Above: Straight from the source -- Hakka pork belly mui choi paired with rice congee. Delectable comfort food as sampled in my ancestral village in Dabu, Guangdong, China, said to be the Hakka capital of the world.
Pork Belly Mui Choi. The very whisper of this traditional Hakka dish for me ignites waves of homesickness and nostalgia and pleasure.
The slow-cooked melty pork belly slices and the sweet-salty pickled mustard greens were a staple indulgence (if that makes sense) during my growing up years in Singapore. I've always loved this dish dearly, eating a single batch for multiple meals over multiple days if I'm home visiting.
And then I tried the dish in Dabu, Guangdong, (aka the Hakka capital of the world) during a pilgrimage to my ancestral village in China, one of the many chapters of our 15-month backpacking honeymoon. And although it didn't taste all that different from my family's version at home, an unexplained blasphemous thought did cross my mind at that dinner: "If there is no pork belly mui choi in heaven, I might have to rethink my strategy for the afterlife..."
So naturally, it was one of my top priority dishes that I wanted to learn how to cook as part of my campaign to pester my extended family for beloved family recipes while Babs and I were on that same big gallavant. And so I did.
Back here in London, I decided that my friend Goz's debut +(65) / Plusixfive Singapore supper club would be the perfect opportunity to share something I loved and something I learned.
As much as I love this dish, I was a bit (pleasantly) taken aback by the reaction it got. If I could beam anymore, my cheeks would fall off my face. Maybe they never stood any chance, really. The fat, sugar and salt in this dish is very much a triple-strength heat-seeking missile for pleasure sensors in the human body. Resistance is futile.
(Then disaster strikes. My little netbook, which held out through Lao jungles and Jordan deserts and Bolivian highlands, finally decided to give up and roll over. Along with my pork belly moi choi step by step instruction photos, along with 20,000 other photos from being on the road.
That was a bit drama queeny. The photos are backed up. Somewhere. It'll just take me a few days to get back to them. But I just wanted to make sure that this recipe got out in time for the weekend. I do like to deliver on my chat.
So, I'll add photos next week. In the meantime...) -- Problem mitigated, thanks to the ever brilliant Babs. Now with photos included!
Pork Belly Moi Choi
- 1kg pork belly
- ~500g salty mui choy (preserved mustard greens); AND ~500g sweet mui choy
- 10 big cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (sunflower or vegetable or rapeseed)
- 3 tablespoons dark soya sauce (I like Kikkoman and Pearl River Bridge)
- 3 tablespoons granulated white or brown sugar
Note on the pork belly: Try to get a medium-fatty piece. Too fatty and the whole thing just melts and flakes away into nothing too quickly. You do want solid pieces for presentation. Too lean and you'll need to cook it for more hours to get it to the right level of tenderness in the meat
Note on the mui choi: I've had friends ask me where I got mine, cos theirs "didn't taste right". I got these below from Loong Fung in London's Chinatown (the one photo I COULD access!), and they definitely tasted right, for me at least! It takes a bit of hunting, especially the sweet variety. Look in their pickled and dried vegetables and herbs section.
Prepping the mui choi
- Soak the mui choi in a big basin of water. Leave standing for about 15 minutes. Drain the water and refill with fresh water. Repeat this process 2 more times. It's better to oversoak the mui choi and resalt it later, rather than have it be painfully kidney-cringe-salty in the pot.
- Rinse the mui choi thoroughly under running water, to get rid of sand and grit
- Dice the mui choi into ~1cm by 1cm sections
- Chop up the garlic roughly
Prepping the pork belly:
- Slice the pork belly into strips, then little slabs. Assuming you'e not some pre-schooler kitchen prodigy, the eventual pieces should be about the size and thickness of your 3 middle fingers held together. Sometimes your pork belly will come with a few ribs. Trim out the hard bones and use for soup or BBQ some other time. You can leave the cartilegy little bones in if you want. Sometimes your pork belly will come with a few sow nipples. You can decide if you want to keep them on or trim them off (Goz suggests making nipple chicharron... the perv...)
Putting it all together:
- Heat up a wok or a large chef's pan on the stove, at medium heat
- Sear the pork belly pieces on all sides for about 5 minutes, lightly browning the pork and rendering some of the fat. Do this in batches if necessary
- Remove the pork belly and set aside
- Add the cooking oil to the pan. Add 1-2 more tablespoons of oil if the pork belly is particularly lean
- Add the garlic to the pan, and fry for a couple of minutes, softening the garlic
- Add the chopped up moi choi and stir fry for ~15 minutes, making sure that everything is evenly coated with oil
- Transfer the mui choi and garlic into a large pot
- Place the pork belly on top of the bed of mui choi
- Sprinkle on the sugar and drizzle on the dark soya sauce
- Pour in boiling water until all of the pork is covered
- Slow cook on low heat for at least 3 hours. For the inaugural Plusixfive dinner the pork belly was a lean cut and they were proper outdoor reared pigs, so to get the texture I was happy with, I slowcooked everything for 6 hours, then slowcooked just the pork for an additional 2 hours. You want the pork to be super tender, holding together just long enough to make it to your mouth before it melts and falls apart. Fattier cuts will need less cooking time
- Taste. Add salt or some more dark soya sauce as necessary. The dish should be very savoury, but you should be able to taste the tinge of sweetness. The pork should also be a medium-dark brown from the dark soya sauce (some brands which I don't like leave a much wimpier colouring)
- Dish out into a bowl. It's prettier if the mui choy is below, and the pork is arranged on top. (I've taken to fishing out the pork carefully first in to a separate bowl, then scooping out the mui choi. This helps to keep the very soft pork belly pieces intact until you bring it to the table.)
- Serve with rice, or watery Teochew-style plain rice congee
This dish actually tastes better after sitting and reheating. If you make a big batch and somehow manage not to eat it all in one meal, freeze a bowl's worth in each freezer bag, and simply warm up in a pot before serving.
And now, the invitation to eat, in Hakka: Sit fun!