Chengdu Huiguorou, Twice-Cooked Pork (回锅肉)


Jump to Recipe – proceed at owN risk
Twice-cooked pork (huiguorou)

Chengdu Challenge #8:  Pork Belly, the Secret to a Long Life

Though 回锅肉 (huíguōròu) is actually quite easy to make, it challenged me more than any other dish so far. I had to test it so many times that “twice-cooked pork” became dozen-times-cooked pork before I got it right. But just as I did, I was rewarded with this news story about Sichuan’s oldest living resident, a 117-year-old woman who attributes her longevity to three meals a day of huiguorou.

Pork belly and Pixian doubanjiang is really all it takes to make one of the great dishes of all time, in any cuisine. But you have to have both of them. Do not make huiguorou if you do not. But if you do, it will taste very much like it does in restaurants in Chengdu (and good ones in the U.S.). My problem was not following the rule; I learned the hard way by trying various cuts of pork that were either too lean or too fat before finding the perfect belly.

It wasn’t The Cookbook’s fault. The recipe actually calls for pork rump—which is the cut they use in Sichuan—with the fat layer and outer skin still attached, which is assumedly the 50/50 lean-to-fat ratio this dish is meant to have. But that’s not a cut you easily find for sale in the U.S., since it’s used for ham. Pork belly is the cut that is generally used here, but the problem is that it is often too fatty for this recipe.

The pork belly I got at Whole Foods was about 75 percent fat, 25 percent lean, which was too fatty for my liking. My butcher then talked me into trying untrimmed pork loin, with a thick layer of fat still attached, or about a 50/50 fat-lean ratio. But that didn’t taste like the real thing, because the lean meat itself was too lean and dry, when it should actually be marbled and moist. I then tried a pork shoulder (pork butt), which is semi-fatty, and this was satisfactory, but not superb. So I decided to go back to the pork belly, but to hold out for one that was more lean—perhaps a pig who hadn’t been so piggy.

I found just that at a Chinese market, each belly weighing in at about one pound, the perfect size for a dish of huiguorou. It rendered just the right amount of fat to make a sauce and left big swaths of toothsome lean pork amid the succulent fat.

strips of raw pork belly
Look for a pork belly like these that is no more than half-fat

The only tricky part about making twice-cooked pork is remembering to do the first round of cooking in advance. The belly is simmered whole in barely boiling water until it’s partially cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes. Some people cook it longer so that it is entirely cooked through, but I prefer it to still be a bit pink  inside.

You then need to let it cool and tighten up in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing it for the stir-fry round. It’s still a little difficult to slice, but do so as thinly as possible, shooting for the thickness of a slice of bacon. Or better yet, freeze it for an hour or two, and that makes it much easier to cut thin. Thick, meaty slices are just the wrong texture for this dish.

When I stock up on bellies, I boil them all at once, let them cool, and freeze them. That way, when I want to have twice-cooked pork, the first cook is already done, and the second one is done in minutes.

ingredients for twice-cooked pork
Boiled and sliced pork, reddish Pixian chili bean paste, sweet wheat paste, and dried soybeans (douchi)
Mise for huiguorou, thinly sliced still-pink rare pork belly and the greens
Update: As I cooked this dish through the years, I learned to boil the pork a bit less, leaving it rare after the first cook, cut it as thinly as possible, and add many more leeks and scallions cut in strips and slivers

Must-Have Pantry Ingredients for Classic Twice-Cooked Pork

The easy part is the stuff straight out of Sichuan, the Pixian chili bean paste (doubanjiang) and sweet wheat paste (tianmianjiang). I did fib a bit when I said you only need the chili bean paste, because you also need sweet wheat paste. But once you’ve got these in your pantry, you’ve always got on hand the exact flavor combo you need for this classic dish. If you want to gild the belly, you can also throw in some fermented black beans (douchi), which many Sichuan cooks do, and which I do because we love douchi.

And there should be no substitution on the Pixian doubanjiang, if you want to feel like you’re eating in Sichuan. I can’t stress this enough, because the other, easier-to-find versions of chili bean paste—I’m talking to you, Hong Kong-made Lee Kum Kee—do not taste like the real thing in any way. (See more of this rant here, along with lots more info on Pixian doubanjiang.)

Twice-cooked pork with buns
While huiguorou is often served with steamed, split bao for making little sandwiches, this version was served with small baked breads at a restaurant in Chengdu

In Sichuan, a dish of twice-cooked pork is usually half green onions/leeks and is often served with steamed bao, so you can stuff the pork and leeks into yeasty, fluffy, little breads. You want to do this. You can buy bao frozen in Chinese markets or, better yet, make them yourself with this recipe.

