by Clarissa Wei
Fat and Skin Are the Secret to Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice
Memories of my childhood are perfumed with the smell of braised pork over rice. My mother would cook the dish for hours in a classic matcha-green Tatung steamer, and when the sweet aroma of soy sauce and rice wine successfully permeated throughout the whole house, it was a sure sign that dinner was ready. Mom’s recipe usually consisted of ground pork and shiitake mushrooms in lieu of the traditional pork belly because she could not in good conscience serve her children chunks of fat.
In Taiwan, such conscientiousness does not apply to the restaurant scene, and fat and skin are encouraged because they are what make the dish so delicious. Ground pork, skin, and cubes of pork belly are diced up and put into a large pot with slightly browned shallots and garlic, then braised over low heat for hours. The result: a luscious stew of pork, always dressed over plain white Ponglai, a local Taiwanese variety of short-grain rice.
Pork skin is lush in collagen, and when slow-braised, the collagen breaks down into gelatin, which gives the dish the signature viscosity that helps it cling to white rice. Known as lu rou fan in Mandarin Chinese, the dish is more fat than meat, and many restaurants just take a thick slab of pig skin with the fat still attached, dice it up, and throw it in a pot. Slow-braising over low heat breaks down the connective tissues in a meat, and an absolute minimum of one and a half hours is needed to achieve that cliché melt-in-your-mouth consistency.
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