Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly (Larou, 腊肉), Part 2: Smoking + Cooking


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The Definitive Guide to Smoking and Cooking Larou

This is a continuation of Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly (Larou, 腊肉), Part 1. The previous post covers selecting, brining and air-drying this traditional cured meat and Spring Festival staple. Part 2 covers how to cook and eat your larou no matter whether you smoke, boil, steam or stir-fry! 

Earlier this month I delivered a lot of words and a single recipe. All for the promise of juicy, resplendent pork belly, just like my mama’s mama’s mama used to make it. This time around I’m giving you not one, not two, not five, but six recipes, five of which are pretty simple.

The cash prize is Sichuan 腊肉 (làròu), declassified. Doesn’t matter if you over-dried it like we did. Doesn’t matter if you tried to do the neighborly thing and use your grill as a smoker, instead of the wide open ground, and it (kinda) backfired. Cured pork belly forgiveth. A little soak, a little parboil, et voilà! Bob’s your uncle.

When we left off, we had yet to tackle the big question of smoking larou in the suburbs. Many larou-producing regions skip this step altogether, so know that smoking isn’t required for proper-curing, or tasty, larou. But for Sichuan and Hunan, meat-smoking is gospel. My parents and entire villages grew up sloughing off cypress boughs and hanging larou up to cold-smoke right outside. Once you’ve grown up eating smoked larou, it’s both deeply nostalgic and difficult to give up, health claims be damned.

Properly dried pork belly has a greasy sheen
Properly cured pork belly has a stiff rind, greasy surface and slightly pliable, creamy fat layer

Cold-Smoking Cured Pork Belly

Cold-smoking doesn’t cook the pork belly—exposed flames should be few—but imbues it with a luscious, irreplicable aroma. The color also deepens. Its smokiness without the char, made possible by hanging the meat far above the heat. (This practice is key to that mastered by Indigenous salmon smokehouses along the Northwest Coast, a dwindling but critical lifeway). In Sichuan, cypress was most commonly smoked, but my dad says fruit trees like apple or pear were common too. Add to this selected upcycled scraps like dried mandarin and pomelo peels, peanut shells and sugarcane bark (chewing the sweet, fibrous inside is a spring-summer favorite), and you get an aromatic, smokey bouquet that seeps through the fat to fill every bite with intense flavor. Families like ours start saving those citrus peels weeks before 腊月 (làyuè), the meat-curing month preceding Lunar New Year.

To do it yourself, one traditionally cold-smokes the cured meat for six to eight hours in the open air. Many folks still smoke meat this way (see this great article on Sichuan larou, by our own longtime contributor Jordan Porter), but city-dwellers have long repurposed metal drums for efficiency (and now, discreetness). Depending on the desired smokiness and smoking environment, even two to three hours’ smoke-time might suffice.

Of course, none of the above is feasible in the ‘burbs. So on a tip from Mala Mama’s WeChat cooking group, we smoked our larou for one hour in a covered grill (no dedicated smoker), hoping this East-West fusion would bring us closer to home. Unfortunately, the only place a grill brought us closer to was the heat. The resulting color and smokiness was subtle, woefully reminiscent of old-school smoke sessions. But it took soot-scarring some of the larou to get there. And, when we rehung the meat to air out post-smoke, it dried more than desired.

If you decide to cold-smoke outside and don’t live somewhere you can create an open smokestack at will, we suggest using 1) an actual smoker and/or 2) some kind of heat barrier, capable of shielding the meat from direct heat, but with large holes that allow smoke through. You might also try cold-smoking any time after the shiny, tacky pellicle forms, but before the meat has thoroughly wind-dried. Afterward, hang-dry until satisfied.

For an indoor option, we’ve dug up the Sichuan home cook’s wok-smoking method that Mala Mama recorded in a notebook years ago, on the instruction of an old classmate. Without the need for cypress (or wood chips), you can smoke larou over dry rice, mandarin peels, ground rock sugar and oolong tea leaves. If you don’t own a black iron (carbon steel or cast iron) wok, your options are limited by equipment. Large cast iron Dutch ovens work, but if it’s enameled, you’ll need a layer of foil to protect the surface (if your pot is at all precious, we don’t recommend using at all). With a cast iron skillet, your setup will require multiple steamer levels to elevate the larou above the smoke, similar to this.

And then you can always go rogue with a stovetop smoker (this video’s in English). Everyone has their own method—there is no one correct way to smoke larou. If you understand the limitations of your method and recall what smoking is for (adding color and flavor, basically), you’ll be fine. Just don’t use nonstick, since all these methods involve dry-heating the pan. We highly encourage reading the entire post before proceeding.

