Hong Shao Rou (Red Cooked Pork)

Red Cooked Pork
Photography by Ron Boszko

I don’t understand why Hong Shao Rou (紅燒肉) is never on a Chinese restaurant menu in America. Maybe it is simply just too exotic or “home style.” But ask any Chinese person and they can tell you stories of grandmother’s Hong Shao Rou. Family recipes are often guarded secrets, and only passed down within the family members through generations.

  • Improved Recipe
  • Since publishing this post I’ve revised the recipe using a traditional technique of par-boiling the meat. The result is much better and I encourage you to use the improved recipe in a subsequent post.

Many different approaches exist for preparing this dish. There are always debates as to the merit of caramelizing the sugar first, or just simply adding it to the braising liquid. Controversies are often stirred up as to whether spices such as star anise and Osmanthus bark should be added. Hard boiled eggs are sometime added to the dish. And in the Southwestern region of China, where chili is king, very often dried chilies are added to spice up the dish. All these just create even more mystique to the dish.

Hong Shao Rou is typically made with pork belly meat, a cut commonly used for making bacon. It is layered with fat and results in a very tender and flavorful pork dish. One can argue that this is rather unhealthy, but I simply cannot justify using any other cut because it is just so wrong otherwise!

Hong Shao Rou is served regularly at home as daily meal and yet can also be served at celebratory occasions. It is quite common to serve this dish with small steamed buns. The buns are often made from round dough folded into half circle resembling a clam shell. One holds a piece of Hong Shao Rou in the steamed bun like hot dog in a bun. These buns can be purchased from Chinese grocery stores, although sometime I enjoy making them at home. More often than not I simply serve this dish with some steamed vegetables and rice at home.

So without further ado, here is my version of Hong Shau Rou.

Red Cooked Pork Ingredients

Red Cooked Pork (紅燒肉)

Cuisine Home-Style
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Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pound pork belly cut into two inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興酒)
  • 1 1/2 cups pork stock or water
Instructions
  • Melt the sugar and the vegetable oil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Continue heating until the sugar is slightly brown. About 3 minutes. Put the cubed pork in the pot and brown it with the caramelized sugar. About 8 minutes.
  • Put the garlic, star anise, dark soy sauce, rice wine and clear stock into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 90 minutes. Stir the meat every 10 minutes to make sure the bottom of the pot does not get burnt. Remove the cover and turn the heat to medium high. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.
  • This dish, like most stew dishes, is better if left overnight and reheated the next day. But if you can’t wait then plate it in a shallow bowl and garnish with shredded scallion and sprigs of cilantro.

48 thoughts on “Hong Shao Rou (Red Cooked Pork)”

  1. Jenny Spark

    Hi Rachel, I just made this dish with beef today and it seems to be fine. I always add extra rice wine and ginger and chillis( the dried ones work really well). I also added potatoes cos my daughter loves them in the sauce.

  2. Kian

    Jenny, I’m glad you’re making red cooked beef. It is indeed a delicious variation. Adding chili pepper is very common for beef. I would also put dried tangerine peel to the pot. It creates a very nice aroma in the end. You can also add daikon radishes and/or carrots to your red cooked beef. I will post a proper recipe on this soon.

  3. kmcgra

    We made the “red cooked pork” recipe the other night. We even found the little steamed clamshell buns at our local Chinese market. It came out really good, and our kids loved the little buns (which we steamed in our steamer.) The combo of the meat and bun was quite delicious!

  4. [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    I’m enjoying this blog very much and thank you for the red-cooked pork recipe.

    In our house, we call our version of red-cooking “Chinese adobo”! We usually serve it with egg. (We did a pork belly version and a chicken version of adobo: the pictures and recipes are posted on our blog.)

    I look forward to more dishes from your Chinese home kitchen. We want to cook more Chinese dishes and want to recover some of the dishes we have lost since moving away from home almost twenty years ago.

    Please keep cooking!

  5. jm

    I’ve made your recipe several times, and really enjoy it. I’ve noticed varying levels of an unpleasant “grainy” aftertaste. It seems like this would be the carmelized sugar not getting dissolved or something. Any solutions?

  6. Kian

    jm, I’m glad you enjoy this red cooked pork recipe. I believe the caramelized sugar would have been dissolved after cooking for almost an hour in the braising liquid. My guess is that perhaps you are tasting the pieces of star anise. In Chinese cooking herbs and spices are often left in chunks during cooking and when serving. Although this practice lends a bit of rustic touch to the dishes, it often forces the eater to be vigilant when consuming the food. You can always wrap these spices in a cheese cloth during cooking and remove the package before serving.

  7. jm

    Sorry, I forgot to mention that I don’t use star anise, but Chinese 5 spice instead. Now that you mention it, it must be that I most recently had only 40 minutes for it to stew. I expected the effect on the meat, but not on the sugar. Thanks for the reply.

  8. Bentoist

    I’ve made this dish only once so far, but enjoyed it many times as a kid when mum cooked them. You are probably right about it being “home-style”. I believe some versions would include pieces of yam too. Very nice pictures. 现在我想吃紅燒肉了.

  9. CC

    There’s a place in Philadelphia, called Dim Sum Garden (reviewed by Craig La Ban for their xiaolongbao chinese soup dumpling) that has this on their english menu under brown stewed pork. It’s delicious, actually better than my mom’s, which is saying something.

    So for any Philadelphians, go check it out!

