Hong Shao Rou: The Art of Braised Pork Belly
Hong shao rou is a mouthwatering Chinese dish of pork belly braised in a rich sauce. Learn how to master this art with this simple recipe.
600 grams of pork belly – approximately 1.3 pounds
250 milliliters of Shaoxing rice wine – about 1 cup (see note 1)
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce (see note 2)
5 slices of ginger
2 star anise
2 bay leaves
20 grams of rock sugar – or 1 tablespoon of regular sugar
- Blanch the pork
- Cut the pork belly into 2-3 cm chunks (about 1 inch). Place the pork chunks in a pot and fill it with cold water. Boil it vigorously over high heat.
- Once it starts boiling, you’ll notice froth appearing on the surface. Use a spoon to remove the foam
- Drain the meat in a colander and rinse it under running water.
- Braise the pork
- Place the pork into a clean pot, preferably a small one (refer to note 3). Pour in Shaoxing rice wine and hot water, just enough to barely cover the meat.
- Incorporate light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, ginger, star anise, and bay leaves.
- Bring the liquid to a full boil. Cover with a lid and let it simmer over low heat for 1-1.5 hours until the meat becomes fork-tender. Stir the meat a few times during this process.
- Thicken the broth
- Remove the lid from the pot. Add sugar and turn the heat to the highest setting. Allow it to boil vigorously, stirring from time to time, until the broth reduces to just enough to cover the bottom of the pot.
- Serve immediately with plain steamed rice and your choice of vegetable dishes.
- Store and reheat
- The cooked pork belly can be stored in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
- To reheat, place it in a pot (defrost first if frozen) over low heat and add a little water to thoroughly heat the pork.
- A suitable Shaoxing rice wine should have a very low salt content (mine contains 0.08g of salt per 100ml of wine). However, I’ve come across versions with a significantly higher salt percentage, which tends to impart a bitter and unpleasant taste (often found in cheaper varieties). I advise avoiding those types and checking the nutrition label before making a purchase.
- Dark soy sauce plays a crucial role in this dish, so I highly recommend making an effort to obtain it. If it’s unavailable, you can substitute it with ½ tablespoon of regular soy sauce.
- I opt for a 20cm/8-inch small pot to minimize the amount of water needed to cover the meat.
A Nationwide Chinese Favorite
Pork belly, a popular cut of meat, holds a special place in the hearts of culinary traditions around the globe. Due to its high fat content, it requires a specific approach to cooking to mitigate its inherent greasiness. In China, one of the most beloved pork belly dishes is Hong Shao Rou (红烧肉), known as red braised pork belly or red-cooked pork belly in English.
Chunks of pork belly are braised with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and an array of spices, resulting in a rich and intricate flavor profile: a delightful combination of salty, sweet, aromatic, and umami. The transformation of the pork’s skin and fat yields a gelatinous texture rather than an overly greasy one, allowing it to effortlessly melt in your mouth.
Regional Variations in Cuisine
Apart from its desired flavor and texture, braised pork belly is also recognized for its distinctive reddish-brown sheen. This “red” element in its name comes from the dish’s appearance. Across various regional Chinese cuisines, there are two classic methods to achieve this effect.
The famous Hunan style, believed to be Chairman Mao’s favorite dish (as Hunan was his home province), involves melting rock sugar in hot oil to create a caramel hue that enhances the dish’s visual appeal. Another popular variation from Shanghai cuisine relies on dark soy sauce to impart the essential color to the pork.
Why You Should Try This Simple Version
Over the years, I’ve prepared braised pork belly numerous times, experimenting with different seasonings and techniques inspired by various regional versions of this dish. Eventually, I settled on a recipe that’s incredibly easy yet yields fantastic results.
This method eliminates the need for frying (keeping your kitchen free from excess grease) and the use of additional oil (given the ample fat content in pork belly). You won’t even have to master the art of caramelizing sugar perfectly. Despite these simplifications, the final dish is more than satisfying. It’s perfectly suited for beginners, I guarantee it!