Szechuan kourou – pork belly with mustard leaf – 烧白

Szechuan kourou – pork belly with mustard leaf – 烧白

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

The first time I came across Szechuan kourou, or a version of it, was in one of the food stations in Yiwu’s International Trade City on a work trip to China some years ago. The set-up of these food stations isn’t so much about menus, and is instead more about assuming the diner knows what it is that they’re looking at and what it is they’re wanting to order.

When you’re a foreigner that doesn’t speak any Chinese dialects, things can become a bit of a guessing game.

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

So there I was, as hungry as they come, peering at a multitude of pre-made edibles and wondering which one to choose. There were the obvious pulled noodles, dumplings and fried bits and pieces, but some of the others were a tasty surprise.

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

I’m up for anything that I can remotely recognise. I knew what I as eyeing off was pork belly, it looked appealing enough, yet I had no idea what that vegetable was that it concealed. Bugger it. I chose it, anyway.

The mystery dish I ate is the simple-yet-complex steamed pork belly with mustard leaves – or meicai. Not fresh mustard leaves, but instead ones that need to be rehydrated after many rinses in water. They may be slightly rinsed before they’re processed and packaged for the consumer, but there’s always grit in this stuff.

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

I found out the Chinese name of this dish after I was contacted by a guy that noticed I’d been in Yiwu on a work trip. He basically wanted to show me a few dishes that are unique to the area his family is from – the Szechuan Province. I immediately recognised one of them, and once I was armed with this text – 烧白 – I let Google lead me to a bunch of traditional recipes.

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

After looking at and translating dozens of recipes, and watching a couple of YouTubes, I took notes and came up with the one I’m showing you now. My favourite discovery was putting a piece of Szechuan pepper-topped muslin on the dish before it goes into the steamer. This was something I came across in one recipe from someones grandmother; a trick that none of the other recipes used.

I’ve got to be honest, this is a fairly laborious meal to make, so I can understand why it’s often only seen at festivals and special occasions.

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

The trick is getting a burnished and dimpled texture on the skin of the pork, and making sure it’s steamed long enough to help render the fat.

Szechuan kourou wouldn’t be Szechuan kourou without those preserved leaves, either. The ones I found in the Asian grocer are semi-dried and slightly flavoured with soy. Soaking them removed the seasoning – and of course the grit that’s in there. The flavour of the mustard leaves is what makes this dish. It’s grassy and has a vague black tea flavour – something that permeates through the pork as it all steams together.

So if you’d like to make a Chinese dish that has a little more technique than tossing ingredients into a wok, this may be one for you.

Adapted from here.

Szechuan kourou - 烧白

 

