“You’re making me hungry” —Mom
I asked Mom for the recipe last winter, on a blustery winter day. “I mean you don’t need the fish sauce, especially since you have roommates, but it’s so much better,” she tells me, getting herself hungry as well. Nothing sounded cozier than a bowl of braised pork belly with eggs—a staple dish that’s beloved throughout Asia. Each country has its take on what it should be braised in; the Chinese prefer two different soy sauces while the Vietnamese opt for soy sauce and fish sauce.
I have a strong, unbreakable love for fish sauce. I remember when I first tried it—I was about four(ish) years old and we had noodles. Served assembly-line style, each person was given an empty bowl which they filled themselves, first with noodles, then with fresh toppings (scallion, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, etc.), the following was the broth, and finally the condiments—fried shallots, hot sauce, and fish sauce. I stayed away from the hot sauce (at least for another year, but that’s another story), and added some fish sauce, intrigued by the smell. I took my first bite of noodles, and I never looked back. Henceforth, I added fish sauce to EVERYTHING. At least everything I ate at home—there was no way I would eat it publicly amongst my schoolmates. They would come over, and my parents would be cooking with fish sauce, and they would hold their nose asking what that stench was (yea, kids can be mean), and so fish sauce became my little secret.
Moving away for college, I would keep a small bottle as a condiment but refrained from cooking with it because I knew how potent that smell became once it came into contact with heat. I did see it slowly crop up in more grocery stores, so public opinion was slowly shifting. However, the big change didn’t happen until I moved to New York, one of the many gifts this City gave me was the ability to be myself which meant the freedom to use fish sauce (more) liberally. It wasn’t as often as I would like, but my new roommates didn’t have the same horrified reaction.
Soon I started reading articles on food blogs about the “the secret ingredient” that made everything taste better, and what were they talking about but my beloved fish sauce, of course. The food scene had finally accepted it, saying it provides an umami bomb. It’s not just great in Asian dishes, they state, but all savory dishes. I started seeing a tablespoon here or teaspoon there in things like chili or beef stew, or going to restaurants and seeing the unusual, but awesome, combination of fried chicken and fish sauce.
I no longer had to hold the sauce so close to me, happy to share it with the world. Glad that I could be free to cook as I pleased. Sometimes it bothers me that the same people who love fish sauce now grew up with a scrunched up nose around the aromatic sauce. However, I try not to fault people, as flavor profiles certainly change as you get older.
And, so when Mom tells me I don’t need to use fish sauce in the braised pork belly with eggs, that just soy sauce was good too, I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to add that umami bomb—roommates be damned. Well, that and they didn’t mind.
Braised pork belly with eggs is a great Sunday night meal to make and eat throughout the week because it taste better with time, and you’ll never be able to make a portion for just one or two, it’s like chili that way.
Prep: 30 mins + overnight marinade | Cook: 2 hours
INGREDIENTS (FOR 4-5)
|2 lb pork belly*||1/4 cup fish sauce|
|2 tsp salt||2 cups water**|
|6 eggs||2 Thai chili peppers***|
|1 inch piece ginger|
|1/4 light soy sauce|
|2 tbsp dark soy sauce|
* pick a piece that’s fairly proportional and not too fatty.
** the water should be enough to just cover the meat and eggs
1. Sprinkle the salt all over the pork belly and refrigerate overnight.
2. Take out the pork belly when you’re ready to start cooking and chop it into 1-inch pieces. Set aside, so that it will come to room temperature.
1. Set a dutch oven or a sauté pan with lid to high heat and cover generously with oil. When it starts to shimmer add in ginger, Thai chili pepper (if using), and pork belly. Stir around the pan until the pork belly starts to brown (3-5 minutes).
2. Add in both the soy sauces, fish sauce, and water so that it just cover the pork. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil and then reduce it to medium-low heat, so that it becomes a gentle simmer.
3. Cook with the lid ajar for 1.5 to 2 hours. The longer you cook it, the more tender the pork belly becomes, so if you have the time, go for the full 2 hours. Give it a good mix every now and then and sample the flavor and adjust as necessary (sometime I like to get aggressive with the fish sauce).
4. Hard boil and shell the eggs. In the last 30 minutes or so, add the eggs to the pot.
Serve the pork belly with eggs over a side of rice and some sauté veggies.