Double-Cooked Pork

Huiguo Rou

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: Reddish-Brown: OtherDinner: Menu

    Mrs. Chiang remembers that “Chinese New Year was the biggest celebration of the year in the Szechwan countryside. We children got new clothes, shiny new coins, and special treats of candy, nuts, and oranges. My father would be very grave about weighing out each child’s portion so none of us felt cheated.

    “But the eating was even better than the gifts. Each branch of the family gave a banquet for everyone else; my uncle’s was on the second day after the New Year, and my family’s was on the fifth. The food was wonderful; my father slaughtered a pig just before the New Year so there was a lot of meat. We had several kinds of sausages and salted meats, fresh hams and rich meat stews. Best of all were the big platters of Double-Cooked Pork.”

    Double-Cooked Pork, or huiguo rou, is such a famous Szechwanese dish that many Chinese restaurants and cookbook authors in this country call it simply Szechwanese Pork. In a sense the name really isn’t wrong, for the juxtaposition of clashing tastes and textures in authentic Double-Cooked Pork is quintessentially Szechwanese. It is hot, rich, fragrant, salty, and, because of the unusual presence of hoisin sauce, even a little bit sweet. Many Szechwanese dishes combine and contrast flavors, but what makes Double-Cooked Pork so special is its method of preparation and the particular cut of meat that is used in making it. It is a dish that plays upon the crispness and richness of pork fat, qualities that are highly prized by Chinese gourmets. An authentic huiguo rou must be made with fresh bacon, with its clear stripings of lean and fat. In Szechwan the meat Mrs. Chiang’s mother used for Double-Cooked Pork came from such large pigs that, instead of containing several stripes of lean meat, each piece was half fat and half lean. When it was cooked, the meat would curl up into the shape of a tiny bowl, which was so similar to that of a Chinese oil lamp that the cooked pieces of huiguo rou were called “little oil lamps.”

    The meat in Double-Cooked Pork is cooked twice. First it is boiled, then fried, and it is the second cooking that is the crucial one. If it is done right, the slices of partially cooked fresh bacon will fry in their own fat. This requires a very hot flame, for otherwise the meat will simply stew in its own juice. This may seem to be an esoteric matter, but it is just the kind of thing that makes the difference between authentic Szechwanese food and a dismal approximation thereof. A real huiguo rou should have practically no sauce. Each piece of meat should be rather dry and coated with the savory remnants of the condiments rather than bathed in them.

    All the other ingredients are secondary to the meat. Some cooks use green peppers, some don’t. Leeks are generally de rigueur, but can be substituted for in an emergency by scallions and increased amounts of garlic. Though you can make a good Double-Cooked Pork using a different and leaner cut of meat, it won’t be fully authentic. Fresh bacon is always available in Chinese markets, but it can be difficult to find elsewhere. Try pestering your butcher; it’s worth it.

    Method

    Preparation

    1 pound fresh bacon or similar very fatty cut of pork, in one piece

    4 cups water, approximately

    Put the pork in a saucepan and cover it with water, first cutting the meat into several chunks, if necessary, to fit it into the pan. Bring the water to a boil and cook the meat for about 3 minutes, then remove the meat from the pan. Drain it and let cool. The pork will not be completely cooked; don’t worry, it has a second chance. (You can, if you want, reserve the cooking liquid for making some other dish, like a vegetable or soup).
    3 leeks Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and wash them thoroughly, then cut them into pieces 2 inches long. Use both the white and the green part.
    2 green peppers Wash the green peppers, then cut them into pieces approximately 1 inch square.
    4 cloves garlic Smash the garlic cloves with the side of your cleaver, then peel. Chop the garlic into pieces the size of a match head.
    (pork) If you have used fresh bacon, slice the partly cooked meat across the grain as thinly as you can. Each slice should measure roughly 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. If you have a different cut of meat, try to cut it into pieces of this size.

    Cooking

    1 tablespoon peanut oil Heat your wok or pan over a fairly high flame for about 20 seconds, then pour in the oil. It will be ready to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.

    (green peppers)

    ½ teaspoon salt

    When the oil is ready, add the green peppers and the salt. Lower the heat slightly and stir-fry the peppers, using your cooking shovel or spoon in a scooping motion to toss the pieces around in the pan so they all come into contact with the hot oil. (It doesn’t make any difference if the peppers char slightly, so you don’t have to be too conscientious about stir-frying them. Just make sure they all cook.) After 2 minutes, remove the peppers from the pan.
    (leeks) Put in the leeks without adding any more oil and stir-fry them over a medium flame for about 2 minutes, until they are limp. Then remove them from the pan.

    2 tablespoons peanut oil

    (6 fatty slices pork)

    Reheat the pan over the same moderately high flame and add the oil. When it is ready for cooking, toss in about 6 of the fattiest slices of the meat. Stir-fry them, pressing them against the sides of the pan until most of their fat has been rendered.

    (garlic)

    1 tablespoon hot pepper paste

    1-½ tablespoons hoisin sauce

    (meat)

    Now add the chopped garlic, hot pepper paste, hoisin sauce, and the rest of the partially cooked meat. Stir-fry these ingredients vigorously while you add them to the pan and continue to do so for about 2½ minutes. The mixture will be quite dry; it should be.
    (green peppers and leeks) Return the green peppers and the leeks to the pan and stir-fry them, together with the pork, for a final 2½ minutes, then serve immediately.