Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

Ren and I love watching cooking shows. Top Chef, MasterChef, Iron Chef, you name it. If it’s got “chef” in the title, then we probably watch it.

In following these shows, I noticed that a word judges often use to describe a successful dish is “complex.” I always wondered what it meant exactly for a dish to taste complex. Is it indicative of some otherworldly umamic flavor that I’ve yet to experience? Does it mean a dish with layer upon layer of flavor and texture, but all coming together harmoniously like some Benetton ad? Or is it more a sequence of flavors, one following the other as predetermined by the mad molecular gastronomist?

After stuffing myself silly with this dish, I’m beginning to think that it might be a little of each. Layered in its flavors, each individual component of this dish, when eaten in the right proportions, imparted its own distinct, signature taste. Nothing was muddled, each ingredient’s character expressed individually but in perfect harmony.

The caramelized pork melted in your mouth, its mild natural saltiness balanced by the sweetness from the sauce and the spicy acidity of the rice vinegar with chilies. The fried shallots provided a delicate crunch, as did the crisp ginger which, at the end of each bite and only at the end, would release its uniquely spicy, citrusy flavor. It was probably because the tougher ginger required a bit more chewing before its flavors could be released.

All of these flavors and textures, coupled with the aromatic saffron rice, combined for a deliciously complex, but harmonious dish. Can you tell yet that I absolutely loved this recipe? 🙂

The entire “greedy” spread. We first saw this recipe on an episode of MasterChef Australia season 2. Alvin Quah was tasked to interpret “Greed” during the 7 deadly sins challenge and convey it in his dish. This is what he came up with to wow the judges.
Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

…closer please. Now how good does that look? This caramelized sauce/broth that the pork was swimming in was sensational.
Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

The condiments/garnishes were just as vital to the success of this dish. It took me a few spoonfuls (not that I minded) of differing amounts/ratios to come up with the perfect bite, but once I did, it elevated the dish to another level.
Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

The aromatic jasmine rice. Check out those gorgeous threads of saffron.
Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

Parting shot. Literally. Say goodbye now, you’re going in my belly.
Caramelized Pork Belly with Chili Vinegar and Saffron Rice‏

Original greed-inspired recipe from Alvin Quah via MasterChef Australia.


  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 2.6 liters chicken stock
  • ½ cup shaoxing wine
  • 1 cup cooking caramel (karamel masakan, kecap manis or sweet sauce)
  • 1½ cups light soy sauce
  • ½ cup oyster sauce
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground star anise or 3 pieces, whole
  • 1 kilo pork belly
  • 300 g brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsps lime juice
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 5 cm piece of ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 2 long red chillies, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • Coriander leaves, to garnish


  1. In mortar and pestle, pound garlic and peppercorns to a paste. Heat some peanut oil in large saucepan over medium heat and fry paste until fragrant. Add 2 liters chicken stock, shaoxing wine, cooking caramel, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, cinnamon stick and star anise. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add pork belly and cook for 1 hour. Remove pork belly from stock and set aside to cool before cutting into bite-sized pieces, reserving braising liquid.
  2. Pour enough peanut oil into saucepan to fill it by one third and heat to 180°C. Deep fry pork pieces until golden brown and then set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 60°C.
  4. Add brown sugar to saucepan set over medium heat and cook until sugar starts to caramelize. Add 1 cup reserved braising liquid, fish sauce and lime juice. Increase heat to medium-high and reduce sauce by 1/3, then add pork pieces. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  5. Meanwhile, pour enough peanut oil into small saucepan to fill it by one third. Heat oil over medium heat and fry eschalots until golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towel. Repeat process for ginger and reserve oil.
  6. Add ½ cup of shallot/ginger peanut oil to heat-proof bowl or dish with saffron threads and place in oven for 20 minutes to infuse.
  7. Add 2 tablespoons of saffron oil to saucepan, then add rice and stir to coat. Add remaining chicken stock, cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes until rice is cooked. Fluff with fork, spoon into bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  8. To serve, combine sliced chilli with vinegar in bowl. Garnish pork with crispy shallots, crispy ginger and coriander leaves. Serve with saffron and sesame rice.


That I have the best wife ever?

Ren was on her feet the entire day making this wonderful dish.* She chopped, sliced, cut, pinched, mashed, fried, rinsed, drained the ingredients and ran out of gas. Literally. She had to call Shellane to have a new tank delivered. She then fought with volcanic oil, plated each component beautifully, and still found time to feed the dogs.

Thank you for making this for me MBH. I am the luckiest man alive to have you as my wife. I love you! 🙂

*Because it was so laborious to make, Ren promised not to make this again anytime soon, which is why I’m dubbing it the Olympic dish as I’ll probably only see it every four years or so. Ha ha! 😀

JB is one half of Will Fly for Food and its chief itinerary maker.  He’s the one to blame for all the crappy photos and verbal diarrhea on this blog.  Don’t listen to him.

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