Yuk beng doesn’t sound that delicious when translated as “meat cake” but it’s comfort food for many Chinese people. It’s a basic, versatile dish: minced pork (the default meat for Han Chinese, but you can use beef) mixed with the usual seasonings (soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt and white pepper) then steamed. You can add toppings (the most common are salted fish and salted egg yolk) and other “mix-ins” (such as preserved vegetables).

Steamed pork patty with dried cuttlefish, and fresh squid

This version is based on a luxurious but homey dish I ate at Ding’s Club, in Central. There, the meat was hand-chopped, which makes the texture so much better, as does using a fatty cut (I use skinless pork belly).

It’s a lot of work, though, so I won’t blame you if you have the butcher put the meat through the grinder. If you do hand-mince the pork, freeze it slightly so it’s firmer; it’s difficult to chop at room temperature.

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Buy a whole dried cuttlefish, not the shredded type sold as a snack; the whole cuttlefish is less salty and the texture is different. It should be soaked until pliable, then the skin needs to be peeled off (it comes off easily). If you can’t find dried cuttlefish or dislike it, leave it out.

Chun pei (dried tangerine peel) comes in seg­ments that are usually attached at the base; for this dish, you need one or two segments, depending on how much you like the distinctive flavour. You can soak the chun pei in the same bowl as the cuttlefish.

Because this dish tastes best hot, I divide the mixture into two portions and pat it into two dishes; I steam one to serve immediately then steam the other while everyone is eating, so it’s ready when the diners want seconds. If you like, you can make one larger meat patty and steam it all at once (it will need about 40 minutes to cook). This serves six as part of a Chinese meal.

10 grams dried cuttlefish
1 or 2 segments chun pei

600 grams skinless pork belly, minced

30ml soy sauce

20ml rice wine

5 grams sugar

½ tsp fine sea salt

¼ tsp finely ground white pepper

5ml sesame oil

5 grams cornstarch

3 very thin slices of peeled fresh ginger

4 fresh water chestnuts

1 fresh squid (about 150 grams)

4-6 spring onions

1 Rinse the dried cuttlefish and chun pei under running water then put them in a bowl and add warm water to cover. Leave to soak until the cuttlefish is pliable (about an hour).

2 If you’re hand-mincing the pork, freeze it for about 20 minutes, then slice it as thinly as possible. Use a very sharp cleaver to mince the meat. (Or just have the butcher coarsely grind it.)

3 Put the minced meat into a bowl and mix in the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, pepper, sesame oil and cornstarch.

4 Peel off and discard the tough skin of the dried cuttlefish, then cut it into small pieces. Squeeze the water from the chun pei, then finely chop it. Finely mince the ginger. Peel the fresh water chestnuts and rinse them thoroughly before cutting them into small dice. Add these ingredients to the bowl.

5 Clean the fresh squid. Pull the tentacles from the body. Peel off and discard the skin. Slit open the body on one side then scrape out and discard the innards. Cut off and discard the face and beak from the tentacles. Chop the body and tentacles, then add the pieces to the bowl with the meat and other ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

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6 Divide the mixture into two even portions and put them into two shallow bowls. Flatten the ingredients to make meat patties about 1.5cm thick. Heat water in a tiered steamer (or in a wok with a metal rack) and, when the water boils, place one of the bowls in the steamer and cover with the lid. Steam over medium heat for 20 minutes, or until the pork patty is cooked.

7 While the meat patty is steaming, mince the spring onions. When the meat is cooked, remove the dish from the steamer, scatter the spring onions on top and serve immediately. Cook the second dish (you’ll need to add more boiling water to the steamer) while eating the first portion.

Variations

For salted egg pork patty, make the dish as above, but leave out the chun pei, dried cuttlefish and fresh squid. After patting the meat mixture into two dishes, top each portion with a salted egg yolk (discard the white) and steam as instructed. Sprinkle with spring onion then serve.

For salted fish pork patty, make the dish as above, but leave out the chun pei, ginger, dried cuttlefish and fresh squid. After patting the meat mixture into two dishes, top each portion with a small meaty slice (about 1.5cm x 4cm) of salted fish that has been rinsed briefly under running water.

Peel several thin slices of ginger, then finely julienne them. Put the ginger over the fish and steam as instructed. Scatter the spring onion on top before serving.