In Chinese cuisine, there is a hearty, sweet and savory pork dish enjoyed across the country: red-braised pork. This dish combines slow-cooked chunks of rich pork belly with lots of flavorful soy sauce and sugar. The finished dish is not only melty, it also produces a lacquered black sauce that is addictive when served over white rice. This is the perfect dinner food on a chilly evening. The best part? Pork is actually tastier when eaten the next day because the meat has the opportunity to marinate more in the savory sauce.
choose the meat
Traditionally, pork belly is the main cut used for red-braised pork. A good cut of pork belly has the ideal combination of lean meat and fat. Adding fat is very important for Braised Red Pork. Pork fat, when slow cooked with soy sauce and sugar, will give the sauce a fatty richness. In China, red-braised pork is usually served for lunch or dinner with lots of vegetables and rice.
For the perfect pork belly, make sure you get a thick cut, at least an inch thick. The best place to get thick slices of pork belly will be at your local Asian market (Chinese or Korean markets are the best options). If an Asian market is not available, you can also order online from a specialty Asian grocery delivery service like Umamicart. For an authentic recipe, take pork belly with the skin still attached. When properly cooked, pork skin becomes gelatinous and soft. The combination of slightly chewy skin with soft fat and meat is perfect when executed correctly. This type of gelatinous texture is very popular in Chinese cuisine. But do not hesitate to remove the skin before cooking – the finished dish will still be tasty. If pork belly is not available or the cut is not thick enough, pork shoulder is a suitable substitute. Simply cut the pork shoulder into large chunks (don’t cut the fat).
Everything you need to know about seasoning
In Chinese cuisine, red braising or red cooking actually refers to a specific style of cooking. This method is defined by simmering meat in a combination of sugar and dark soy sauce, producing a dark, “reddish” finished sauce. All meats can be braised red, including beef, lamb, fish, and even tofu.
The most important ingredients for a delicious red braised pork are sugar (preferably Chinese rock sugar), Shaoxing cooking wine and dark soy sauce. Although white sugar is also suitable, rock sugar is the superior option. Rock candy has a chewy, more rounded sweetness that also adds shine to the finished pork. Shaoxing wine is important for adding depth of flavor as well as softening the natural funk of pork. Finally, dark soy sauce, which is a different product from standard soy sauce. Most red-braised pork recipes will call for two types of soy sauce – light and dark soy sauce. Dark soy sauce in Chinese cuisine is used primarily for cooking (not for dipping like regular/light soy sauce). Dark soy is slightly thicker, less salty, and much darker in color than light soy sauce. This addition is essential to give color to the pork. An important note when buying dark soy sauce – it is essential to get Chinese dark soy sauce and not the Japanese version. Japanese dark soy sauce, labeled Koikuchi, is closer to Chinese light soy (although Japanese shoyu is thinner, a little sweeter, and less harsh). Japanese dark soy sauce will not produce the desired lacquer sauce for red-braised pork.
Red Braised Pork will also differ in flavor and ingredients depending on the region of China. Braised red pork in Wuxi, a city in eastern China, is a sugar rush with an almost sweet sweetness. In Hunan, a landlocked province in south-central China, red-braised pork is spicy and fragrant with chili peppers. In fact, Chairman Mao’s (a native of Hunan) favorite dish was his region’s red braised pork.
Chinese Red Braised Pork Recipe from Umamicart (Hong Shao Rou)
Umamicart is an online grocery store specializing in the delivery of Asian products and ingredients in the Northeast region. From fresh produce to meats and sauces, Umamicart sources the best items and delivers them straight to your door.
This recipe from Umamicart is the Shanghai style of red-braised pork. Shanghai cuisine is all about balancing sweet and savory, with an emphasis on maintaining the natural flavor of ingredients. One of the biggest aspects of red-braised pork is the ability to add or adjust flavors. Feel free to add dried red chili peppers for spice or whole star anise, cinnamon stick, ginger, and green onions for added flavor.
- 1 lb pork belly, cubed
- 3 tablespoons of cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons of sugar or white candy sugar
- 4 tablespoons of Shaoxing cooking wine
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 cups of water
- Cut the pork belly into 1 inch cubes.
- Blanch the pork belly in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse. This step is important to remove impurities (blood) from the meat. The finished dish will taste cleaner, so don’t skip this step.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan and melt the sugar over low heat.
- Return the pork belly to the oil, toss to coat the pork belly with the sugar mixture.
- Add the light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine and enough water until the whole pork belly is submerged.
- Simmer for 45-60 minutes until the pork belly is tender.
- Serve with rice and enjoy!