And it is finally storm season here in the Philippines: the rain has been falling non-stop for the past several days due to two typhoons and a third is just hovering around the edges of the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). The winds have been strong and have been blowing cold for almost a week, prompting folks to ditch bikinis and flip-flops in favour of jackets and rain-boots. It is my season and, really, I feel a deep sense of proper comfort with the coming of the rains and the stronger winds.
It is, likewise, the season for heftier meals. Salad days are over, light meals eschewed for thick soups and rich, meaty stews loaded with good things and served over rice, noodles, or a proper mash of spuds. That said, I was hankering for something different to cook up and gobble down for these nice, cold days and that turned out to be a Taiwanese dish that goes down a treat with its robust flavours: lu rou.
Lu rou (滷肉) is easily translated as “minced pork” which is pretty much what goes into the dish: fatty ground pork, usually taken from the belly side so as to make the finished dish gloriously rich and rib-sticking. The clincher here, however, is the way the minced pork is cooked down into a magnificent gravy that is slopped generously over steamed rice to turn it into lu rou fan (滷肉飯 – braised pork mince over rice). Expatriate Taiwanese refer to it as their version of Sunday gravy and those still in their homeland consider it a national dish because it is absolutely satisfying and beautifully flavoured: the saline nuance of soy sauce harmonising nicely with the sweetness of five-spice powder and caramelised shallots.
The most basic versions feature pork simply braised in soy and five-spice powder. More elaborate preparations call for a splash or two of rice wine, sliced lap cheong (dry-cured pork sausages), quartered hard-cooked eggs, and shiitake or wood-ear mushrooms. Some also eschew the rice and serve the resulting pork sauce/gravy over thick wheat noodles similar to udon or wholegrain flour noodles similar to soba.
Mine is, essentially, a somewhat bastardised take on this classic. Beer replaces rice wine in my version, there are tinned mushrooms in this for an umami touch and I’ve thrown in a bit of muscovado sugar and diced carrots to amp up the sweetness. I’m horrible at boiling eggs (yes, really; go figure), so…
…my lu rou fan is topped with a fried egg, instead. 🙂 Oh, and this also tastes wonderful when reheated the next day; it’s the sort of sauce or gravy that keeps on giving. One thing, though: try to get fatty pork mince as opposed to lean; you need the extra fat for flavour as well as to give the sauce depth and body.
Lu Rou Fan
- 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
- 1-1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1-1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 large clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 kilo fatty ground pork
- 1-1/2 teaspoons granulated white sugar
- 1/2 cup beer
- 1 medium tin whole button mushrooms, drained and liquid reserved
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced,
- mushroom liquid + enough water to make a total of 2 cups liquid
- 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1 large star anise, broken into “petals”
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- steamed rice and fried eggs to serve
Heat the oils in a wok over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and lower heat slightly; cook whilst stirring occasionally until the onion has caramelised at the edges. Add the garlic and cook until slightly browned; add the carrot and cook for an additional minute.
Raise the heat back to medium and add the pork; cook until browned. Stir in the white sugar, star anise, and five-spice powder; cook for an additional minute. Pour in the beer and bring to a boil; allow to bubble furiously for about 30 seconds. Pour in the mushroom liquid / water mix, soy sauce, and brown sugar; stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cover and lower the heat; leave to simmer for 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place helpings of rice in individual serving bowls and top with the braised pork and a fried egg each. You may also choose to serve steamed bok choy or a selection of Asian pickles on the side.