Red-braised master stock is the perfect stock for poaching and braising meat and poultry. Apart from pork belly, whole quails, pigeon, lamb ribs, duck breasts and beef brisket all work really well when red-braised. After cooking with the stock, you simply strain it and freeze it indefinitely to use again. It ages gracefully, developing a stronger flavour over time. You can, of course, substitute fresh lemon or lime cheeks for the finger limes.
3.5 litres red-braised master stock (see recipe below)
1 x 450g free-range boneless pork belly, skin on, at room temperature
1 cup (220g) brown sugar
1 cup (250ml) water
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1-2 lemons
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
4 fresh finger limes sliced in half lengthways (or use 2 x lemon or lime cheeks)
Red-braised master stock
4 spring onions, trimmed and halved
80g ginger, thickly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 strips (about 6cm x 1cm) orange peel, white pith removed
8 whole star anise
4 cinnamon quills
375ml (1 cups) light soy sauce*
250ml (1 cup) lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
3 litres cold water
* check gluten-free if required
1. For the master stock, place all ingredients in a large saucepan that will later hold the pork belly comfortably, and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 25 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
2. Meanwhile, place pork belly in a separate saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain. This will remove any impurities from the meat.
3. After 25 minutes, return the stock to the boil. Lower pork belly into the stock, ensuring it is fully submerged – you may need to weigh it down with a plate – and poach pork gently for three hours or until the meat is very tender. There should be no more than an occasional ripple breaking the surface; adjust the temperature, if necessary. Do not put a lid on the pan at any stage. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to top up the stock with hot water during cooking to keep the pork submerged.) To check if it's ready, pierce the pork with a small knife – you should meet no resistance.
4. Remove pork from the pot and set aside on a paper towel-covered plate to drain thoroughly. When pork is cool enough to handle, carefully cut into large bite-sized pieces. After cooking with the stock, you can strain it and freeze it to use again. It will develop a stronger flavour over time.
5. Place the cup of brown sugar and cup of water in a medium-sized pan and bring to the boil, then allow to caramelise, which will take about six minutes. Add the fish sauce and lemon juice.
6. Add pork pieces to hot caramel sauce and toss well. Place hot pork pieces in a serving dish, sprinkle with Sichuan pepper and salt flakes, and serve with freshly squeezed finger limes.