Growing up, my brothers and I always headed up to Penang during the school holidays. My dad had a really BIG family–with ten siblings, I had tons of aunts, uncles and cousins to play with. And every night, we all gathered around the kitchen table for many Nyonya-styled meals.
My grandmother had a bond-maid who cooked the most amazing foods. (I didn’t realize that she was a bond-maid until much later. I always just assumed she was part of the family) . Tau yu bak was one of the dishes we had often there. I just loved everything about this dish, its simplicity, its fragrance and its flavor. Plus, it’s got a killer sauce.
Tau Yu Bak (Pork Braised in Soy Sauce)
The secret really is that you have to use belly pork (or at least country-style ribs–I use these more now but it’s nowhere as good as using belly pork). The fat in this cut makes this dish sing! That and the garlic is key. Well, ok, the soy sauce is also quite crucial. But truly, that’s about it.
I want to say that when I make this dish, I tend to eyeball the seasonings. The main flavor component is the saltiness of the soy sauce, but there should be just enough sweetness to play a nice contrast to that saltiness. The garlic also adds a depth of flavor that marries well with the pork.
Some people add cloves, star anise and cinnamon to the sauce but I find that keeping it simple actually accentuates the garlic-porky-salty-sweet flavors in tau yu bak. I leave that option open for those who’d like more fragrance.
Also, we’ve always kept the skins on the garlic in this braise. I wasn’t sure why until this last time I made it when I did not keep the skin on. When you don’t keep the skin on the garlic what happens is the garlic melts into the sauce and the soy flavor is muddied a little. It’s still delicious but you really do want to just have the garlic infuse the soy sauce and not overwhelm the whole dish. Also, keeping it whole in the skin lets you suck up a whole melted garlic clove that has been braised in soy sauce–just delicious!
Tau Yu Bak
2 lbs belly pork (or other fat-marbled cuts of pork but truly the belly pork is best)
2 Tbsp thick soy sauce (are you convinced yet that this is an indispensable condiment?)
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 small piece (about thumb size) rock sugar
1 head garlic (skin left on, broken into individual cloves), or you could use more if you like (and you know I like!)
1/8-1/4 cup water
1 stick cinnamon, 2 star anise, 2-3 cloves (optional)
6 hard boiled eggs
1. Cut belly pork into larger bite-sized pieces. Put pork into clay pot (if you have one. Otherwise, use regular pot.)
2. Add the garlic.
3. Add the thick soy sauce and the light soy sauce (because I do eyeball, I would ask that you make sure that your sauce at this point should not be more than a third way up the meat).
4. Turn heat on to high and as soon as the pot is hot, turn to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally to coat pork with soy sauce. When pork is half done, maybe about 20 mins in, add a bit of water if sauce is getting too dry. Don’t overdo the water.
5. Add a piece of rock sugar (not too much at first and more to taste if still not sweet enough) and also the eggs. Cover and simmer for another 20 mins or until pork is tender and eggs take on dark color of soy sauce.
1. You can also add some dried chillies in this dish to give it a spicy kick.
2. My mom also used to add some sea cucumber to the dish. Give it a try if you want. It’s harder to find sea cucumber here and expensive to boot so I never bother to add (plus I don’t even know how to prep a sea cucumber much less choose one).
3. Sometimes I add firm tofu (taukwa) to the dish. The tofu soaks up all the wonderful flavors from the sauce.
Serve and enjoy over rice. Lots of rice!