Once you have the right ingredients, huiguorou is a breeze to make. Fans of pork belly, in particular, owe it to themselves to try it. And contrary to popular belief, the more you eat, the longer you may live.

For the cured pork belly version of huiguorou, try my Stir-Fried Bacon in Sichuan Bean Sauces (Chao Larou, 炒腊肉) and Kathy’s mom’s homemade version, Cured Pork Belly Stir-fry (Chao Larou, 炒腊肉)!

Chengdu Huiguorou, Twice-Cooked Pork (回锅肉)

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking
Inspired by Sichuan (China) Cuisine in Both Chinese and English, published in China in 2010 by the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine and the Sichuan Gourmet Association.


  • 1 pound pork belly, at least half-lean approx. 450 grams
  • 1 tablespoon Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
  • 1 tablespoon tianmiangjiang (sweet wheat paste)
  • 1 tablespoon douchi (preserved black beans)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 thin leeks, or one fatter, American-style leek (soft inner leaves only), cut vertically into thin strips about 2 inches long
  • 8 scallions, cut vertically into slivers about 2 inches long


  • Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the whole pork belly. Reduce heat and simmer belly around 15 to 20 minutes, until just partially cooked through. Remove pork and allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator for a few hours or the freezer for 1 to 2 hours, which will firm up the meat and make it easier to slice. Slice very thinly, into pieces about 2-3 inches long and 1/8-inch-thick (or even thinner, like a slice of bacon).
  • Mix chili bean paste, sweet wheat paste, preserved black beans, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl.
  • Heat a dry wok until hot. Add 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, and when wisps of heat begin to rise add the pork. Cook the pork slices, stirring and flipping occasionally, until they just lose their pink color and begin to curl.
  • Push the pork to the sides of the wok, leaving a well of fat in the middle. Add the sauce mixture to the fat and cook it briefly before mixing it into the pork. Add the leeks and stir-fry until they are just softened. Add the scallions and stir-fry briefly, until just softened. Remove to a serving plate.


Boiled pork belly can be frozen until you are ready to make the dish. Partially defrost and slice thinly for the recipe.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

Recipes you might like

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I finally got around to cooking this a couple days ago. It was magnificent, equal to or better than any I’ve had in a restaurant. I had two problems, tho. First, even after simmering the pork belly and chilling overnight in the fridge, I still didn’t slice it thinly enough. Can’t blame the knife, it was sharp enough. Guess I’ll have to try again to get it right. Problem two: I made the mistake of offering up a sample to a co-worker, now I don’t have much in the way of left-overs. A pound of pork belly doesn’t go far. That’ll teach me about being a nice guy and sharing.

    Related issue … the sauce was amazing. I can see myself using that as a basic stir-fry sauce for other protein-vegetable combinations.

    1. Thanks for this great feedback! I hear you about getting the pork thin enough. It’s really important, and it’s really hard. Partially freezing it is the only way I’ve been able to do so. I agree about the sauce as well. There’s a reason Sichuan chefs names this dish as their own favorite…

  2. I have a recipe that calls for la doubanjiang, a spicy red sauce. Is that the same as the 3 year Pixian chili bean paste that you sell?

  3. This is a wonderful recipe! Thank you for posting it and making the necessary ingredients available. I add a Tbsp of baijiu to the water when boiling the pork and it adds another layer of depth without specifically tasting like baijiu!

  4. You will probably be shocked and horrified but I made this dish using chicken (and the chili bean sauce knock-off you complain about). I absolutely understand it is not authentic but I am embarrassed to say I loved it. It was so tasty. Sorry and thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Afra, thanks so much for reading and sharing your feedback. “Authenticity” isn’t everything it seems. We’re just glad to inspire you in your cooking journey and there’s nothing embarrassing about loving something delicious! Someday you’ll have to try the original dish and then you can appreciate both 🙂

  5. I made this dish tonight, but I had to use LKK pastes. It turned out *amazing*, and it was all that I could do to not eat the entire thing. My wife and I are doing keto this month and even though the sauces are a *little* high on sugar, they more than make up for it with the fat from the pork belly. I’m lucky, though- there’s a market two blocks from my house where they sell pre-sliced pork belly which works perfectly in this dish. I look forward to trying it again with the products that y’all sell though, I’m sure it’ll add a level of depth (and I’m always a fan of fewer ingredients!). For fun, I parboiled a pack of shiratake noodles, cut ’em up, and threw ’em in. The texture played amazing well with the pork belly slices and crunch from the leeks and scallions!

    1. So great, Scott! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. Can’t wait for you to try it with our stuff. We’ve never managed not to eat the entire thing in one sitting, you have much more self-restraint than our family 🙂