Hong Shao Rou (红烧肉) is a red-braised pork dish popular in China, particularly in Shanghai and Hunan. Tender cubes of pork belly are lightly stir-fried, then simmered in a spiced and sweetened soy sauce until covered in a thickened, concentrated sticky caramel-like coating with a reddish tint. It is quite the comfort food and was a particular favorite with Chairman Mao Zedong. It is best served over a bed of white rice or even folded in small steamed buns.
There are a few different ways of making the pork. Some caramelize the sugar first before adding the rest of the ingredients. Others include tofu, hard-boiled egg, or even some dried chili to add heat. Whatever the method, the trick is to simmer the pork over a couple of hours to produce a melt in your mouth texture and oily caramel-like sauce.
Part of the authenticity of this special treat is the layer of oil that forms on the top. If you want to decrease the amount, make this dish ahead of time and refrigerate. Once chilled, scrap out the desired amount of oil before reheating. Be sure to keep the scraped oil in the refrigerator to save for future dishes. Like many simmered stews, this pork is particularly delicious the next day as leftovers.
I found the slabs of pork belly at the Asian food market. If possible, try to use a leaner cut of pork belly. The more fatty slabs will leave quite a bit of oil in the dish. If not available, you can substitute with pork shoulder. It just won’t have the same gelatinous, melty texture.
After searing the pork and combining the ingredients, I transferred the mixture to a large clay pot to simmer. If you don’t have a clay pot available, use a large saucepan or pot with a lid.
Shaoxing wine is a fermented rice wine originally from Shaoxing in the Zhejiang province in eastern China. I have been able to find it at larger grocery stores with a sizeable wine selection, such as Wegmans. It is also available in Asian food markets specializing in Chinese ingredients. Sherry can be used as a substitution.
Dark Soy Sauce is also known as sweet soy sauce, black soy sauce, or thick soy sauce. It is available at many Asian Food Markets or on Amazon:Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce, 16.9-Ounce Glass Bottles (Pack of 2) and Koon Chun Black Soy Sauce. In a pinch, you can also make your own substitute. In a small microwavable bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Microwave for about 20 seconds and stir to combine. This makes 1/4 cup of a thinner dark soy sauce.
Hong Shao Rou (Chinese Red-Braised Pork)
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 inches fresh ginger, unpeeled and sliced
3 green onions, white and light green part cut into 1 inch pieces and lightly crushed (thinly slice dark green and save for garnish)
1 1/4 pounds boneless pork belly with skin or pork shoulder, cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar or rock sugar
2 star anise
Small cinnamon stick
In a wok or large skillet, drizzle oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the ginger slices and green onions. Cook, constantly stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Stir in the pork cubes and cook until lightly browned on all sides. Add the Shaoxing wine, chicken stock, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, brown sugar, star anise, and cinnamon stick.
Transfer the mixture to a clay pot or a pot with a lid. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the pork is tender, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from burning. If the mixture becomes dry, add a little more chicken stock or hot water.
If the mixture is still watery when the pork is tender and ready to serve, remove lid and increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has thickened into a glistening sauce and coats the pork.
Serve immediately with rice and topped with thinly sliced green onions.