When the weather turns cooler, we start to crave hearty, warming dishes. These two recipes – one from the Philippines, the other Cantonese – take a little time to prepare, because the meat needs to simmer until tender, but they are not difficult.
Pork belly adobo
Adobo is one of those dishes for which there are almost as many recipes as there are cooks. The only thing they all have in common is vinegar, garlic and pepper, but the dish can also include soy sauce, sugar or coconut milk. I learned the basic technique from the cooks at the first restaurant I worked at in Hong Kong as a pastry chef – The American Pie (now closed), in Lan Kwai Fong; they took turns at making the staff meal, and since most of them were from the Philippines, adobo featured frequently.
This version employs an interesting technique – a reverse sear. Instead of browning the meat at the start, it is done towards the end, when already tender. While it is browning, reduce the sauce, then put the meat back into the pan and simmer the ingredients briefly. As with many stewed dishes, this one tastes better the next day.
Don’t be alarmed by the amount of vinegar – the acidity is balanced by sugar. The amount of sugar is variable, but don’t use so much that the dish becomes sweet – the flavour should be a little sharp. If possible, use coconut, palm or rice vinegar, instead of inexpensive white vinegar, which is just acidic, without any subtlety. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of garlic either. This is a boldly flavoured dish and should be served with plenty of white rice.
1kg pork belly, with or without the skin
60ml soy sauce
About 30 grams palm sugar (or granulated sugar)
2-3 bay leaves
12 or more garlic cloves
1½ tsp whole black peppercorns
1 Cut the pork belly into largish chunks (about 2cm x 2cm). If the meat is skin-on, it is easiest to cut if you put it skin side-down on the cutting board. Roughly chop the garlic cloves. Roughly crush the peppercorns by wrapping them securely in one layer in a paper towel (to contain them so they don’t fly all over the place), then place them on a cutting board and hit them with a meat mallet or the side of a cleaver.
2 Put the pieces of pork belly in a heavy pan, add the garlic, peppercorns, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and bay leaves and mix well. If you have time, marinate the ingredients for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. When ready to cook, stir in 500ml of water. Bring to the boil over a medium flame then reduce the heat, cover the pan with the lid and simmer, stirring often. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender.
3 Turn off the flame. Use a shallow ladle or spoon to skim off as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid, putting the fat into a bowl.
4 Pour about 20ml of the fat into a skillet (or wok) placed over a high flame. Use tongs to remove all the meat from the cooking liquid and place it in the skillet, to brown the pieces. While the meat is browning, turn the flame under the pan to high and boil the sauce to reduce it. Taste the sauce and add more sugar, if needed. When the meat is browned, turn off the flame and continue to reduce the sauce (it needs a little more time). When it is ready, the sauce will still be quite liquid, but will have some body.
5 Put the meat back into the pan and simmer for about five minutes, then serve the adobo with white rice. Serves four.
Braised mutton with fermented bean curd
This is a dish that pops up on menus of Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong as soon as there’s a hint of coolness in the air.
Chun pei (dried tangerine peel) is usually composed of three or four sections attached at the base. For this dish, you will need only one section. Kaffir lime is a double-leafed plant: the leaves are attached, giving them a sort of elongated hourglass shape. For this recipe, you will need two or three (depending on size) double-leafed sections.
6 large dried Chinese mushrooms
2 sheets fu juk pei (dried bean curd sheets)
10 fresh water chestnuts
300 grams fresh bamboo shoots
600 grams meaty mutton or lamb ribs or breast, cut into pieces between the bone
About 30ml cooking oil
Fresh ginger root, as needed
2 garlic cloves
2 spring onions
30ml soy sauce, plus extra for coating the meat
35ml rice wine, divided
4 squares fu yu (fermented bean curd), plus extra for serving
½ tsp sugar, or to taste
1 piece chun pei (dried tangerine peel)
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves
2 red banana chillies
Lettuce leaves (such as romaine or a-choi)
Cornstarch (to thicken the sauce)
Fine-grained salt, as needed
1 Rinse the dried mushrooms under running water then put them in a bowl, add hot water to cover and leave to soak until fully hydrated (give them plenty of time). Squeeze out the water from the mushrooms (reserve the soaking liquid), then cut off and discard the stems.
Quarter the mushroom caps. Soak the bean curd sheets in warm water until pliable. Peel the water chestnuts, then rinse them thoroughly before slicing them thickly. Peel the bamboo shoots, cut them lengthwise into halves or quarters, then slice about 1cm thick.
2 Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add three or four 5mm-thick slices of ginger (no need to peel them) and one teaspoon of salt. Add the mutton or lamb pieces and simmer for two minutes before draining. When the meat is cool enough to handle, brush the pieces with soy sauce. Peel a 2.5cm chunk of ginger and slice it about 2mm thick. Halve the garlic cloves and cut the spring onions into 2cm pieces.
Heat the cooking oil in a skillet placed over a medium flame, then add the ginger, garlic and spring onions. Cook until fragrant, stirring often. Add the meat and lightly brown the pieces. Put the meat, ginger, garlic and spring onions into a medium-sized Chinese clay/sand pot along with the mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a fine sieve into a measuring cup, then add enough water so the total liquid is 500ml; pour this into the pot.
Mash the fermented bean curd with 30ml of rice wine and the sugar, then add this to the pot along with 30ml of soy sauce and the piece of chun pei. Stir the ingredients then bring to the boil over a medium flame. Cover the pot with the lid, then lower the heat and simmer until the meat is tender (about 90 minutes), stirring occasionally.
3 When the meat is tender, taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust as needed. Put about two teaspoons of cornstarch into a bowl and add about 50ml of water; stir to dissolve. Stir just enough of this cornstarch slurry into the simmering liquid in the pot to thicken it slightly – the sauce should lightly coat the meat.
4 Squeeze the liquid from the bean-curd sheets, tear them into large pieces, add them to the pot and simmer until tender. Cut the lime leaves into fine chiffonade and slice the chillies. Stir in the lime leaves, chilli and lettuce leaves. Serve the clay pot with a few cubes of mashed preserved bean curd mixed with a little rice wine and let each diner add some to taste.