Classic dish, simplified version. This red-cooked pork belly recipe is hassle-free and fool-proof. Perfect for all occasions.
Nowadays, health conscious parents try to reduce the amount of foods which are high in fat in their children’s diet. But that wasn’t the case when I was an infant. According to my mum, I was a huge fan of pork belly. “You loved it! Especially the fatty part,” she told me many times. It was the period when every family in China was living on food coupons. Based on the ration, each person was allowed to buy 250 grams of meat per month. “Unlike today, nobody wanted lean meat back then. Our bodies craved fat,” my mum explained. Luckily, I don’t crave it anymore, but from time to time I still enjoy dishes made of pork belly, especially when it’s properly prepared.
Pork belly is a popular cut of meat treasured by many great cuisines around the world. Containing a high percentage of fat, it needs to be cooked in a particular way in order to reduce its greasy taste. In China, the most famous pork belly dish has to be Red-cooked Pork(红烧肉). Pork belly chunks are braised with spices and seasoning to create a multi-flavoured dish: salty, sweet, aromatic and sometimes spicy. When well cooked, the skin and fat become gelatinous, not greasy but melt easily in your mouth. Apart from having the desired taste and texture, a perfect bowl of red-cooked pork belly must achieve a red-brownish shine. That’s where the word “red” in its name comes from.
This classic dish has various versions in different regions of China. The famous Hunan style red-cooked pork belly is believed to have been Chairman Mao’s favourite dish (Hunan was his home province). In this version, rock sugar is caramelized in hot oil to coat the meat with a reddish shine. The Shanghai style version is also popular across China. It uses dark soy sauce instead to add colour. I love all the versions equally, including mine that I’m sharing with you here.
It’s a hassle-free, fool-proof version. There is no frying involved (leaving you a greaseless kitchen) thus no extra oil needed (there’s enough fat in the pork belly already!). And you don’t have to master the skill of caramelizing the sugar properly. Yet the finished dish is more than satisfying. My culinary fan No.3 in our Red House doesn’t have a keen interest in meat, but she often asks me to cook this dish.
To braise the pork, I recommend you to use Shaoxing rice wine as liquid. This gives the meat an aromatic, rich flavour, and somehow minimizes its greasiness. You may replace up to half of the wine with water (not more). It takes around one and a half hours to have the pork well cooked, but as we say, good things come to those who wait.
If you wish to serve red-cooked pork belly as part of a Western-style meal, just blanch some green vegetable, such as broccoli, Pak Choi, green beans, etc., and cook some plain rice as a staple.
Does my recipe make you hungry? Have a try and tell me what you think.
Have a yummy day!
Other classic dishes featuring pork belly: