Pinecone pork 松果肉


Cut pork belly into pieces the size of wine cups. Deeply score the skin like a chess board. Soak the pork in onion, garlic, ginger, peppercorn juice, soy sauce and wine, then using the same liquid as flavoring, simmer the pork until 7 or 8 tenths tender (done). Fish them out and remove the oil. Just before serving deep fry the pork in sesame oil. The skin will peel back on itself to look like a pinecone.

— 调鼎集

I originally planned to organize this blog by spending a few weeks on each category of recipes. Then I realized that meant I was going to be eating a new batch of cookies every day, and decided it was time to mix things up a bit.

This recipe comes from the late 18th-century Tiaodingji, a text translated as ‘Flavoring the Pot.’ It isn’t the first one to compare sliced meat to board games. In the book, I talk about a Song-dynasty dish called ‘chess pieces’. That one cut the meat to look like chess pieces, and then laid them out on a flat bed of rice. This one compares the scored pattern to the grid-like board used in weiqi, the game some of us might know as go.

To make them splay out like pine cones, I scored through the skin in a crosshatch like pieces of squid. Score the block of pork before you cut it into pieces.

The marinade is the same one used today to remove the ‘blood’ smell from meat. I assume that 椒汁 means that peppercorns are soaked and pressed, which frankly seems like an unnecessary step. I mixed the soy sauce and wine in equal proportions for the marinade, and then made a fresh batch for the cooking liquid. After about 10 minutes of medium-heat braising, I took them out and let them cool overnight in the fridge.

I removed the excess oil from the braising liquid, strained it and returned it to the pot. This has to be for serving, otherwise, why even bother with this step?

Sesame oil is ideal for frying, but really, any vegetable oil will do. Pat the pieces dry and fry them in small batches at low heat, taking them out one by one to spoon the hot oil over the scored top. This will help with the pine-coneyness we’ve all been promised. Braise the fried pieces briefly in the cooking liquid before serving.

Some thoughts. First, yum. This variation of hongshao (red-cooked) pork worked out really well.

Frying brings out the color and firms up the lean meat, which I found much more appealing than the very soft meat in hongshao rou. Because the meat isn’t braised as long, it retains more of a pure pork taste. Scoring the pork doesn’t just look nice. It also increases the surface of the fat that is exposed to the hot oil, rendering off some of the extra fat, and making the dish less greasy than braising alone.

I didn’t think it was possible, but it turns out that there is something better than red-cooked pork belly–deep fried red-cooked pork belly.


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