Suan Ni Bai Rou is a well-known Sichuan entree made with poached pork smothered in garlic mala dressing.
The name translates directly to “white meat with garlic paste” and traditionally the dish uses the top cut of ham rather than the pork belly.
Some recipes, however, insist that the use of pork belly is non-negotiable due to the perfect ratio of fat to lean meat.
Sichuan peppercorns in red oil feature prominently in traditional garlic sauce and are usually drizzled over meat rather than used as a dipping sauce.
I find a lot of versions of this dish, and the Taiwanese version does not contain chili peppers but has vinegar in the garlic sauce.
My mother-in-law, who introduced me to this dish, calls it Hainanese pork and dips it in freshly sliced chili peppers in soy sauce instead of mala chili oil. However, I decided to use my mother’s dip for the poached chicken.
I usually make a large portion of the dip so I can save it for other purposes. I just chop a whole bulb of garlic and sizzle it in hot sesame oil. Once it has stopped sizzling, stir in enough oyster sauce until most of the oil has emulsified into the sauce. Then dilute with soy sauce until the consistency of a dip. Leftover sauce is great for seasoning dry noodles or kolo mee.
The most important step is not to overcook the pork as you want the fatty parts to remain crisp. If the meat is cooked too long, the fat becomes soft and oozes oil when you bite into it. Then the eater will feel jelak, that sickening feeling that overwhelms you when you’ve eaten too many fatty foods.
The pork needs to be completely cooled so the proteins can set, then you can slice it without tearing the meat. You can reheat sliced pork a little before serving by blanching it in hot broth and draining it, but this dish is usually served cold as an appetizer or as part of the main course.
Suan Ni Bai Rou (Poached pork with garlic sauce)
Broth2 crushed garlic cloves
2 stalks green onions, chopped
100 g fresh ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon salt to taste
1 liter of cold water
500g pork belly
1 garlic bulb, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
5 bird’s eye chili pods (optional)
1 sprig of cilantro for garnish
Bring the water to a boil with the garlic, green onions, ginger and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Poach the pork belly covered with a lid over medium heat for 20 minutes. Then turn the pork over, cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Allow the meat to continue poaching in the residual heat for 10 minutes.
Let the meat rest and cool for at least 20 minutes before thinly slicing with a sharp knife. Arrange the pork on a serving platter with a little fresh cilantro as garnish. Serve cold with a dip.
For the dip, place the minced garlic in a heatproof bowl or ramekin. Heat the sesame oil until it reaches its smoking point. Drizzle the hot sesame oil over the minced garlic and let the sizzle subside. Then stir in oyster sauce and soy sauce until blended. Add chiles and cilantro to taste.