into large batons around ¾ inch wide and thick; they will be around 2 inches long and should have a piece of skin at the end of each piece.

4. Place the pork in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a full boil over high heat and then simmer the meat for around 10 minutes. Rinse the scum off of the pork and pan. Drain the pork well. Place the cuttlefish in the pan, cover with water, and bring this to a boil. Simmer the cuttlefish for about a minute, and then rinse and drain it well.

5. Cut the green onions into 2-inch lengths, smash the ginger with the side of your cleaver, and slice the optional shallots into ¼ pieces. Set a medium to large sandpot (or a wok) on the stove. Pour in the oil, heat the pot over medium heat, and then add the drained pork, green onions, ginger, and shallots. Toss these in the hot oil until they are lightly browned, adjusting the heat as necessary. Pour in the rice wine, bring the pot to a full boil, and then add boiling water to cover. Toss in the star anise and cinnamon, cover the pot, and lower the heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Cook the pot covered for around 45 minutes.
Shaoxing wine: the secret ingredient

6. Add the squid and eggs to the pot, as well as both kinds of soy sauce and the sugar. Cover the pork with more boiling water as needed and bring the pot to a full boil. Lower the heat to return to a gentle simmer and cook the dish uncovered for about an hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Continue to simmer the ingredients if the pork and squid are not yet completely tender, but they should be done by now. When they are as you like them, quickly reduce the sauce to a thick syrup by boiling the pot over high heat, shaking often to keep the pork from sticking, but not stirring so that you don't break apart the meat batons. Remove the pot from the heat, let it come to room temperature, cover the pot, and refrigerate overnight.

7. Just before serving, scrape off the congealed fat and use it for stir-frying, if you like, as it is delicious. Slowly heat the pot over low heat until the sauce has melted, and the raise the heat to medium. Heat through the pork, then remove it from the heat and serve very hot with lots of rice or steamed bread.


  1. Are you sure you're not using dried squid in this case? The glassy feather like bone is the "gladius" is typical of most squid. Cuttlefish bones tend to be quite thick, opaque, and brittle ( )