Pata tim is one of the classic dishes of what is known as comida China – Chinese dishes given a local or Hispanic twist. It is, fundamentally, a whole pork leg marinated in soy and shaoxing [Chinese cooking wine] with ginger and star anise. The marinated pork is then browned and braised in its marinade until it becomes meltingly soft, tender, and absolutely flavorful.
When I was a child, there was a small restaurant called the Miramar near the Manila Domestic Airport that used to serve a magnificent version: aromatic brown pork, the skin and fat soft and nicely chewy, the meat savory and tender. The Miramar has been closed for the better part of two decades, so the pata tim of choice for my family has become the one at Hap Chan where the pork leg comes with plenty of mushrooms and fresh vegetables. Hap Chan also serves its pata tim with mantou [steamed wheat flour buns], allowing diners to make saucy, savory little sandwiches at the table.
Having recently learned how to cook braises, I wanted to be able to cook this particular dish at home so as to be able to enjoy it whenever we want it. (And save a bit on the petrol bills driving to and fro!) My spin on it is a touch sweeter than the more soy-heavy versions cooked in many Filipino homes and the technique of adding alcohol to the dish is reminiscent of other Oriental braises and the Northeastern Chinese cooking method known as red-cooking. In this particular context, dark soy sauce is paired with brown sugar, a cooking alcohol (say, shaoxing, Japanese mirin, or even brandy or cooking sherry), and such whole spices as star anise and cinnamon or cassia bark in order to give the finished dish a glossy, burnished look – the end result of slow and even caramelization over an hour or so of slow-cooking.
While pata tim is usually made with a whole pork leg, it is more manageable for home cooks to prepare it with pork leg slices or fatty pork belly chunks as these cuts are well-suited for long braising. As shown at the top of this post, I like using a mix of both pork leg and belly in order to balance the meaty richness. Incidentally, given how tough local meats are, I recommend pressure-cooking the meats for at least ten minutes prior to the actual cooking of the dish.
I also throw in vegetables towards the last few minutes or so of cooking: carrots to even out the sweetness, tinned mushrooms to add a salty nip and savor, and Savoy cabbage thrown in towards the end for a bit of crunch. These aren’t the only viable choices, of course; you could also add sweet and crunchy bamboo shoots, quartered water chestnuts, slices of fresh lotus root, sliced leeks, scallions, and baby bok choy along with wood-ear or shiitake mushrooms if you so wish.
This dish is best served with some tart, even sour pickles for a nice, sharp contrast with regard to color, flavor, and texture. As a matter of personal preference, I’m more than a little partial to pairing pata tim with some tart, slightly salty homemade green mango pickles to offset the richness of the pork. Oh, and don’t forget the rice! 😉
- 1/2 kilo sliced pork leg with the skin on
- 1/4 kilo deboned pork belly, cut into large chunks
- 1-1/4 cups water
- 2/3 cup dark soy sauce
- 3/4 cup shaoxing wine or brandy
- 1 medium can button mushrooms, drained and the liquid reserved
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into half-moons
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, cracked and peeled
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 4 star anise, broken into segments
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup rendered lard or cooking oil
- 1 chicken or pork bouillon cube
- 1 small Savoy cabbage (Chinese cabbage/pechay wombok), cut into large strips
Place the pork and water in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Pressure-cook until somewhat tender (meat will soften more thoroughly as it braises), about ten minutes. Remove the meat from the pressure cooker, reserving the resulting liquid or broth.
Pour the lard or cooking oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once it sizzles, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook until the cloves have browned, then add the star anise and peppercorns; stir-fry until fragrant. Throw in the meat and carrots and stir-fry for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bouillon cube, brown sugar, reserved mushroom liquid, soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and 1-1/4 cups of the reserved pork broth. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 40 – 45 minutes.
When the meat has simmered for 20 minutes, add the mushrooms and bay leaves. Toss in the Savoy cabbage strips during the last five minutes of cooking. Remove from the heat and place the braised meat on a serving platter; serve the broth and vegetables in a separate dish to keep it from muddling. Serve whilst still hot with rice and your choice of pickles.