Soak larou before cooking for best results

Soaked larou produces tender meat without sacrificing flavor to cook time

After smoking, hang-dry another two days before storing or using. If you skip smoking, proceed directly from wind-curing to storing or using. We keep a few weeks’ worth of larou in the refrigerator and transfer a couple strips to the freezer with no special treatment. The rest get vacuum-sealed with the FoodSaver before freezing. This added step ensures the best quality throughout the year, since we make 30-40 pounds of different cured meats at a time. Under ideal conditions, larou can still be stored outside in a garage to minimize further air-drying, but it will continue drying nonetheless.

Whatever happens, it’ll still taste amazing. Don’t fret.

Cooking Steps After Smoking

To begin cooking, wash all larou thoroughly to remove any smoky residue and excess surface oil. We really encourage getting scrubby under the faucet (no soap, just elbow grease). Then, soak each strip in a room-temperature water bath for one to four hours before using. This helps tenderize the meat without prolonging cook time, which only renders more of the succulent fat to oil.

Boiling the fat layer will turn it deep rosy-pink
The fat layer turns from opaque white to translucent, deep rosy pink as the larou boils

Next, transfer to a wok or wide saucepan and fill with cold water. Once boiling, continue cooking over medium heat for 25-30 minutes. Simmering is insufficient—keep this just short of a rolling boil and watch your sins bubble away. For a visual doneness cue, the fatty layer will turn completely rosy as it cooks. Drain and rinse before slicing to eat immediately.

However, if you wish to steam or stir-fry your larou, parboil the meat for 15 minutes first instead of boiling all the way through.

Why parboil? Chinese cooks frequently parboil meats and veggies to speed along stir-fries or purify stocks. In this case, soaking and parboiling help 1) resuscitate dry larou before stir-frying and 2) soften it enough to slice. Done right, you won’t believe you’re eating meat that was just hanging solid as a brick off your porch for three weeks (oops). Moreover, a proper soak and parboil—particularly if the final dish includes salty doubanjiang—help draw extra saltiness from the meat.

Steamed larou pork belly showing crimson red meat
Quality meat should be crimson red upon cooking

To steam larou, we find it easiest to slice skin-down and steam directly on a serving plate. It doesn’t matter if the slices overlap; steam on high for 10 minutes. Enjoy as a side accompanied by a spread of other dishes. Or steam the larou directly into your usual rice for a savory alternative.

For foolproof rice regardless of cook method, this is a great resource.

You can stir-fry larou directly after soaking, but we especially recommend the parboiling step if you’ll be adding any other salty sauces. To that end, you can boil up a whole strip one day and eat half, steam half, then save any leftovers for stir-frying the next day. Compared to curing, cooking larou is decidedly versatile.

For more flavorful main dishes, douchi, doubanjiang (more on sourcing our Pixian version here) and tianmianjiang are a powerful trio that Taylor effortlessly combines in chao (stir-fried) larou. For inspiration, her once-cooked pork (a play on the more popular twice-cooked pork) was made for this moment.

Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly (Larou, 腊肉), Part 2: Smoking + Cooking

By: Kathy Yuan | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • high steamer rack for wok-smoking
  • porous metal steamer tray for wok-smoking (can sub another rack of identical height)


Sichuan Wok-Smoked Larou

  • 1 layer larou strips (amount depends, see video in post)
  • 4 handfuls white rice, divided
  • 4 dried mandarin peels, divided
  • 2 handfuls oolong tea, divided optional
  • 2 tablespoons ground rock sugar, divided can sub granulated sugar

Boiled Larou

  • 1 strip larou halved horizontally

Steamed Larou

  • ¼ strip larou sliced

Steamed Larou with Rice

  • 1 cup jasmine rice rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup water more if not using rice cooker
  • ¼ strip larou sliced into bite-size chunks or slivers
  • 1 scallion, green part only sliced

Stir-fried Cauliflower Larou

  • ¼ strip larou sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic sliced
  • ½ head cauliflower sliced into bite-sized florets, washed and drained
  • ½ cup water or vegetable stock
  • 2 scallions washed and sliced diagonally

Stir-fried Bell Pepper Larou with Douchi

  • ¼ strip larou sliced thinly
  • ½ red onion julienned, optional
  • 2 bell peppers washed, julienned and deseeded
  • 4 ounces dried firm ("pressed") tofu/beancurd (doufugan) sliced thinly into 1 cm wide strips, optional
  • ½ tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon douchi (fermented black soybeans)


