"Streaky pork." "Fatty pork." "Streaky bacon." "Bacon." I've seen pork belly described using any number of (often unappetizing) terms on Sichuan menus. It's probably just as well that these ominous depictions are sending up red flags, because the unsuspecting customer who is expecting some dry, boring morsels of pork loin might be surprised when they get a plate full of belly.
That surprised person was me about 12 years ago at Grand Sichuan on 2nd Ave and 50-something in NYC. A friend and I were having one of our standard blow-out lunches, and we ordered a pork dish. When it hit the table, we were beside ourselves. "Good God, it's a plate full of bacon!" was our reaction. We laughed about it, but enjoyed the dish as much as we could, along with the three other dishes that we ordered.
We'd continue to bring up the absurdity of that dish over the next few years, half disgusted as we recalled that plate of "bacon." And then one day it occurred to me that this plate full of fatty, luscious pork belly was actually a beautiful thing. One to be admired, not ridiculed. I'm not sure when I experienced this life-changing epiphany, but since then I've been a huge fan of any of the Sichuan dishes that use pork belly. And there are many.
One of those dishes is a standard restaurant order for us. And now, with the help of Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking , it's a standard at t:e headquarters. In her book, it's called "salt-fried pork." It consists of pork belly and leeks. Lots of leeks, when I cook it. And, as it turns out, black beans and chili bean sauce, and not much else.
As with much of the Chinese food I've been cooking, it's dead simple. The fact of the matter is that you've got some incredibly flavorful ingredients doing all of the work. All you have to do is mix them together and not screw it up. No problem.
The dish is immensely addictive, and packed with intense flavors. It's a bit spicy, a bit sweet, with a somewhat salty backbone. And it's even better as left-overs the next day.
Since I don't strictly follow Ms. Dunlop's recipe, I'll go with the "adapted from" approach here (that's what you do when you want to steal someone's recipe and post it on your blog--you say "adapted from" to make yourself feel better--like I just did):