I decided to go ultra-traditional this week and make lu rou fan or braised pork rice, which is a very traditional dish in Taiwan. For those who don’t know, I spent a year in Taiwan for school, and during that year, I probably tried over twenty lu rou fan recipes. Each were so flavorful and had the softest, melt-in-your mouth pork.

Fast forward to when I returned home and visited every Taiwanese restaurant I could Yelp. My goal - find the lu rou fan I ate in Taiwan. Result - places got pretty close, but nothing hit bulls-eye.

Fried Shallots (key flavor component)

I’ll tell you some of the reasons I found this to be true. For one, traditional lu rou fan is made with pork belly and I found that a lot of places just used ground up pork meat. This led to a much drier mouth-feel and frankly, fat contributes to flavor and that just wasn’t there in a lot of the dishes. Also, a lot of restaurants in the U.S. overdo it on the five spice powder or the star anise or even the sugar. The anise-y flavor is really supposed to compliment the dish and it’s other flavors, but in a lot of the restaurants I went to, it overpowered it. Anise and licorice flavors can get powerful very quickly, so the key is to just use a little so that you sense it in the background. One of the Taiwanese chefs I saw actually uses licorice root instead of star anise because he feels it gives a more subtle flavor.

My tips for this dish are very similar to the tips for Indian cooking, which involves blooming the flavors of each ingredient before adding the next. With lu rou fan, it’s the same. You want to properly develop the flavor of each ingredient before adding the next, so that you are layering the flavors. Then, once you add the liquid to the pork, low and slow is key. You want that fat and pork to break down slowly and develop flavor. I braised mine for about 2 hours, but I think if you had a slow cooker and put it on low for 4-6 hours, then the dish would be that much better.

Directions

1. In a pot of boiling water, blanch pork belly for about 5 minutes.

2.Cut pork belly into 1/2-inch strips and sprinkle with salt.

3. On medium high heat, fry pork belly in several tablespoons of oil for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.

4. Add in five spice powder, star anise, and fried shallots. Fry for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

5. Turn down to medium heat and add in rice wine and half of soy sauce. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

6.Add in rock sugar and pepper.

7. Add in water and the rest of the soy sauce. Bring to a boil and turn down heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2-4 hours.

8. Add in hard boiled eggs when there is 20 minutes left of cooking.

Serve over white rice.

Recipe

(Makes 8 servings)

  • 2 lb pork belly
  • 2-3 tablespoons salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/2 cup fried shallots
  • 1/4 cup rice wine
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce, divided into 2 parts
  • 40 grams rock sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2-4 eggs, hard-boiled