Legend has it that Su Dongpo accidentally created this dish sometime in his life more than 700 years ago during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when he was stewing some fatty swine from the village and completely forgot about it when a friend dropped in to play chess. He remembered the pork when fragrant wafts came from the cooking pot and surprisingly produced a very tasty meal rather than a burnt old mess. I would have kicked the free-loading friend out and kept it all myself!
“You no play chess fair! Get out no pork for you!”
This well known dish from Hangzhou traditionally uses pork belly but all I had floating around the freezer was a great chunk of pork neck, with sufficient fat layering but not much skin. Rather than tie the cubes of pork with string I’ve used blanched spring onions, plus from the many recipes I found online I’ve adapted a few of the ingredients to what I could find in my pantry.
The rich caramelised sauce is beautifully fragrant with star anise, cinnamon and Shaoxing wine and the meat is tender, fatty and moist. I can just imagine how good it would also have been with pork belly.
Lay two pieces of the blanched spring onion in a cross pattern and place a square of pork, skin side down, in the centre. Tie the ends as tight as possible without breaking the spring onion. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok and sauté the ginger, spring onion segments and garlic for 30 seconds. Add the star anise and cinnamon and sauté until fragrant. Place this into the bottom of a pan and lay the pork, skin side down, over the fried ingredients in a single layer.
Add a little more oil to the hot wok, if needed, add the sugar and stir until caramelised. Now add the soy sauces and a touch of water and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and pour this over the pork.
Place the pan containing the pork over medium-high heat and pour the Shaoxing over. Bring to the boil then reduce to a low simmer. Cover with a lid or bamboo steamer lid, leaving a gap for steam to escape.
Cook for about an hour and then gently turn each piece of pork, skin side up. Cook for a further hour, until tender and caramelised. The sauce be should reduced and almost syrupy.
Serve with rice and Asian greens, or as they do in China, between two halves of a bread bun to catch all the juices.