Lu Rou Fan Rice Bowls

Lu rou fan, or 滷肉饭 as it’s written in Chinese, is a Chinese/Taiwanese dish that consists of braised meat, usually pork, with rice, and it’s usually served with pickled daikon and an egg that is usually braised or cooked with the stew. At least that’s how I was raised to eat it. The stew is salty, smoky, fatty, rich, and a little sweet. There’s hints of caramelized shallot, melted into the meat, which soaks into the fluffy white rice. The crunch of the pickle to break up the fattiness of the ragout, and the slightly stewed eggs add a more toothsome mouthfeel, completing the lu rou fan-eating experience. The standard lu rou(minced and braised meat is the rough translation) is pork-based, and uses cuts of pork that can stand being twice to thrice-cooked, such as pork belly, shoulder, or neck. Those cuts of pork are a tougher than let’s say a loin or chop, and contain a lot more muscle and fat, which requires more heat/cooking to break that down. Usually in lu rou, the pork is diced, then boiled/blanched in water, then braised. In this case, we’re going to render and brown the pork belly, just to develop flavor first. From there, we’ll pressure cook the pork belly with a lot of shallots, mushrooms, cooking wine, soy, barley tea for that toasty, nuttiness, and some other spices. In a lot of ways, the mushrooms and onions are a blank canvas and are acting like a sponge to really stretch out the pork flavor in the lu rou.

The other garnishes also round out these rice bowls with a bunch of fun techniques. With the eggs, this is even less traditional, but we are going with a soft-boiled egg that we will marinate in some of the reserved braising liquid. I learned how to perfectly soft-boil eggs thanks to my mom, who taught me how to hone in on the delicate, temperamental nature of an egg – in short, she gave me the perfect cooking times to nail a boiled egg with a perfectly runny yolk every single time. The barley tea will add a nuttiness and toastiness that will compliment the flavors of the ru lou. To echo the toastiness of the barley tea, I am taking reserved pork fat from rendering out the pork belly, and toasting my rice off in that, just to give it a buttery aroma. With the pickles, I’m taking a page out of my dad’s book, by tossing the daikon in salt, slightly drying them out, then hitting them with a pickling liquid so that the daikon retain an addictively crunchy texture, but also have a pungent sweet-sour-salty taste from being pickled. I also used a little bit of turmeric powder, since takuan(Japanese daikon pickles) tend to be bright yellow. Fun fact, a lot of the Taiwanese rice and meat dishes I ate growing up actually were served with takuan. There is something about the refreshing crunch, and the sweet and salty flavor of a daikon pickle that I just love. That and turmeric being in there makes me feel a little more healthy, since this dish is probably as nutritional as a bag of pork rinds. That being said, in a lot of ways, this recipe is an homage to my family, my culture, and my childhood!

For the lu rou:
12oz pork belly, cubed
2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
1oz palm sugar
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
1/4 tsp ground star anise or aniseed
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of Chinese white pepper
1 tbsp mirin or shaoxing cooking wine
3 tbsp mushroom soy sauce
1oz dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup barley tea

In a pan, start by sweating out the pork belly on low heat. Once the pork belly is browned and the fat is cooked out, remove the pork belly, reserve a majority of the excess pork fat, and in the pan, sweat out the shallots, with palm sugar, in the pan on low heat until the palm sugar has dissolved and the shallots are soft. To that pan, add in the five spice, star anise/aniseed, Chinese white pepper, and cooking wine. Stir together on low for 1 minute, just to cook out the spices. Then transfer that mixture, along with the pork belly, and other ingredients, into a pressure cooker or instant-pot. Fill up the pot with enough water to cover the pork belly feet, and braise for 90 minutes. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the liquid for the eggs, and then reduce the remaining liquid around the pork belly into a rich stew over low heat, stirring the pot every 10 minutes.

For the pickles:
1 fresh daikon, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch-thick half-moon slices
2oz palm sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white or rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp turmeric powder*(if you want the pickles to be bright yellow as they traditionally are)

Toss the daikon in salt, and roast in the oven, on a lined sheet tray for 10 minutes at 275 degrees F. In a pot, heat up 1 tbsp salt, the palm sugar, water, vinegar, and turmeric until everything is dissolved together. Place the roasted daikon into a deep container, and pour the liquid over it. Allow the pickles to cool down before attempting to use.

For the soft-boiled marinated eggs:
3 eggs
reserved ru lou. braising liquid

In a pot full of boiling water placed on high heat, boil the eggs for 40 seconds, with the lid covered. Turn the heat to low, and simmer the eggs for another 5 1/2 minutes. Under running water, peel the egg shells. Place the eggs into the reserved braising liquid, making sure that they are fully submerged. Let the eggs sit in the liquid for at least 30 minutes.

For the rice:
3 tbsp reserved pork fat
1/2 cup short-grain rice
a pinch of salt
3/4 cups water

In a pan, toast off the jasmine rice in pork fat. Stir the rice in the pan over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the kernels begin to brown. Mix salt into the rice, and transfer the rice into either a rice cooker or instant pot. Add in the water, and cook covered to the machine’s instructions.

To plate:
Start by laying down 1/4 cup of the rice. Add on top of that a generous amount of the lu rou, and then garnish the sides with the pickles and the top with an egg that was cut in half.

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