As of many traditional recipes, there'll be different variations from each family. And as it passes down from generation to generation, it gets more and more tweaked, and this is one of them.
Tau Yew Bak is such a simple dish using very few ingredients but the end result is such a rich and flavorful favorite. Ask any Chinese family and they'll have their own version of Tau Yew Bak.
This has been passed down from my mother to me, from her mother to her, and how long it goes back, I'm not too sure. This is as minimalist as it gets. Even my aunties and uncles asked why I don't put in the usual black peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, hard boiled eggs, etc. They've tasted this and now they don't ask anymore. Maybe they've just written it off as a hopeless case? Maybe they like it? Anyway, it's simple, it's good, why change it?
I can get all the other versions in the shops but I haven't seen this version anywhere.
I've tsk-ed and tutted at my mum and aunts for using the belly pork and with the skin on to boot. I've tried making a healthier option with a leaner cut of meat and presented it to them and, you know what? Personally, I thought I deserved all the tsk-ing and tuttings they dished out back at me. The taste was nowhere near to when belly pork with the skin was used. It's the fat that makes the whole dish. Sorry folks. If it bothers you, just put it in the refrigerator and remove the layer of fat that will have solidified and reheat. Alternatively, you can substitute the pork with chicken but it will not taste the same as the real stuff.
This version is darker than other tau yew baks but that's due to not adding additional liquid other than the 2 tbs of water. So, it's really important to use the sweet caramel sauce. I've tried other brands and they have turned out a little too salty for my liking. I've stuck with Popo ever since ... just for tau yew bak!
Now comes the best part..... using the slow cooker!
This happens to be one of my favorite gadgets in my kitchen, next to the food processor and the bread maker.
The slow cooker is a real life saver ... to me anyway. Sometimes when it gets really busy, I can just plonk a bunch of stuff in and leave it until when we're ready to eat. No messy kitchen, no oil-splattered stove top, no pots and pans to wash. My hero!
Alternatively, this dish can be cooked over the stove but some of the liquid evaporates and you have to keep an eye on it. Why bother?
half kg pork belly (with skin) (sorry, people, no healthy options for tau yew bak, it's the fat that makes it rich ... indulge a little!)
1/4 cup + 2 tbs thick caramel soy sauce (I like using Popo brand, it's sweeter and not too salty, so you can omit sugar in the recipe)
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 - 3 tbs water
1/2 tbs light soy sauce, optional (I don't usually do this but my mum always complains everything I cook is not salty enough ... and you wonder why she has hypertension)
Clean pork belly and cut into strips and then into slightly larger than
bite-sized pieces as the meat will shrink during cooking.
Place all ingredients into slow cooker, toss well to coat the meat evenly.
Cook on high for about an hour or until it starts to boil, then reduce setting to low and cook for another 2 hours or longer if you prefer the meat to be softer. Or just leave it on the low setting for 4 - 5 hours.
Don't worry about the lack of liquid initially... you'll get plenty from the juices from the meat.
Serve over cooked white rice with sambal belacan.
Oh boy... I'm getting hungry....