Kau Yuk is a classic Hakka Chinese dish, real soul food. It’s a tone of pinky brown that’s not immediately appetising to the uninitiated, like rhubarb in reverse, it tastes a lot better than it looks. In fact, mention this dish to a Chinese person and watch them go all gooey. This version of Kau Yuk is the one with taro, Woo Tau Kau Yuk 芋頭扣肉. There are other versions where the pork is matched with preserved mustard greens, another Hakka staple. But this taro version is my family’s recipe, cooked by my Hakka mother, refined by my Hakka chef uncle then messed around by me. It’s essentially just slices of pork belly steamed with taro. The kicker is the pork must be prepared properly first by poaching and then deep frying before steaming. Yes, thrice cooked so that the meat and skin are perfectly yielding. Chinese cooks know how to cook pork, we’ve been doing it for millennia. If Heston told you to sous-vide beef ribs for 72 hrs you’d do it, so just trust us on this one.
700g pork belly, skin-on
2 spring onion
1 small knob ginger bruised
2 tbl dark soy mixed with 2 tbl light soy
500g taro* peeled, cut into cigarette wide half disks
2 lumps nam yue (red fermented beancurd, about 70g)
40g Chinese miso (yellow fermented soy bean paste)
3 cloves garlic
50g yellow rock sugar
30 ml shaosing wine
1 tsp slaked cornflour
1 tsp dry fermented black beans, lightly crushed
- Poach the pork for 20 minutes in gently simmering water with the spring onion and ginger. Plunge the pork into ice cold water to stop it cooking. Dry thoroughly and poke the skin all over with a fine needle (or if you have one a salami pricker… yes you might!)
- Marinate the pork with the light and dark soy for at least 20 minutes. This is mostly for colour.
- Deep fry the taro slices for 2-3 minutes in 170C oil until just coloured. Set aside the taro and deep fry the pork in the same oil for 5mins, be careful of spitting.
- Plunge the pork into ice cold water again before slicing into the same width as the taro.
- Make the sauce. Blend the nam yue, miso and garlic into a paste. In a small saucepan, heat this together with the shaosing wine and sugar. Add a little water and the slaked cornflour to thicken the sauce.
- Dredge the pork and taro slices in the sauce and arrange neatly into a suitable bowl. Do not use all of the sauce, reserve some for later. Alternate the slices, making sure that every piece is paired up. Scatter the black beans all over and steam in a moderate steamer for 2 hours uncovered.
- Near the end of the steaming, drain off the liquor from the bowl into a small saucepan and reduce it down. Add the reserved sauce and adjust the seasoning. Pour this back over the pork and taro before serving up.
- If you can, let it sit overnight and the flavour will be even better. Reheat before serving.
How to eat
The point of this dish is to eat a slice of pork and a slice of taro together. If it’s cooked correctly the fattiness of the pork is perfectly matched by the powdery texture of taro. The flavour of pork and taro is triple umami boosted with fermented bean curd, black bean and Chinese miso. If you thought miso was Japanese, then where do you think they got that idea from?