Singapore Cooks

Root beer's perfect for pork belly

Public relations consultant Siew Pei Ying loves cooking Singapore dishes and discovers the soft drink works best with the braised dish

While many young cooks gravitate towards cooking Western food, Ms Siew Pei Ying prefers to whip up Singapore dishes.

The 29-year-old public relations consultant for spirits company Beam Suntory says: "I'm more interested in learning more about my heritage."

Her late father is Cantonese and her mother is Peranakan, and she is quick to point out: "I cook better than my mother."

She gets fuss-free recipes from the Internet and tweaks them to suit her taste.

One such recipe is her braised pork belly, which she created after reading up on various braising recipes.

  • MAKE IT YOURSELF: BRAISED PORK BELLY

  • INGREDIENTS

    •500g pork belly, cut into 1cm-thick slices

    •3 to 4 garlic cloves, smashed

    •1 star anise

    •A dash of sesame oil

    •80ml dark soya sauce

    •80ml hua diao jiu

    •160ml root beer

    •200ml water

    •Pepper to taste

  • METHOD

    1. Place the pork belly, garlic cloves and star anise into a 1.2-litre slow cooker.

    2. Add the sesame oil.

    3. Pour in the dark soya sauce, hua diao jiu and root beer. Add the water and check that the liquid covers the meat. If not, add more water.

    4. Cook on low heat for six to eight hours.

    5. Before serving, stir in pepper to taste.

    6. Serve hot with rice.

    Serves two to three

"Anybody can do this, it's really easy. Just throw all your ingredients into the slow cooker and go to work.

"The best part is that when your friends eat it, they will be so impressed and think that you are a d*** good cook," says Ms Siew, who is in a relationship.

Her cut of choice is pork belly, although pork ribs and pork shoulder can be used as well.

Do not use sliced pork tenderloin, she says, as the lean cut will become tough after the long cooking.

Ingredients such as hard-boiled eggs, tau pok (beancurd puffs) and mushrooms can be added for a heartier meal, but Ms Siew focuses on the fatty meat for her meatloving friends.

There is no need to skim off the oil after the dish is cooked either, she says, drizzling the unctuous gravy onto steamed rice.

Her recipe has been refined over the years. She tried adding mirin and Coca-Cola to the braising liquid, before deciding on root beer.

"It gives a richer flavour and it is not overly sweet. I got the idea when I saw a lot of recipes online using Coca-Cola for cooking meats."

There is also no need to sear the meat before braising, she says, adding that she has done it and it does not make a significant difference to the finished dish.

Recipes in her repertoire include chap chye, a dish of braised vegetables; and a labour-intensive otah, which is a spicy fish mousse. She also makes popsicles, and shows The Sunday Times her lavender-infused yogurt popsicle, made with strawberries cooked in sugar.

She wants to learn how to make ayam buah keluak, but jokingly complains: "I feel so tired just reading the recipe."

Hokkien mee is also on her list, but she says: "I want to make it, but cooking the prawn stock is troublesome."

The self-taught cook makes it a point to read up on recipes and techniques before starting, as she recalls an incident from when she was 14.

"I was cooking pasta for my mum and I knew you had to add salt to the water. But I didn't know why. So I threw in way too much salt and every bite was salty," she says, laughing.

Now more accomplished, she whips up meals twice a week and enjoys hosting friends.

She says: "I like to see people being happy when they are eating. Cooking helps me to destress and is therapeutic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 03, 2016, with the headline 'Root beer's perfect for pork belly'. Print Edition | Subscribe