Monday, 12 August 2013

Pictures + Video: The MeatMen’s sio bak + stuff they forgot to mention

First off, nobody panic.

I know it’s a gigantic leap from shaking up garlic bulbs in metal bowls to doing a full-on sio bak recipe. I know many would ‘suggest’ vehemently that if I wanted to play with heat in the kitchen I should begin with a more tentative step… like boiling water in an electric kettle. (And make bloody sure it’s electric and switches off automatically) 

Check, and check. Meet the most frequently-used appliance in my kitchen. Yep, me and ol’ National here go wayyy back.

Most importantly, I know that I should never risk allowing my bumbling enthusiasm to ruin a perfectly good piece of beautiful, beautiful pork belly.

Mmmmmm…. pork belly…

That’s why I’m not attempting this recipe. Lady Fartsalot is.

She is an accomplished home cook who’s capable of making a large and impressive list of dishes. And she’s constantly adding to the list by trying out new and interesting recipes. Many of the inches on my waistline are the direct result of her often-successful experiments in the kitchen.

So now we have someone who knows her way around the kitchen, a beautiful piece of pork belly, plus all the other ingredients. Let's rock and roll!

But first, let's take a moment to admire this nice jar that the fermented red beancurd came in. Pretty good for something that cost less than RM8, don't you think?

Essentially, we (and for the rest of this article, keep in mind that by 'we' I usually mean 'she') replicated The MeatMen sio bak recipe. If you haven’t watched their video, you totally should. Just be warned that side-effects may include uncontrollable drooling, ravenous hunger and the deaths of perfectly innocent but oh-so-delicious pigs.

There are, however, a few points The MeatMen didn’t mention in their video that we felt should be highlighted.

POINT 1: Brine
We cut the pork belly into two pieces and brined one of them. The brined belly seemed a little crunchier and tastier. And it’s easy to do: just cover the meat completely in salted water and leave in the fridge overnight.

POINT 2: Punctures
The recipe called for holes to be punched in the meat but since there are no plans to open up a sio bak rice stall any time soon, we didn’t think it was worth getting a specialised tool for the job. We decided to just stab the heck out of the pork belly instead. We ended up making tiny slits in the skin instead of puncture-marks, but that didn’t seem to affect the result much. And it was quite a lot of fun, to boot!

This is incredibly cathartic. Had a tough day at work? Forget punching bags; stabbing pork belly is the way to go.

Then we rubbed salt into the skin, slathered the mixture below on the meat side and left the whole thing on a rack to air-dry, skin-side up, for 4 hours.

Fermented red beancurd, five-spice powder, salt and white pepper.

We inserted skewers to keep the meat in shape, then it was straight into a 200-Celsius oven for 2 hours.

In 2 hours, the pork skin changed expression more times than Kristen Stewart did across all 4 Twilight movies.

POINT 3: Smoke
There was smoke. Holy crap was there a lot of smoke. We didn’t notice this until it looked like someone had unpacked a special shipment of thick, industrial-grade, pork-scented Indonesian haze in our living room. Eyes stinging, we did some panicked Googling and found out that smoke is to be expected; the fat in the drip pan tends to burn. A little water in the drip pan prevents burning and reduces the smoke dramatically.

Once 2 hours are up, brush the skin side with white vinegar.

Just brushed with vinegar and looking ready to be eaten. But nope, more cooking required.

Now, crank the heat to maximum and put the meat back in as near to the heating elements as possible. Keep an eye on it and pull it out once the skin turns black.

We didn't let this turn all the way black because we were worried about overcooking. So it's more of a Chigger kind of black, no'm say'n?  

The blackened bits were scraped off very, very carefully in order to waste as little of the delicious crunchy skin as possible.

POINT 4: Sauce
The drippings make a good sauce. Lady Fartsalot added a bunch of random ingredients to the drippings: a star anise, some cloves, oyster sauce, dried rosemary (because rosemary traditionally goes well with pork), light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and flour to thicken. Then she reduced the whole thing into a nice, Western-tasting sauce. Do note that she had to add quite a lot of stuff to fortify the flavour of the sauce as most of our drippings had to be discarded because it got burnt before we found out about adding water to the drip pan.

The sauce that made me forget about wanting chicken rice chilli to go with the sio bak.

POINT 5: Resting
If you watch a lot of food shows, you probably remember every single TV chef warning you NEVER to cut into a piece of meat straight off the grill. Because if you cut it right away, all the juices rushing and bubbling around inside the hot piece of meat will come rushing out, leaving the meat all dry and icky. Letting the meat rest for 15 to 20 minutes will allow the juices to settle down and stay in the meat when you cut.

Same advice applies here. Don’t worry; the sio bak skin will remain crispy for a long time so you can afford to wait. Also, it seems letting the meat rest for 30-45 minutes will allow the flesh to firm up a little bit so you can cut nice, clean chunks.

So, how did it turn out? Well, let’s watch the sio bak being cut, shall we?

Did you hear the crunch? Isn’t it the most beautiful sound in the world? The meat was incredibly juicy and fall-apart tender. The fat melts upon contact with the tongue. The taste of five-spice powder was a little more pronounced than in other sio bak I’ve bad, but overall the porky flavour was just perfect, without being too overpowering. And the salty sauce complemented the sio bak amazingly well.

The sio bak was so tender we had trouble getting it to stay in shape. Here it is with our sauce plus a garnish of caramelised onions and guava slices, which seemed to work a lot better than cucumbers.

And I ate way, way, way too much of it. So much, in fact, that thinking back to how full I was on that day, I now feel an overwhelming urge to go have a little lie-down.

Think I’ll do just that.

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