February 2021: Our New Blog Editor and Her Family's Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly

February 05, 2021

February 2021: Our New Blog Editor and Her Family's Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly

A Delicious CNY Project 

Greetings, Friends of The Mala Market!


The Year of the Ox is nearly upon us, and it's the perfect time for a delicious Chinese New Year project. The holiday, also known as Spring Festival, runs from Feb. 12 through Feb. 26 this year, which gives us all time to make la rou—wind-cured pork belly—for traditional new year's feasts and numerous meals thereafter. 

Making your own Sichaun-style bacon is not that difficult, but it does require time and attention to the meat as it cures outside over one to two weeks. It also requires you to wait for a stretch of good weather, with temperatures mostly in the 50s F like the winter months in southern China. (Those of you in northern climes may have to wait until spring.) Despite seeing la rou all over Chengdu in winter—hung to cure from balconies, clothes lines, bicycle handlebars and many other improvised places—I've always been intimidated by making it. But since the last time I tried to bring back some in my luggage it was confiscated by Customs in L.A., I now am ready to give it a try with the expert guidance of Kathy Yuan and "Mala Mama" (photo above). 

Kathy is The Mala Market's new Managing Editor, tasked with energizing and expanding our long-running Sichuan recipe blog. She is a photographer, writer and recent Vanderbilt University graduate who has been waiting out the pandemic with her parents, both of whom are from Sichuan—mom from Chongzhou, just west of Chengdu, and dad from Nanchong, Sichuan's second-largest city. They cooked Sichuan food most every day of Kathy's youth, and now she's eager to learn the family recipes herself, with Mala Mama as her guide—and ours!

So a mother-daughter business has hired another mother and daughter to join us, and we could not be more excited to welcome them to the family. I know you will feel the same when you see the recipes they will be sharing with us over the coming months, starting with this cured pork belly and the story of how much it meant to Kathy's parents growing up in China at a time when meat was scarce. 

Journalism—recipes, food writing and photography—is how The Mala Market got its start and will always be a priority for us. Because what is the point of having Sichuan's best ingredients and products if you don't know how to use them, right? Kathy and I and our Yunnan recipe contributor Michelle hope to make our blog as robust a resource for recipes as our store is for products to make them. 

Thank you for being part of our community!

🌶Taylor & Fongchong 🌶


P.S. Wait till you see Kathy and Mala Mama's next recipe—a rural Sichuan chili condiment that is literally unlike any other. 

I also want to apologize if I've been slow during our understaffed months to answer blog and recipe questions. With Kathy onboard, answers should flow much more freely. Reach her through the comment section on any of our blog posts.
 

Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly
Sichuan Wind-Cured Pork Belly

We are dividing this la rou recipe into two parts, so we can all make it together and you can get started now. The first part of the recipe covers salting and air-drying the pork belly, and part II—coming very soon—will explain the smoking, cooking and eating of la rou. 

Won't you join us?
Sichuan pepper and salt
Sichuan Pepper & Salt

What makes Sichuan cured pork belly different than American bacon? Well, for one thing it is cured with a combination of strong baijiu (Chinese white liquor), salt and a generous amount of Sichuan pepper (Mala Mama prefers Hanyuan, but any of our varieties, including green, will work). Also, it is both wind-dried and smoked, then usually steamed and served as a kind of charcuterie. You can also stir-fry it with vegetables, leeks or green chilies—and believe me, you will want to. 
  
Chinese Spice Collection
Chinese Spice Collection
$36.00
Kathy's recipe for Sichuan wind-cured pork belly calls for Sichuan pepper and star anise, but you can use spices of your choosing. Our Chinese spice collection also includes the always-useful cassia bark (Chinese cinnamon), cumin grown in Xinjiang, and the lesser-known Chinese black cardamom, with its bewitching smokey menthol taste. Your braises, soups and chili oils with thank you. 
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The Food of Sichuan (Newest Cookbook From Fuchsia Dunlop)
The Food of Sichuan (Newest Cookbook From Fuchsia Dunlop)
$35.00
The bible of Sichuan cooking also includes a recipe for Home-made Bacon with Sichuanese Flavorings, which is a bit more complicated than Kathy's version of la rou. But it also has a recipe for jiang rou, which Fuchsia calls "the easiest cured meat to make at home." Similar to la rou, it's cured pork belly, but it's different in that it's covered with a thick layer of tian mian jiang (sweet wheat paste) to cure and is not smoked after wind-curing. 
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Sichuan Sweet Wheat Paste (Sweet Flour Sauce, Tian Mian Jiang)
Sichuan Sweet Wheat Paste (Sweet Flour Sauce, Tian Mian Jiang)
$9.00
Use tian mian jiang to make Fuchsia Dunlop's cured pork with sweet flour sauce (recipe in her book), as well as in twice-cooked pork and as a go-to umami source in stir-fries. 
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Chinese 5 Spice (DIY Whole Spices)
Chinese 5 Spice (DIY Whole Spices)
$12.00
Another spice with an affinity for cured pork is Chinese five spice. Our version comes in perfectly proportioned whole spices that you grind yourself for maximum freshness. 
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