Alex cooked this Sichuan and lime braised pork with no recipe to guide her. She checked what we had in the fridge, took out jars of sauces then opened the door of the spice cabinet to see what would go well with the sauces that she had chosen. Still not satisfied, she went to the garden, picked some Kaffir lime leaves and plucked the only ripe fruit from the tree. Then, she started prepping.
Sounds like risky business, doesn’t it? But cooking a dish by just eyeballing everything is also loads of fun. There are days whatever are in the fridge and pantry don’t seem to add up. And there lies the challenge. The ingredients might be limited but imagination can be boundless. I’m happy that my daughters have acquired that sense of adventure this early in their cooking journey. Even with no recipes to follow or inspire them, they can throw together discordant ingredients and come up with something wonderful.
But why bother scrounging for ingredients? Why not just choose a recipe then buy the specified ingredients? Because—and this is something that most readers of recipe blogs and avid collectors of cookbooks won’t believe—learning how to cook is so much more than being able to follow a list of ingredients and series of instructions. Yes, that’s how every cook starts his or her journey—by following recipes and replicating dishes that had been previously cooked by others. But, as that journey progresses, there comes a time in every cook’s life when replicating a dish becomes less fun than creating one from the imagination.
That’s why every cook’s journey should not only be about mastering techniques but, more importantly, understanding ingredients. When you know your ingredients, you know by instinct which go well together and which don’t. Take Sichuan peppercorns and Kaffir lime, for instance. If you know Sichuan peppercorn, then, you’d be aware that it is not related to pepper at all and that it has lemony overtones. Combine Sichuan peppercorns with Kaffir lime juice and the citrusy overtones are enhanced. Throw in some Kaffir lime leaves and you get a lovely aroma on top of the lovely flavors.
Alex's Sichuan and Lime Braised Pork
For the marinade
For the sauce
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- zest of one Kaffir lime or regular lime
- juice of 1/2 Kaffir lime or regular lime
Rinse the pork belly and pat dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels.
In an oil-free pan, toast the salt, Sichuan peppercorns and cumin until aromatic. Cool.
Using a mortar and pestle (or whatever grinding tool you usually use), grind the cooled spices with the Kaffir lime leaves.
Spread the ground mixture on the entire surface of the pork belly. Wrap in cling film and store in the fridge overnight. Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking to bring the meat to room temperature.
Heat enough oil in a frying pan to reach a depth of at least one inch.
Brown the pork belly in the hot oil. Flip it over to ensure even browning. Scoop out and set aside.
In a sauce pan, stir together the garlic, onion, bay leaf, cayenne and broth with just enough salt and pepper to create a good balance. Bring to the boil.
Add the browned pork belly to the boiling broth. Lower the heat and cook the meat for 45 minutes. Flip the meat over and cook for another 30 to 35 minutes. Scoop out, move to a plate and cool.
Cut the pork belly into half inch slices. Cut each slice into pieces about two inches wide.
In a wide pan, stir together the ingredients for the sauce. Heat gently. Add the sliced pork belly to the sauce, stirring the pieces around to coat them well. Cook just until the pork slices are heated through and the sauce is thick and sticky.
Arrange the pork belly slices on a serving plate and, optionally, sprinkle with sliced scallions. Serve the Sichuan and lime braised pork with hot rice.