My husband absolutely loves Chinese food. If you want to make him seriously happy, ring him up and say "Shall we go out for dim sum?" This year for his birthday I am going to make a thing happen that I've failed to every year we've been together to do, and organise a party at a Chinese restaurant, get one of those tables with a big swirly round glass rotating thing in the middle. It's all he wants really, ever - to be about to sit down to a big spread of Chinese platefuls.
But as well as dainty dim sum bites, he also likes the scarier aspects of Chinese food; he is completely down with the Chinese love of texture - finding a plateful of cold jellyfish or chicken's feet as interesteing as a steamed pork bun. Often even more so.
I've never had that much success cooking Chinese food. Curries are easy, but I start out trying to make something Chinese and it turns into a Thai stir-fry.
But the other day I stumbled across a recipe for an Aromatic (i.e. Chinese) pork belly hotpot. There is a very famous Singaporean restaurant in North London called Singapore Garden, which does something very similar and I thought I would re-create it for Giles last night.
Because he is a bit down in the dumps, my husband. He is so, so bored. It is dark. We are not in the middle of an exciting boxset. I am grumpy and fat and not interested in anything except lying down and not being spoken to or looked directly in the eye.
Anyway this thing, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, was absolutely terrific. Really amazing. And very simple, in fact - it only required a few things and the prep was easy.
I had been considering doing a Massaman curry but the list of ingredients was quite bonkers. Reading it and losing more and more heart as the ingredient list went endlessly on brought to mind that thing of when someone suggests a night out and it all sounds great but then they start saying "... the restaurant's in Putney... then we could all go out dancing...." and you look outside and it's just started snowing again and you say "Oh actually I think I've got a bit of a throat coming on, might give it a miss *Click Brrrr.*"
So if you like the sound of this hotpot, please give it a go because it produces something really quite echt and marvellous. It is, because it is pork belly, quite fatty and glutionous, so if you've got a bit of a "thing" about fat, this isn't for you. I mostly mean you, Becky B.
The only other drawback is that, like a lot of Chinese food, that it makes you thirsty as hell afterwards.
Aromatic Pork Belly Hotpot
1kg pork belly, skin on
8 spring onions
1 fresh red chilli
1 pint chicken stock
100ml light soy sauce (absolutely not dark)
75ml Chinese rice or mirin wine
25ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
3 star anise fruits (fruits??? have always thought that was stupid)
10cm fresh ginger peeled and cut into slim pieces. Yes I know it is hard with a knobbly bit of ginger to achieve this, but just do your best
1 nest of fine egg noodles per person
1 little whatsit of baby bok choi per person
1 Chop up your belly into chunks, leaving the skin on
2 Put it in a pot and cover it with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Scoop off the yukky scum that floats to the top. Try to ignore the slightly nasty porky stench.
3 Drain the pork, give the pan a rinse and then put the meat back in. Chop 5 spring onions in half and chuck these in then add the stock, soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, sugar, star anise, ginger and a good pinch of dried chilli.
4 Now simmer all this for 2 hours with a lid firmly on.
5 After this time, lift the pork out with a slotted spoon and put to one side. If you have a gravy separator, run the remaining liquid through it to get the worst of the grease off. If you don't, do your best skimming the top off the liquid with a spoon.
6 Now boil the liquid briskly to reduce it a bit. Keep tasting as it boils because what you don't want is to reduce it too much and just get a far, far too salty thing. Better it still be a bit runny but edible.
7 Put the pork back into the liquid and turn the bok choi in the stew for 5-10 mins to steam.
8 Serve on a bed of noodles with some fresh chilli (no seeds) and spring onions cut on the diagonal over the top.
Eat and try to look on the bright side.