Sometimes, good food comes from the Ready, Steady, Cook approach. I’ve been enmired in one of my busiest work weeks of the year, and came out alive at the other end to discover that Mr Lemur had bought some more-or-less random ingredients for me to cook at the Lovely Local Butcher and the Overpriced Local Greengrocer. Of course, the ingredients weren’t quite random. Faced with a panoply of organic and sustainable meaty wonders in the butcher’s shop, it’s better than even money that he’ll come out with pork belly. And, to be fair, these were some healthy slices of pig.
And it’s pretty hard to look past asparagus, let’s face it.
Now I realise pork belly and asparagus aren’t the most obvious combination: one wants to be braised long and slow whereas the other wants to be quickly steamed. But I figured there might be something appealing in the combination of gooey porky stickiness and the freshness of summery asparagus. It was a bit of an experiment but actually it came out rather well. At the end (almost) of a brutal week, this was comfort food in its purest form.
Sticky pork belly with asparagus and garlic scapes
- 2 slices of pork belly
- a little vegetable oil
- 2 garlic scapes, or 6 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp palm sugar
- 1/2 – 1 tsp of chili oil slurry (the kind with dried shrimp in, ideally)
- a generous bunch of asparagus
- 1-3 long red chilies to taste*
- 1/2 tbsp of Chinese or Vietnamese black vinegar
*I will say that with a teaspoon of chili oil slurry and three big red chilies, mine came out – ahem – quite spicy. Your preferences may vary but I do think it’s nice to have both the toasty flavour of the slurry and the zingy lift of the fresh chilies, so if you’re nervous about heat, cut down on both rather than omitting one altogether.
Fry the pork slices in a little oil in a non-stick skillet until nicely browned on all sides. Don’t worry about the edges as you’re not going to be achieving crackling with this style of cooking. In fact, if the fattiness of the cut alarms you, you can trim some of the edge fat off – it will still be unctuous. Add the garlic scapes, then add the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar and chili oil slurry and stir around a bit. It will cook down fast. When it does, add a cup of water, put a lid on it, and simmer slowly for about 45 minutes, or until the water has all evaporated, turning the meat occasionally.
Towards the end of the braising time, put on your rice and steam the asparagus over the rice pot. Chop the cooked asparagus and thinly slice the chilies on a diagonal.
When the pork liquid has cooked right down, remove the pork and slice it roughly. Pour most of the rendered fat off into a bowl – you should be able to keep just the sticky bits in the pan and get rid of much of the fat. Put the skillet back on a low heat and sauté the chilies for a few seconds.
Deglaze the pan with a small glug of vinegar. Then take off the heat and stir in the asparagus and the pork slices.
Serves 2 greedy greedy people.