A stir-fried dish with bold flavour and crunchy texture, Chinese dry pot cauliflower with pork belly shows you a simple yet exciting way to cook vegetables.
In China, cauliflower is a very common ingredient for home cooking. My parents cooked it often but to me, it was never an exciting ingredient until I discovered a dish called dry pot cauliflower (Gan Guo Cai Hua/干锅菜花) in restaurants. Since then cauliflower has become one of my favourite vegetables to cook.
What are dry pot dishes
Dry pot (Gan Guo/干锅) refers to a type of dish served in small wok-like tableware (instead of regular plates) with a faint flame underneath to keep it warm. Many ingredients can be cooked in this style, such as beef, fish, prawn, potato, mushroom, cauliflower, etc.
The flavour profile of dry pot dishes is similar to that of Sichuan dry fried green beans. They have two characteristics:
- Spicy. The hotness comes from dried chilli, fresh chilli and/or pre-made chilli sauce (e.g. Sichuan chilli bean paste).
- Dry. They appear to be dry, namely, there is little liquid or sauce to be seen. Yet, the flavour of dry-pot dishes is usually quite intense.
Authentic dry pot cauliflower calls for sweet sprouting cauliflower which looks and tastes quite different from the cauliflower commonly seen in mainstream supermarkets. It’s also known as Chinese cauliflower, flowering cauliflower or fioretto cauliflower.
With long, thin, green stems and pale yellow, loosely packed florets, it tastes sweeter and crunchier than the regular variety and takes less time to cook through.
If unavailable, don’t hesitate to use regular cauliflower as a substitute. In this case, simply prolong the blanching process (find details in later sections). Another alternative is broccolini (baby broccoli), a hybrid of broccoli and Gai Lan.
It’s a common practice in Chinese cooking to add a little meat to a vegetable dish. The flavour and fat of the meat can effectively elevate the taste of the dish. Classic examples include Eggplant with Garlic Sauce, Cabbage and Sausage Stir-fry, etc. In today’s dry pot cauliflower, pork belly is there for the job since it’s a flavourful cut with a high content of fat.
SUBSTITUTES: Pork shoulder (aka Boston butt) which has a good marble look can be used as a substitute. Alternatively, try bacon or pancetta which work very well too.
- Chillies: I like using both fresh and dried chillies in this dish as they produce different aromas and spiciness. You may choose any variety available and adjust the quantity based on your tolerance to heat.
- Aromatics: Garlic, ginger and scallions.
- Seasonings: You only need a little light soy sauce and salt. Believe me! Sometimes the simplest seasoning complements the main ingredients the best.
It takes two simple steps to make this dish. You’ll finish cooking in only 5 minutes!
Step 1: Blanch the cauliflower
Wash the cauliflower thoroughly under tap water then separate it into bite-sized pieces (the stem part is edible too).
Bring plenty of water to a full boil in a pot then add some salt. Put in the cauliflower. Press with a spatula to keep it submerged under the water. After 30 seconds, drain it in a colander (You don’t need to wait until the water boils again).
NOTE: If you’re using regular cauliflower, instead of sweet sprouting cauliflower, increase the blanching time to 2 minutes or so.
Step 2: Stir fry the dish
Over high heat, warm up a wok until it smokes. Pour in cooking oil and swirl it to cover the perimeter of the wok.
Firstly, sear thinly sliced pork belly until it loses its pink colour. Add crushed garlic cloves, sliced ginger, chopped fresh chilli, and dried chilli. Keep the heat high and stir around the ingredients constantly to prevent burning.
Once the pork and garlic gain light golden colour on the edge, put in the blanched cauliflower and light soy sauce. Stir fry for about 1 minute.
Finally, sprinkle some salt over and garnish with chopped scallions. Serve the dish warm with steamed rice along with other savoury dishes.
Well cooked dry pot cauliflower should taste crunchy and have a hint of smokiness. Follow these tips to achieve an authentic flavour.
- Use a traditional carbon steel wok if available. It’s the best choice for quick and intense stir-frying.
- Have all the ingredients, including seasonings, within reach before you heat up the wok.
- Keep the heat high throughout. You need to cook the vegetable quickly instead of steaming it over low heat. Constantly toss the ingredients to prevent them from burning.
- Do not overcook. Otherwise, the cauliflower will lose its crunchiness.
Other classic vegetable dishes
Looking for more ideas to cook vegetables? Here are some delicious examples:
Dry Pot Cauliflower (干锅菜花)
- 320 g sweet sprouting cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces - about 11oz, see note 1 for substitutes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
- 60 g pork belly, thinly sliced - about 2oz, see note 2 for substitutes
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed
- 4 slices ginger
- Fresh chilli, chopped - to taste
- Dried chilli - to taste
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 stalk scallions, finely chopped
Blanch the cauliflower
- In a pot, bring plenty of water to a full boil over high heat. Add salt and cauliflower. After about 30 seconds, drain it in a colander. Set aside.
Stir-fry the dish
- Heat a wok over high heat until smoking hot (see note 3 if using non-stick cookware). Pour in oil. Swirl to cover the perimeter. Add pork to sear.
- Once the pork turns pale, add garlic, ginger, fresh chilli and dried chilli. Stir fry until fragrant (the garlic and pork should become golden on the edge).
- Add the drained cauliflower and light soy sauce. Stir fry for about 1 minute. Then sprinkle with salt and chopped scallions. Dish out and serve warm with steamed rice.
NUTRITION DISCLOSURE: Nutritional information on this website is provided as a courtesy to readers. It should be considered estimates. Please use your own brand nutritional values or your preferred nutrition calculator to double check against our estimates.