Going out to a Sichuan restaurant was always a special affair for my family when I was a child. Seated at an enormous round table, we would enjoy a seemingly endless array of food adorned with bright chiles, mouth-tingling sauces, and fiery broth. I always favored one dish in particular: twice-cooked pork. Its tender pieces of meat, complex crimson sauce, and inherent savoriness captivated me.
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Observing that I always ordered the same thing, my dad became determined to re-create the dish at home. For months, I watched him experiment in the kitchen with an array of chili pastes lined up on the counter. After many taste tests (in which I eagerly participated), I concluded that not only was my dad the best chef in the world, but that now, finally, he held the secret to the best twice‑cooked pork.
While developing this recipe, I drew inspiration from my dad’s version, along with longstanding techniques used by Sichuanese chefs. Twice-cooked pork is known as “hui guo rou” in Mandarin, which means “meat back in the wok,” and it is cooked twice just as the name suggests.
Hui Guo Rou (Sichuan Twice-Cooked Pork Belly)Tender-crisp pork belly is the star of this vibrant Sichuan dish.
To make it, boil pork belly to soften the skin and fat, which allows the fat in the slices to render quickly in the wok during the stir-frying step (without overcooking the meat). Ginger and scallions are traditionally added to the poaching liquid to enhance the flavor of the pork belly. Using leek greens instead of scallions makes use of the whole leek (as the white and light green parts are added during the stir-frying).
Chill the pork for at least 3 hours so that it’s easier to slice thin. After slicing, sauté the pork in oil in a hot wok. Restaurants vary regarding how hard they stir-fry the pork: Some versions feature soft, melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork; others are very well-done and crispy. I prefer somewhere in the middle—mostly tender pieces with some browning for a lightly crispy, caramelized result.
Next, stir in fermented black beans; they add bursts of salty richness. Push everything to one side of the wok and spoon dòubànjiàng (fermented chili bean paste) into the pork fat that pools opposite the meat; fry the paste until the oil turns bright red. And then add a bit of sweet bean sauce for malty depth.
The Best WoksAfter years of preferring nonstick skillets to woks for making stir-fries, we decided to take a fresh look at this traditional pan.
At this point in traditional recipes, green garlic is added for a fresh flourish, but it can be hard to find; instead, use pieces of the white and light green parts of leeks to brighten the dish with their light onion flavor (leeks are a common substitute in restaurants). Next, stir in chunks of longhorn chiles for a clean, grassy finish and a punch of heat and drizzle in a touch of dark soy sauce and sugar to boost color and sweetness.
The result is a dish that looks beautiful and tastes even better. The pork-infused chili oil serves as the sauce; my favorite approach is to spoon everything over a bowl of white rice and let the oil coat each grain. For peak satisfaction, shovel each bite into your mouth with chopsticks. My dad used to scold me over my mess at fancy restaurants while indulging in this dish—and then smile and serve me more.
Hui Guo Rou Ingredient Guide
Douchi (Fermented Black Beans)
- Also known as salted black beans, fermented black soybeans, preserved black beans, or black beans.
- Made from black soybeans fermented with salt.
- Dried or canned “regular” black beans cannot be substituted.
- Are sold in cardboard canisters, jars, or plastic bags.
- Ginger is sometimes added, but it is subtle. Both plain and ginger-flavored can be used interchangeably.
- Used in: Chinese clams with black bean sauce and dim sum steamed short ribs
Dòubànjiàng (Fermented Chili Bean Paste)
- Also known as spicy bean sauce, spicy bean paste, spicy broad bean paste, or broad bean chili sauce.
- Made from fermented Sichuan chiles and broad beans.
- There are also mild versions of dòubànjiàng, so make sure you use the spicy version, which is reddish-brown in color.
- Sichuan dishes always use Pixian dòubànjiàng (it is available in the United States), which is named after the town of Pixian and uses specific chiles from the region. It is chunkier than other versions and is bright red and is sold in jars or sealed bags.
- Used in: Sichuan stir-fries, including mapo tofu, dry pot, and spicy boiled fish
Tiánmiànjiàng (Sweet Soybean Sauce)
- Also known as “sweet flour sauce,” “sweet wheat paste,” and “sweet bean sauce.” Different from “sweet bean paste” (another name for mild dòubànjiàng) or “sweet red bean paste” (an Asian dessert filling).
- Made from wheat flour, sugar, salt (primary ingredient is wheat, which makes the English translation often misleading).
- “With all the labeling inconsistencies, the best way to know what you have is by looking at the ingredients. If soybeans or soybean paste are the first ingredient, you have a soybean paste/sweet bean paste or other soybean-based sauce . . . If one of the top ingredients is wheat flour, then you’ve found this tian mian jiang.” —TheWoksofLife.com
- Sweet bean paste or hoisin sauce can be substituted if necessary.
- Used in: Beijing zha jiang mian (the Chinese counterpart of jajangmyeon) and as a condiment for Peking duck
Lao Chou (Dark Soy Sauce)
- Thicker, darker, and sweeter than regular or light soy sauce; it has a very strong flavor, so use sparingly.
- Used to add flavor and color to sauces, rice/noodles, or meat dishes. If you do not have dark soy, you can substitute light (regular) soy sauce.
- Used in: Red-braised pork, beef and broccoli, pan-fried noodles