This Black Pepper Pork (mu hong) dish hails from Phuket Town in Southern Thailand, and delivers a steaming bowlful of tender pork and wibbling belly fat in a rich, caramelised sauce with warming black pepper permeating every mouthful. It’s perfect with plain rice, but is also great with a bowl of stir-fried green vegetables or other side dish.
The recipe is from John Chantarasak’s Kin Thai cookbook.
Check out my in-depth review of Kin Thai by John Chantarasak.
Phuket Town Black Pepper Pork (mu hong)
- 800 g 1 lb 12 oz pork belly, cut into 4 cm (11/2 in) cubes
- 3 tablespoons chopped coriander (cilantro) root or coriander stem
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 4 tablespoons rendered pork fat (see below)
- 5 tablespoons palm or brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons black soy sauce
- 3 star anise, toasted
- 5 cm 2 in piece of cassia bark, toasted
- 1 tablespoon white cardamom pods (about 6 pods), toasted
- 2 bay leaves,fresh or dried
- 1 litre (34 fl oz/4 cups) pork stock (see below)
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 dried mandarin peel (optional, See Note)
- 1 pandan leaf, knotted (optional)
- 2 tablespoons coriander (cilantro) sprigs, snipped into shorter sprigs of leaf and stem
Dried orange peel (piw som haeng): This is used in braises and soups to give a lovely sweet background flavour. I make my own by drying mandarin and clementine peels in a low oven (55°C/130°F/lowest possible gas) or dehydrator until bone dry, then storing in an airtight container.
Wash the pork belly under cold running water, then transfer to a large stockpot and cover with water that’s been lightly seasoned with salt. Bring to the boil, then drain and wash the pork belly and stockpot of any scum. Repeat this coldblanching process once more, then set the washed pork belly aside. This will remove impurities from the meat, giving you a clear final sauce and reducing the cooking time. If you prefer to skip this step, that’s fine; as mentioned, the cook time will be longer and the final broth will be cloudy, but the finished dish will be equally delicious!
In a pestle and mortar, pound the coriander root, garlic, peppercorns and 1 teaspoon of salt to a coarse paste. Heat the pork fat in a wok or heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the paste and fry for 3–5 minutes until aromatic and fragrant, then add the blanched pork belly and begin to sear and lightly colour the meat all over, stirring all the while to prevent the meat from catching and burning.
Add the sugar, black soy sauce, star anise, cassia bark, cardamom pods and bay leaves. Allow the sugar to melt and caramelise with the pork belly; it should stick and cling to the meat. Stir to evenly coat all the meat with the caramel.
Add the stock, then season with the light soy sauce. Add the dried mandarin peel and knotted pandan leaf, if using. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2–3 hours until the pork belly is tender but holds its shape with a slight bounce, topping up the pan with extra stock or water as required during the cooking time to keep the meat covered.
Increase the heat and cook for another 10–15 minutes to reduce the braising liquor by half so that it’s thick and glossy and coats the meat. Be sure to stir the meat during this step so that it doesn’t catch and burn on the base of the pan. The desired consistency should coat the back of a spoon, and it should taste sweet and savoury with a peppery finish. Top with snipped coriander sprigs and serve.
The following two sub-recipes show you how to make the rendered pork fat and pork stock called for in the main recipe.
Pork Stock (nahm cheua mu)
- 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) pork ribs, chopped into 8 cm (3 in) pieces (or pork bones)
- 1 white onion, quartered
- 3 spring onions (scallions) or, better yet, the otherwise discarded roots, tops and outer skins of the spring onions, as they still hold abundant flavour
- 1 medium carrot, chopped, or equivalent weight of white radish/daikon
- 4 tablespoons coriander (cilantro) stems
- 2 tablespoons garlic cloves bruised
- 8 cm 3 in piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced
- 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped and bruised, or, better yet, the otherwise discarded roots, tops and outer husks of lemongrass stalks, as they still hold abundant flavour
- 1 pandan leaf, knotted (optional)
- ½ teaspoon white peppercorns
Warm a few ladlefuls of the pork stock gently with the reserved pork ribs in a large saucepan for 3–5 minutes, then season the broth lightly with a dash of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar and ground white pepper. Finish with some thinly shredded ginger root, a few sliced spring onions (scallions) and coriander (cilantro) leaves. Serve with jasmine rice as a light meal, or enjoy as a simple style soup (gaeng jeut sii krong mu) as part of a wider Thai meal.
Wash the pork ribs or bones under cold running water. Add them to a stockpot and cover with enough water to sit 3 cm (11/4 in) above the bones, then bring to a simmer over a high heat. Once at a simmer, turn off the heat, drain the pork bones and rinse them well under cold running water. This cold-blanching process will remove blood and impurities from the bones, giving you a cleaner-tasting and -looking final stock. Clean your stockpot well, removing any scum from the base and sides.
Return the blanched bones to the stockpot and cover with enough water to sit 5 cm (2 in) above the bones. Bring to the boil over a high heat. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours. You want the water to be blipping gently, with small bubbles breaking on the surface of the stock; any stronger and the heat will be too violent.
After 2 hours, add the remaining ingredients and simmer for another 11/2 hours.
Pass the stock through a sieve (fine-mesh strainer), discarding the vegetables, aromatics and bones, but setting aside the pork ribs for another use (see note). Leave the stock to cool completely, and if you wish, skim the fat and impurities off the surface of the stock as it cools. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze in portions for up to six months.
Of course, you can substitute ready-made stock and lard instead.
Rendered Animal Fat (nahm man)
- 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) animal fat (this can be anything, from pork, beef or lamb, to duck and chicken)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander (cilantro) root or coriander stem
- 3 tablespoons chopped ginger root
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
Finely chop the animal fat or, if buying fat for this purpose, then you can ask your butcher to mince (grind) the fat for you.
Add the chopped or minced fat to a large saucepan with the water and warm over a low heat for 15–20 minutes until the fat renders and the water evaporates. Stir frequently to ensure the pieces of fat don’t stick to the base of the pan. The fat will begin to colour and turn crispy; you want the pieces to turn a lovely golden brown and become very crispy, indicating there is no more water left in them. Meanwhile, in a pestle and mortar, pound the coriander root, ginger, garlic, salt and peppercorns to a fine paste. Once the fat is almost completely rendered, carefully add the paste and stir well with the rendered fat. The paste will fizzle and give off a lovely fragrance as it fries. Once the paste is golden and crispy like the rendered fat pieces, pour the contents through a sieve (fine-mesh strainer) into a heatproof bowl.
Leave the liquid fat to cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month, or you can freeze it for up to six months. The crispy fried scratchings and garlic paste can be used to add crunch to salads or for topping stir-fries and relishes, but they will only remain crispy and delicious for a day or two, so use immediately, if at all.
The flavours of this dish deepen within a day or so of making it, so you can make it ahead if you like.
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Kin Thai by John Chantarasak from publishers Hardie Grant. Book photography by Maureen M. Evans. Recipe published with permission.