Stewed pork belly with glass noodles is the essence of Northeastern Chinese cuisine. It is one of the region’s four most popular stews. Due to the vast area and large population of Northeastern China, every family has its own recipe, based on individual tastes and preferences.
The recipe that I am sharing with you today is one that has been passed down for many generations in my family. I have been eating it since as early as I can remember. It is something I grew up with, and it is part of who I am.
It has also become my two-year-old daughter’s favorite. She doesn’t usually eat meat, but when it comes to this stew, she just can’t get enough. “Rou rou mian mian!”—“Meat and noodles!”—she demands, pointing emphatically at the dish.
According to the legend, the origin of stewed pork belly with glass noodles is tied to the nomadic hunting life of the Manchu people of Manchuria and their Jurchen ancestors. They enjoyed eating big pieces of meat and made glass noodles out of potatoes. To endure the cold, they stewed the meat and the noodles together, and the dish gradually became a local signature. Today, Manchus form China’s fourth-largest ethnic minority, with many of them living in the Northeast.
To make their classic dish, pieces of pork belly are caramelized in a sugar syrup and stewed until so soft that they melt in your mouth. The noodles, added to the soup and cooked until al dente, soak up its rich flavors. This is what I call the ultimate comfort food.
Stewed Pork Belly With Glass Noodles
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
5 ounces glass noodles (also known as Chinese vermicelli)
1 pound pork belly
6 slices ginger
2 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
2 bay leaves
8 cups water
Cilantro, for garnish
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon yellow rice wine (huangjiu) (available in any Chinese supermarket)
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn powder
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
For the sugar syrup:
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon yellow rock sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Soak the potato glass in water until soft, about 30 minutes.
Use a tweezer to pluck out any hairs on the surface of the pork belly skin. Dice it into roughly 1-inch cubes.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, and add the pork belly and 3 slices of ginger. Cook on high heat until the water comes back to a boil. Take out the pork belly and set aside.
Make the sauce: Mix together the ingredients for the sauce until combined. Set aside.
Make the sugar syrup: In a large pan, add 4 tablespoons of water and the rock sugar. Cook on low heat until they melt into a syrup. Then add the vegetable oil and continue to cook on low heat until it turns light brown. This method gives the pork belly a beautiful, bright red color.
Add the pork belly to the pan and cook on medium-high heat until they start to take on some color. Add the remaining 3 slices of ginger, white parts of the scallions, cinnamon stick, star anise, and bay leaves, and cook until the pork belly turns golden brown.
Pour in the sauce and continue to cook until aromatic. Pour in about 4 cups of water. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Add 2 cups of water to the pot and bring back to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes. They will absorb most of the sauce.
Serve, garnished with cilantro, if using.