  10. Alicebelike

    I love this dish. My family is Taiwanese-American– my mom and grandparents have been making this for us all our lives. I especially like it when they add boiled eggs to the recipe, along with carrots and potatoes… It’s really a great stewed meat dish to pair with steamed rice. We often replace pork with beef as well because we are more health conscientious. I also suggest adding some green onion/leeks into the stew. Enjoy!! >_<

  11. JPL

    I too am Taiwanese-American. I remember eating this with the boiled eggs with rice congee when I was a chld. (I am in my 40’s now.) I made this dish today. I couldn’t find pork belly, so I used a boston butt roast that I cut up. It brought back memories! This is Asian comfort food.

  12. Mark

    Hi, I made this tonight for my Chinese wife. I don’t eat meat so I had to go by the recipe and hope it tasted good. She was suprised I could cook Hong Shao Rou and said it tasted great!

    Question for you: When I bought the pork belly it came with skin. Do you normally take off the skin or leave it on?

    Thanks!

    Mark
    San Francisco

  13. Kian

    Carmen,

    Yes, this recipe can be adapted for pork ribs. Do cut the ribs into short pieces. Red cooking can be adapted for many differnet types of meat and cut. Red cook pork ribs are known as “hong shao pai gu” (紅燒排骨) in Chinese.

    Mark,

    I am so pleased you enjoy my recipe. And yes, you should leave the skin on. In fact the skin is prized by many Chinese. The texture is very much an acquired taste for the American palate. But once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to lean meat.

  14. Richard

    I have red cooked pork shoulder/picnic ham with great results and plenty left over pork for fried rice. Cooking time a few hours. Richard

  15. Mark

    Just an update, I used this recipe but instead of pork belly, i substituted baby back pork ribs. My wife says it was still great! I had the butcher cut them into small pieces and was even easier to cook (pork belly can be hard to cut).

  16. Mark

    1 more final update, made this again but this time added hardboiled eggs…because it seemed similar to what i have seen with tea eggs…and the wife loved them!

  17. Kian

    Mark, So good to hear you enjoying this recipe. I am glad you experimented with different cut of meat and adding hard boiled eggs. Yes, hard boiled eggs in red cooked pork is very traditional.

  18. Chang Long

    I love this dish how my grandma makes. Yummie!
    The reason why it’s never on the menu is because the bacon is very greasy. A lot of people don’t greasy bacon.
    That’s the reason why there is no hong shao rou on the menu in Belgium

    1. Kian Post Author

      Princess Jaboticaba, Brown sugar will work well but five spice will give the dish a different taste. I do believe the result would still be delicious though.

  19. Kevin

    I went to Guangzhou recently and tasted some of this fantastic Cantonese cuisine. Hong Shao Rou was absolutely delicious! Make sure you try it as you will not forget it.

  20. David

    Thank you very much for putting up this recipe! My grandma is an expert in making this, but I never got around to asking her how to do it.

    I was just wondering though, I’m completely unsure if this even makes sense, but are you supposed to wash the pork belly very thoroughly before you cook it?

  21. Pat

    I have had hong shao rou in ShaoShan, Beijing, and Guangzhou but the very best I ever ate was a very small family restaurant on RenMen Lu in Changsha. Your recipe is close but I think it is the long experience that makes the Changsha version the best… besides, they add lots and lots of fresh peppers.

    1. Heidi

      I currently live in Changsha, and have been to that restaurant. You are right, it is quite good! I am so happy to know that so many others can enjoy this city.

  22. Heather

    I tried you recipe tonight with a ssamgyeopssal cut of pork belly which was in my freezer. It is a very convenient cut to find here in Korea. If you are not familiar with it, it is slightly thicker than any bacon slice you will find.

    I reduced the parboiling and caramelizing times to adjust. It turned out great! I don’t think it has the visual appeal and stunning of the larger chunks of pork belly, but simply delicious.

    Thank you for sharing this recipe!!! I enjoy cooking and eating Chinese food ever since I spent a semester in China. This was an entirely new dish for me though, and I am so excited to add a really delicious and easy recipe to my repertoire. Thanks again!

    1. Kian Lam Kho Post Author

      Hi Becca, Do make this dish. You’ll really enjoy it. The recipe will make about 10 to 12 portions for use with the steamed buns. You can count on everyone wanting about two portions. Serve a few more dishes such as stir-fries or steamed vegetables then you can easily satisfy a party of six.

  23. Heidi

    I have been living in Changsha for 4 years now and have made friends from all over the world. Last night, I somehow got myself roped into a Hong Shao Rou cook-off. I am not so worried about the other American in the contest, but the Chinese man that is competing worries me a bit. I have made this dish many times, but do you have any suggestions that might push me into the winner’s circle. Thank you for any advice you might have.
    Heidi

  24. Lam, Liun

    I use to share this dish with the Chairman every 2nd/4th Sunday of the month. The Chairman says to sear your meat in the oil before adding the sugar. Brings a more robust flavor to the dish he says.

  25. Jonas

    Hi!
    I found this dish on a Swedish cooking show with a reporter that travels in China.
    One thing tha really makes this shine is with zechuan pepper from the Chinese province of zechuan. I tell you, once you’ve had it with the extraordinary flavor of the zechuan pepper you don’t want to eat anything else ever again!

  26. mamaof2

    Our friends from Shanghai made Red pork for us recently and it was great! I am America and have never heard of it before but they said it was their favorite food and popular in China. It is sad America has no real Chinese food it is so good! I am going to practice this recipe so I can make it for them when they come to visit.
    Do you have another recipe that I could make that would impress them?

    1. Kian Lam Kho Post Author

      It matters that lean pork when cooked for an extended period of time becomes very dry. I would suggest using a highly marbled cut of pork such as shoulder or ribs. Read the third part of the Red Cook Pork series for more information.

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