Twice cooked pork, also known as hui guo rou in Chinese, is a popular Sichuan dish that consists of pork belly or other fatty pork cuts that are first boiled or steamed then sliced and stir-fried with vegetables and spices. The initial cooking renders fat from the meat while the second cooking infuses it with flavors. Twice cooked pork is one of the hallmark dishes of Sichuan cuisine originating from the Sichuan Province of southwestern China.
Origins of Twice Cooked Pork
Twice cooked pork has its origins in the Sichuan Province of China, situated in the southwestern part of the country. Sichuan cuisine is known for its bold, pungent flavors and liberal use of chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. Twice cooked pork exemplifies these defining characteristics.
The exact origins of the dish are unknown but it likely emerged during the Qing dynasty in the 17th-19th centuries. Pork was an abundant protein source in inland Sichuan and the cooking technique of first boiling then stir-frying the pork intensified its flavor. Over time, local cooks refined and popularized the dish.
By the 20th century, twice cooked pork was a signature Sichuan preparation served in restaurants around China. Along with Mapo tofu and fish cooked in chili oil, it became emblematic of the province’s cuisine characterized by mala which means numbing and spicy.
Traditional Ingredients and Preparation Methods
Twice cooked pork is prepared using traditional ingredients and techniques that accentuate the complex layers of flavor.
The choice of pork is important as it provides the meaty base and fat that absorbs the spices. Pork belly with its marbled fat and rich taste is most commonly used. Other cuts like pork shoulder, ribs, and leg can also be used. The pork is cut into 1-2 inch cubes for even cooking.
Sichuan peppercorns, chilies, garlic, scallions, and ginger are central to the aromatic profile of twice cooked pork. Sichuan peppercorns provide a numbing effect and fragrant citrus note. Dried red chilies and chili oil bring intense heat. Garlic, scallions and ginger balance the spices with allium and gingery flavors.
Broccoli, snap peas, celery, bell peppers and bamboo shoots are commonly used as vegetable accents in the dish. They add freshness, crunch and nutritious balance.
A sauce is used to unify the ingredients. It typically contains soy sauce, rice wine, black vinegar, sesame oil, and cornstarch. The sauce brings rich umami, sweet acidity, and thickness to coat the pork.
The twice cooking technique is vital to developing the complex flavor. The pork is first boiled or steamed to render fat and cook through. Then it is drained, cooled, sliced, and stir-fried in a hot wok with the aromatics, vegetables and sauce. The high heat of the wok seals in the pork’s juices and infuses it with smoky wok hay flavor.
While Sichuan Province is the birthplace of twice cooked pork, the dish has regional variations across China and beyond:
In Sichuan, twice cooked pork has an intense chili and Sichuan peppercorn flavor profile. Plenty of dried chilies and chili oil are used. It may include hard-to-find Sichuan ingredients like ya cai (pickled mustard greens) and facing heaven chilies.
Hunan Province neighbors Sichuan and shares its spicy culinary tastes. Hunan twice cooked pork uses smoked bacon for richer meatiness. The vegetables also differ with more cabbage, dried tofu, and wood ear mushrooms.
Beijing twice cooked pork is less spicy than Sichuan versions. It has thick, caramelized sauce flavored with bean paste, soy sauce, vinegar, and hoisin. Yellow chives are featured instead of other greens.
Shanghai cooks use red braised pork belly instead of boiled cubes of pork. Their version is sweeter due to the addition of rock sugar into the stir-fry.
Overseas Chinese Cooking
In Chinese diaspora cooking abroad, twice cooked pork is adapted to local tastes and available ingredients. The flavors may be milder and vegetation changed to bok choy, broccoli and bell peppers.
Twice cooked pork is one of the most beloved dishes in Sichuan and Chinese cuisine. Its popularity stems from its rich, complex taste as well as its cultural significance.
Flavor Symbol of Sichuan Cuisine
Twice cooked pork represents the iconic flavor profile of Sichuan cooking with its spicy, mouth-numbing heat balanced by aromatic spices. The complex layers of taste reflect the cuisine’s sophistication.
Comforting Pork Dish
The tender, rich pork and vegetable medley over rice is comforting and satisfying. It’s considered a home-style family meal despite its restaurant popularity.
Global Chinese Dish
Found on Chinese menus internationally, twice cooked pork is a famous export that symbolizes the emergence of Sichuan cuisine on the global stage next to Cantonese food.
Sichuan is home to China’s famous giant pandas. Twice cooked pork’s black and white diced pork is said to resemble pandas, earning it the nickname “panda dish”.
Twice Cooked Pork Around the World
Beyond China, twice cooked pork can be found in Chinese restaurants globally especially in areas with large Chinese diaspora populations. It has also been adapted into other cuisines.
Chinese Restaurants Abroad
From Asia to America, Australia to Europe, twice cooked pork is a menu staple at Chinese restaurants abroad. More authentic restaurants may call it by its Sichuan name hui guo rou while others simplify to twice cooked pork.
The dish gets adapted to local tastes in different regions. Western versions are usually less spicy while Latin American iterations may add more chili heat.
Twice cooked pork has crossed over into fusion cuisines. Vietnamese twice cooked pork features fish sauce and lemongrass. Mexican twice cooked pork includes sliced jalapenos and cilantro.
How to Make Authentic Twice Cooked Pork
Making restaurant-quality twice cooked pork requires attention to the ingredients, seasoning, and cooking method:
- Pork belly, shoulder or ribs – cut into 1-2 inch cubes
- Sichuan peppercorns – 2 tbsp
- Dried red chilies – 4-8 depending on spice level
- Chili oil – 2 tbsp
- Garlic – 2 tbsp minced
- Ginger – 1 tbsp minced
- Scallions – 2 tbsp chopped
- Vegetables like broccoli, snap peas, bamboo shoots – 1 cup
- Sauce: 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice wine, 1 tsp black vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp cornstarch
Marinate pork in soy sauce, wine, cornstarch – 20 min. Bloom peppercorns and chilies in oil until aromatic. Adjust chili amount to preference.
Boil or steam pork until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool pork, then slice into bite-size pieces. Heat wok on high until smoking. Stir-fry pork, then remove and set aside. Stir-fry vegetables, garlic, ginger until fragrant. Return pork to wok and add sauce mixture. Toss to coat evenly. Finish with scallions.
Serve with steamed rice. Enjoy the tender pork with the fragrant, numbing heat of Sichuan cuisine.
Twice cooked pork is a beloved Sichuan preparation with deep roots in the province’s culinary history. Its complex layers of flavor from the twice cooking method epitomize the mala signature of Sichuan cuisine. Found on Chinese menus globally, twice cooked pork has also been adapted into various regional and fusion iterations. With iconic status in Chinese cooking, this “panda dish” is a taste of home for many andintroduction to Sichuan’s irresistible flavors.