Cured Pork Belly Stir-fry (Chao Larou, 炒腊肉)
Once-Cooked Pork, Revisited
This pork belly stir-fry pays homage to an old series on the blog, Cooking with Pixian Doubanjiang. Longtime readers may notice the similarity to “once-cooked pork” in Sichuan bean sauces. While that used bacon as a stand-in for Chinese cured pork belly (腊肉, làròu), this features the real deal—if you missed it, big news! Kathy has been teaching readers how to make their own Sichuan wind-cured pork belly. Last month, we presented seven ways to smoke, boil, steam and stir-fry the finished product. Now, we’re bringing you the eighth way.
Besides the type of cured pork, there’s one other main difference between Taylor’s blog recipe and mine. Back in 2015, The Mala Market online store hadn’t yet launched. And until August 2018, it didn’t carry Sichuan Pixian Douban Co.’s handstirred-daily-for-three-years Yi Feng He Hao brand douban (豆瓣, dòubàn)—the star assist in this stir-fry lineup. In fact, no one did. To this day, The Mala Market is the U.S.’s exclusive authorized importer of Yi Feng He Hao. And as a bonus, they source all their Sichuan Pixian Douban Co. products directly from the manufacturer, including the Juan Cheng brand 1-year red-oil douban (红油豆瓣, hóngyóu dòubàn). That means everything is packaged to order for them, and only them, right before export.
The differences of douban
Education time: All Sichuan cooks know Sichuan doubanjiang as “douban.” But not all Sichuan douban is from the district of Pixian (now called Pidu), though it originated there. Only strictly regulated, traditional douban made in Pixian can be sold as Pixian douban (see above photo for what trademark info to look for on labels). Nonetheless, all Sichuan douban is a mix of fermented broad bean (fava bean) paste plus fermented chilis, and therefore spicy, 辣 (là). However, not all doubanjiang is Sichuan (i.e., spicy) anymore, creating the additional distinction of spicy doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubànjiàng) and not-spicy doubanjiang.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, Juan Cheng also sells a popular line of 1-year Pixian douban without oil. No-oil 1-year Juan Cheng and 3-year Yi Feng He Hao (also no-oil) are both dark, concentrated and paste-like. The 1-year red-oil, on the other hand, is bright red with more of a sauce consistency, ideal for mapo doufu, shuizhu niurou and yuxiang qiezi.
This recipe wields both our 1-year red-oil and 3-year doubanjiang to achieve a color, spice and savoriness not afforded by either alone. The red-oil douban brings a brighter taste and deep-red hue, while the 3-year brings the funk and soul. If you pay top dollar for cheese and wines, consider adding Yi Feng He Hao ($20 at time of publication, 17.6 oz) to your Chinese cooking arsenal for premium Sichuan flavor. The rarity comes straight from their rooftop crocks to your kitchen, and it’s worth every second of babysitting.
In addition to douban, this recipe marries tianmianjiang with Shaoxing huadiao wine and Zhongba light soy sauce (生抽, shēngchōu). Pressed tofu slivers balance an otherwise bold flavor palate. Note—firm/extra-firm tofu is not a replacement for the five-spice pressed/dry tofu (豆腐干, dòufugān; colloquially 豆干, dòugān). However, if you put in a day’s work, you can make it from extra-firm tofu and DIY-pressed dougan.
As for the tianmianjiang (sweet wheat paste), you won’t often see it combined with douban in Sichuan cooking beyond twice-cooked pork. More likely, it’s featured separately in dry noodle bowls (think dandanmian). Outside of Sichuan, you may see it in dishes like Beijing jiang rousi. This 炒腊肉 (chǎo làròu) recipe is therefore a twist on tradition.
To get started, prep your ingredients so they’re ready to go once the pan is hot. If you have leeks, feel free to include them.
On high heat, stir-fry the sliced pork belly until edges have browned. Remove the meat, leaving the rendered oil behind. Briefly stir-fry the aromatics, using additional oil if necessary. Then, spoon in the Juan Cheng red-oil douban, Yi Feng He Hao douban, tianmianjiang and Shaoxing wine. Fry until you smell the sharp, spicy flavor bomb cooking up, then add the dougan and chilies. Cook until softened to your liking. Return the meat to the pan and add light soy sauce just before taking off the heat and plating.
This little recipe served three people just fine with several other dishes on the table, as typical for any Chinese meal. Leftovers were possibly more delicious over next day’s lunch. The proportions are highly adjustable, and we encourage you to tamper as you see fit. Like any proper stir-fry, measurements are approximate and entirely personal.
What other creative uses have you found for cooking up larou? I’d love to know!
For more larou cooking ideas beyond this pork belly stir-fry, see my previous post on Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly (Larou, 腊肉), Part 2: Smoking + Cooking!
Cured Pork Belly Stir-fry (Chao Larou, 炒腊肉)
- ¼ strip prepared larou (Chinese cured pork belly) approx. 150g, more to taste
- ¼ package doufugan (pressed tofu, five spice flavor preferred)
- 2 bell or poblano peppers
- 1 inch thumb ginger, thinly sliced approx. ½ tablespoon
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 scallions, whites and light green parts only
- 3 dried Chinese chilies (we used chaotianjiao), roughly chopped
- drizzle Chinese vegetable oil (caiziyou preferred) as needed
- ½ tablespoon red-oil douban (hongyou douban, Pixian Juan Cheng preferred)
- ½ tablespoon 3-year aged douban (Pixian Yi Feng He Hao preferred)
- 1 tablespoon sweet wheat paste (tianmianjiang)
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- ½ tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- Wash and soak larou for at least 1-2 hours before using. Parboil 15 minutes to draw out excess grease and saltiness, then slice thinly.
- Halve the dougan by length, and then again by width. Slice into ⅛-thick strips about ½-inch wide, as shown. Wash and drain the peppers, cutting in similar proportion to the dougan. Thinly slice ginger and garlic. Chop scallions on the diagonal, about the length of the dougan. Roughly chop dried chilies, deseeding if less heat is desired.
- On high heat, stir-fry the sliced pork belly until fat is translucent and edges have browned. Remove the meat, leaving the rendered oil behind.
- Briefly stir-fry the aromatics, using additional oil if necessary. Then, spoon in both doubans, frying 10-15 seconds until incorporated and fragrant. Add tianmianjiang, then Shaoxing wine, frying another 10 seconds. Add dougan, stir-frying briefly, then add the sliced chilies. Cook until tofu edges have browned and chilies soften to your liking.
- Return the meat to the pan. Add the light soy sauce just before taking off the heat, tossing to coat. Transfer to plate and serve immediately.