Print Recipe
Szechuan kourou
Here's one dish that you may not see in your average Chinese restaurant. Szechuan kourou. Slices of pork steamed with a layer of seasoned mustard leaf.
Szechuan kourou - 烧白
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Chinese
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Chinese
Servings
people
Ingredients
Szechuan kourou - 烧白
Instructions
  1. Soak the dried mustard leaves in plenty of water, massaging them well to release any residual sand that's trapped in there. Repeat the process several times. Drain the leaves well, then squeeze out the excess water. Set aside.
  2. Put the pork into a fairly snug-fitting saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of shaoxing wine, 2 slices of ginger, star anise, 1 teaspoon szechuan peppercorns and lengths of spring onion. Top with enough cold water to cover the pork then bring to a boil on the stove. Reduce the heat to a moderate simmer, partially cover with a lid and allow to cook for 20 minutes, turning once during cooking.
  3. Remove the pork from the saucepan and strain the cooking broth through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids and keeping the liquid. Set it aside.
  4. Dry the pork really well with kitchen paper and brush the skin with some of the dark soy sauce, while it's still hot. Allow the soy to dry and absorb into the skin, then repeat the brushing two more times.
  5. Heat a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour in the 1 tablespoon of oil and, while holding the pork with long tongs, lay it in the hot wok skin-side down - swirling and moving it around to get the skin golden brown. Only sear the skin.
  6. Warning - this process will probably cause a lot of popping and spitting, so feel free to use a lid so you don't end up with oil all over yourself and your kitchen!
  7. Turn the heat off once the pork skin has some good colour on it and set it aside to cool before you slice it thinly. Alternatively, lay it onto a plate and put it into the freezer for about 45 minutes. The firmer it is, the easier it will be to slice it into 3 mm slices.
  8. While the pork is in the freezer, heat the extra tablespoon of oil in the wok, over medium high heat. Cook the garlic for about 30 seconds, then stir in the finely chopped ginger. Cook for another minute, then stir in the sugar and cook it all for another 30 seconds.
  9. Toss in the mustard leaves and sliced spring onion, sauté for about 1 minute, then add the cornflour, remaining dark soy, light soy, 2 tablespoons of shaoxing wine and 1 cup of the reserved cooking broth. Give it a stir and set it aside.
  10. Grab two bowls that have a 12 cm diameter, or one larger 18 cm bowl.
  11. Slice the pork into 3 mm slices, keeping them together as you slice them off the main chunk. Take the sliced pork and lay it, skin-side down, into the bowls - pressing down gently.
  12. Using your hand, take the mustard leaves out of the soy mixture and let it drain a little. Lay the leaves on top of the pork and press them down. Put the squares of muslin on top, scatter 1 teaspoon of szechuan peppercorns onto the muslin, then steam the bowls for 1 hour 15 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, simmer the remaining soy liquid in the wok until reduced by half.
  14. To serve, lay a plate over the steamed bowl of pork and quickly flip it over and invert it. Drizzle, over some of the sauce and serve with rice and greens.
Share this Recipe
  • It is a little labor intensive but each time I look at it I want it… so I probably won’t mind the intensity. Time to head to our Asian grocer to see if they have the mustard leaves. Also, sometime, I need to learn the differences between all the soy sauces. Here, “light” (or lite) means it has less sodium. Every time I explore the soy sauce aisle at the market, I get confused… This is a stunner, John!

    • It depends on the brand of soy here, David. I find some of the ones from China specify whether they’re dark or light in colour and taste. But some just say soy, which is generally the light coloured variety.

      • Ahhh… Clear as mud! 🙂 I will head over to LeeLee Market and find someone to demystify soy sauces for me! And I can pick up a nice pork belly while I am at it.

  • This looks so delicious, and your photos are amazing as always!

    • Thanks Natasha, there may be a bit of work involved, but it really is a great dish.

  • Such a stunning dish. You’re so lucky to have stumbled across it during your travels (I know just how difficult eating can be in China. . .and many times it can feel like you are playing a game of chance) and equally lucky to have finally discovered its true identity. Definitely worth a labor intensive day in the kitchen.

    • Yes, there are some curious-looking edibles in China. Unusual for people like us, but for the locals, it’s very much the norm.

  • KevinIsCooking

    Wow, now this was a labor of love. I’m thinking the peppercorns on the muslin impart a peppery flavor to the dish or aroma only? So interesting and beautiful John.

    • It really is an interesting dish, Kevin. I thought the peppercorns on the muslin would have made a noticeable difference, but it was just a bit of the aroma that infused through the dish – not so much flavouring it. A gorgeous touch, though, that’s why I included it.

  • I love the story of how this came about, and all the research you put into it. You’ve also plated it beautifully. I wish you’d cook it for me sometime!

    • I probably put more research into than I did cooking it, Jeff. At least it paid off in the end.

  • I think a rainy day would be a perfect time to make this. Thanks for dropping by!

  • Barry Ozmo

    i think i rather have someone cook it for me;-)now dark soy sauce can also be mushroom based as well.pearl river bridge brand comes to mind.

  • Oh my gosh this looks amazing. My mum often uses mustard leaves but never in anything as wondrous looking as this! That pork!

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