Sichuan Wok-Smoked Larou

  • In a black iron (carbon steel or cast iron) wok, cover the base with heavy foil, shiny side up, to protect the finish. Add half the dry rice, mandarin peels, tea leaves and rock sugar. Arrange the steamer rack and tray on top (see video in post) or two steamer racks side-by-side. Lay as many larou strips as fit in the wok. Cover with wok lid and turn heat on to high. Start running the kitchen exhaust fan on high now, or you might set off an alarm. When the wok starts smoking (lift lid to confirm), turn the heat down to low and smoke for 5-6 minutes. Flip meat and replace lid, smoking for another 5-6 minutes.
  • Check the meat and remove from heat if satisfied. If you want to intensify the color and smell, replace the blackened rice, peels, tea and sugar with the remaining half of the ingredients and cover the wok again. Repeat process up to one time, checking and rotating meat throughout. Hang-dry another 2 days before using or storing.


  • Wash (scrub) and soak larou in room temp water for 1-4 hours before cooking. Rinse again after soaking to remove excess oil.

Boiled Larou

  • Add enough water to cover larou in wok or pot. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, for 25-30 minutes on medium heat. The larou is done when you can easily poke through the meat with a chopstick and the fatty layer has turned a deep rosy pink. Drain and slice. The larou can be eaten immediately while warm or stored in the refrigerator and served chilled.

Steamed Larou

  • Plate the sliced larou and steam on high heat for 10 minutes. Serve immediately alongside rice and other dishes.

Steamed Larou with Rice

  • Thoroughly rinse and prepare rice as usual, adjusting water amount to cooking method. Add bite size pieces of larou on top, overlapping as needed. Steam on regular white rice setting. Top with sliced scallion and serve with plenty of veggies.
    (Note: Although you can certainly fit more than ¼ strip of larou in your rice cooker, the ratio of rendered oil to rice will be higher with the longer rice cooking time. Add more with this in mind!)

Stir-fried Cauliflower Larou*

  • In a wok or large pan on medium high heat, stir-fry sliced larou until crisp. Remove from heat, leaving rendered fat behind. Add garlic to fat, stir-frying 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add cauliflower and stir-fry 1 minute, then add water/stock and cover. Steam until tender, 2-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cauliflower softens and excess water evaporates, return larou to pan, tossing to mix and reheat. Add scallions just before transferring to plate. Serve immediately.

Stir-fried Bell Pepper Larou with Douchi*

  • In a wok or large pan on medium high heat, stir-fry sliced larou until crisp. Remove from heat, leaving rendered fat behind. If using red onion, cook until translucent. Add peppers and stir-fry 2-3 minutes until cooked to your liking. If using doufugan, add with the peppers. Add soy sauce and douchi, stir-frying 1 minute. Return larou to pan, tossing to mix and reheat. Transfer to plate and serve immediately.


Smoking larou is optional for enjoying this cured pork belly, but it is one of the defining steps of the Sichuan larou tradition. Skipping it will not affect listed cook times or longevity. For more in-depth smoking directions, please refer to the post above.
Dried larou can be stored in the refrigerator for upcoming use, but vacuum-sealing your extras in freezer-safe storage bags is the best way to preserve larou throughout the year.
*If your larou is on the drier side, soak rinsed larou for 2-4 hours and parboil for 15 minutes before slicing for stir-fries. 

Tried this recipe?

About Kathy Yuan

Kathy is a first-gen, twenty-something daughter of two Sichuan immigrants who cooked her way back to her parents’ kitchen during the pandemic and is now helping Ma (you can call her Mala Mama) keep generational family recipes alive. All photos shot and edited by her.

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  1. I have procured locally-made la rou and it’s one whole piece. I’m wondering if I can get advice from Kathy or Taylor? I have limited fridge space and was hoping to store it in the freezer, but it’s not overly soft.

    Should I parboil it and then cut it into manageable chunks? Or some other approach? I appreciate it, and sorry that homemade is not in my capabilities right now.

    1. Hi Matthew, so awesome you’re able to get this locally!

      What we often do at home is chop a (previously dried/frozen) strip in half, then parboil and eat one half at a time as needed, leaving the other half in the refrigerator for a week or two easy. Since you’re short on fridge space, you can totally put that portion in the freezer (now, before parboiling) instead and pull it out later as needed. Don’t parboil or cook through until you’re ready to eat and you’ll be fine! So glad you’re able to cook with us, hope you enjoy your larou!

      1. thank you so much! i’ve never had la rou from sichuan, so don’t have much to compare to, but hopefully the stuff I found can do the trick for now! i’m glad to know it’s relatively freezer-friendly – I’ve basically followed your advice, and hopefully can cook with it soon! (i’m writing from Vancouver, BC)

        1. You’re so welcome! Excited for you to try and good to know there’s local made larou up in Vancouver!