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  • Serves: 1 Servings

The Fragrance of Pork (Tungpo Pork)

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Category: Pork, Chinese

 Ingredients List

  • 1 1/4 lb Belly pork in one piece
  • 2 Level tablespoons salt
  • 2 tb Soy sauce
  • 1 tb Wine
  • 2 Spring onions (scallions)
  • 2 sl Ginger


The following passage is from "Chinese Gastronomy", one of the best
books on Chinese cuisine I've ever seen. It beautifully expresses
the nearly metaphysical regard that the Chinese have for food and
eating and is delightful reading even if you never cook a single
recipe from it. This dish is incredibly good, considering that its
main ingredients are pork fat and skin. The fat is not something to
be gotten rid of in this case. It's treasured for what it is. Like I
said, this is something that I don't cook often but it's a special
occasion when I do.

This is one of my all time favorites. I serve it with a bowl of
Chinese mustard and a bowl of chopped green onions for dipping.

At one time the butcher shops of Soochow were variously called Genuine
Straw Mat, Original Straw Mat, Old Straw Mat, etc., just because
there is a story about an Immortal in disguise who flung a bit of mat
into a pot of belly pork to give it a special fragrance. The
fragrance is easy enough to produce. What is important is that it
stands out in a clear field. Instead of being heavy, the pork should
appear light; clean instead of messy; smooth instead of lumpy. The
flavour of pork is effusive. While the cooking of chicken and beef
means the careful carving out of its best flavour from the raw
material, the flavours of pork must be restrained. At its best, pork
is tender, sweet, fragrant, tasty, rich without being oily (in other
words, nun, hsien, hsiang, nung, yu-er-pu-ni).

A geometrically precise square of belly pork is stewed and then
steamed in a little sauce, so that it is served with an absolutely
clear layer of melted fat overlying a smooth brown sauce. The
surface is a rich brown colour, the fat smooth and custard-like, the
meat brown and tender. The square of fat was named after Su Tungpo,
the poet, for unknown reasons. Perhaps it is just because he would
have like it. The square of fat is regarded with much passion,
tenderness and expectation.

Second-rate versions of it appear everywhere, differing from the
following version by their failure to clear the field for the
delicacy of the pork fat which, if prepared accordingly, tastes fresh
and clean like fresh (sweet) butter. In order to keep the flavour
clear, the meat is first salted to remove the bloody juices, blanched
to remove the scum, then stewed very slowly, and finally steamed for
hours to tenderize the fat slowly. Inferior versions this are made
by stewing pork for a few hours without steaming it... The result is
lumpy fat. If the salt rub and blanching are omitted the juice
becomes messy and lumpy. The simplicity of appearance, smoothness
and clarity of flavour have to be wrested from the manifold flavours
of pork.

Tungpo Pork is customarily served at the end of a meal with bowls of
rice. People sigh, shout and groan with happiness when they see it.

This is one of the pinnacles of gastronomy, and sums up the
application of fat in Chinese cuisine.

Trim pork into a precise square. Wash it and wipe it dry with a
towel. Rub it with salt and let it stand for about 2 hours. Discard
the blood-tinged liquid.

Bring 5 pints (12 cups) water to a boil and blanch the meat in it.
Rinse it free of scum and repeat the blanching with a fresh portion
of boiling water. Place the pork skin side up in a pot with a
tight-fitting lid, adding soy sauce, wine, spring onions ginger and 2
tablespoons water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very
low and simmer for 2 hours, adding a little more water if necessary.
Keep the amount of liquid as small as possible, and do not keep
uncovering the pot to see how the pork is progressing. Let it stew
in its own juices.

Discard the spring onions and ginger. Place the square skin side
down on a dish of soup plate dimensions, add the juices and cover it
very closely with foil, cellophane or an overlapping plate. Steam it
for 4 hours, until the fat is tender and can be cut with a spoon.
Invert the square so that the fat is uppermost, and pour the juices
around it carefully.

From "Chinese Gastronomy" by Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin, First
Harvest/HBJ, New York, 1977. Introduction by Lin Yutang.

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