Pork Belly

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)

Congratulations, so you’ve finally realised that you simply can’t live without kimchi. Fantastic! As my partner would say, you are now officially a bona fide “stinky kimchi-freak” just like me. Charming I know, but he’s most definitely not a fellow fan. Nevertheless, welcome to the Club.

So now that you’ve confessed your insatiable appetite for kimchi, you may be asking yourself the inevitable question, “What exactly does one do with a massive vat of homemade fermented cabbage?”

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)Whilst delicious just eaten as a side dish (known as banchan in Korea), the truth is that plain mak kimchi can get a little monotonous after a while. Thankfully, however, there’s no shortage of ways in which to enjoy your kimchi-fix. Such is their love of kimchi, the Koreans seem to have based much of their cuisine around its consumption, resulting in a seemingly endless array of dishes that can be made using this spicy Korean staple. Kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakeskimchi risotto and even kimchi ice cream, there are no limits to the wacky ways in which kimchi can be eaten. However, one of the more traditional dishes remains one of the most popular – Pork & Kimchi Stew.

Known in Korea as kimchijjigae 김치찌개, the first time I tried the dish was as part of a Korean BBQ at Galbi in Cape Town, where it was served at the end of the meal with a bowl of rice. To be honest it was the low-point of an otherwise great meal (their sweet potato fries are to die for!), as it was a tad insipid and tasted more like watered down tomato soup than the amazing spicy stew I had been eagerly anticipating. It was not a good start to my budding love affair with kimchijjigae, but considering the restaurant’s actual kimchi was also rather tasteless, it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise that their kimchi stew would also be somewhat lacklustre. Disappointed, but undeterred, I did what I typically do when I feel let down by a dish – I set about making it myself

Mercifully, kimchijjigae is actually very easy to make and only requires a few of the more basic Korean pantry staples. It was only after tasting my first attempt at making it, that I appreciated what a great dish this should be and why it warrants its enduring popularity. Simple and relatively economical to make, kimchijjigae is both deeply satisfying and is the perfect way to showcase kimchi’s hidden depths. Much like kimchi risotto, this stew actually serves to bring out kimchi’s complexity of flavour, something that is typically masked by the spiciness of the kimchi.

Any dish that makes kimchi taste even better is, in my mind, a dish worth making…but then again, if I’m to be perfectly honest, you already had me at kimchi. 

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here. For tips on stocking a Korean Pantry, please click here

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Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter Beans

A true one-pot wonder, this simple Spanish inspired casserole is big on flavour and refreshingly light on effort. Other than the initial stages of browning the ingredients, this dish pretty much takes care of itself and rewards with a tasty family friendly meal that can be adapted to cater to almost all tastes and preferences.

Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter BeansNow I have to be honest, this wonderful casserole is about as Spanish as chow mien is Chinese or California rolls are Japanese, but these days cultural authenticity is hardly an impediment to being the poster child of world cuisine. The modern maxim seems to be, “If a dish tastes good, who cares?” and rightfully so. After all, when the results are this tasty, I’m all about the muddled.

So whilst only vaguely Spanish, this simple dish is nevertheless brimming with classic Iberian flavours and, for a change, all the ingredients are perennial pantry staples. Admittedly I take it for granted that my larder resembles an over-stocked cornucopia of random ingredients, but this isn’t the sort of dish that calls for long forgotten packets of shrimp paste, bamboo leaves and jellyfish (yes, I do actually have the latter lurking in the depths of my fridge!). I digress, however.

Thankfully, significantly less exotic pantry staples are required for this dish, namely tins of butter-beans, chopped tomatoes, chorizo and smoked paprika. Admittedly smoked paprika isn’t necessarily a staple pantry item, but is readily available at most supermarkets or it can be substituted with regular paprika and a pinch of chilli powder or flakes. You can also use chickpeas instead of the butter beans and the fennel seeds can be omitted if you don’t have any…like I said, this recipe is nothing if not adaptable.

Note: As with most stews and casseroles, this dish will be all the better from a night chilling in the fridge.

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Vietnamese Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu)

Thịt Kho Tàu (Braised Pork in Coconut Water)This venerable Vietnamese classic is traditionally made to celebrate Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, but is popular all year round. Packed full of flavour, this sweet and tender braise of pork is simmered in coconut water and is a firm favourite throughout Việt Nam, especially in the South.

The first time I encountered this dish was in a restaurant in Hồ Chí Minh City. My uncle, who was working in Việt Nam at the time, took us out for a lavish Vietnamese dinner and this dish was the undisputed star of the meal. After simmering away for hours in its delicious coconut broth, the pork was achingly tender and sweet, but the real revelation was the generous layer of fat. Soft and rich, yet surprisingly light on the tongue – the fat had been transformed into the true master-stroke of the entire dish. This was pork fat in all its gelatinous glory!

Whilst I’ve always made this dish with pork belly, in truth you can actually use any number of cuts of pork, as long as the meat isn’t too lean. Personally, though, I prefer sticking with pork belly for this dish as it doesn’t dry out from the extended cooking time and the fat imparts a wonderful flavour into the broth.

Traditionally eaten with rice and often accompanied with a simple daikon & carrot pickle (Đồ Chua), I also love to pair this dish with some water spinach stir-fried with garlic.

Click here for the recipe