Red Cooked Pork Redux

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Red Cooked Pork

Red Cooked Pork

I was encouraged, actually prodded, to start blogging about my cooking slightly over a year ago after Kim at the Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet tasted one of my all time favorite dishes, Red Cooked Pork, or “Hong Shao Rou” (紅燒肉). She was completely blown away by the tender velvety meat of the pork belly surrounded by sweet soy sauce and anise flavors. Since this recipe was posted on January 18th 2008, I’ve had numerous responses from readers and friends about variations in ingredients and techniques. I’ve decided to revisit this very important dish.

The most commonly asked questions were whether different cuts of pork or different types of meat can be cooked using this same recipe. The answer is yes and… well, maybe. Yes, other cuts of pork work well with this recipe, but for other types of meat the recipe has to be slightly modified. In fact I’ve posted two adaptations of the recipe for beef and lamb.

But the questions that most fascinated me were about the different techniques for making this dish. Many traditional Chinese cookbooks and Chinese language blogs recommend par-boiling and draining the pork belly as the first step. In Chinese cooking there is a special term for this practice and it is called “cuan” (汆). This technique is regularly employed to par-boil all kinds of meat for braising. For years I avoided this step in Red Cooked Pork simply because I felt it unnecessary. Thinking that the caramelizing step would shear and seal the meat. In her blog, Appetite for China, Diana adapts Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe, which includes the par-boiling step. This post prompted me to reconsider including this step in my recipe.

Boiling Pork Belly

Caramelizing Pork Belly

So during the last few months I experimented with this technique again. As it turns out par-boiling does indeed improve the end result of the dish. The sauce comes out clean and visually appealing, and the meat absorbs the braising flavors more thoroughly.

Just as some recipes omit par-boiling I found many recipes in Chinese language blogs leave out caramelizing. So I experimented with keeping the par-boiling technique and eliminating the caramelizing step. Unfortunately, without caramelizing the color of the sauce was dull, and the dish lacked the rich caramel aroma.

Red Cook Pork Aromatics

In the end I concluded that I do need to revise my original recipe. Par-boiling and caramelizing together in fact impart superior flavor and increase visual appeal. Below is the revised recipe for you to try. Still I want to emphasize that there is no one single correct way to prepare this dish. What is important is that you enjoy the flavor of the finished dish. I suggest that you experiment with proportions of the different ingredients and variations in techniques. You may end up with a spectacular pork dish, which you can share or, as many Chinese families do, keep as a family secret.

  • Red Cooked Pork II (紅燒肉)

    • Preparation time: 20 minutes
    • Slow cooking time: 70 minutes
    • 1 1/2 lb. pork belly meat
    • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 3 cloves of garlic peeled
    • 2 scallions cut into 2-inch long pieces
    • 3 whole star anise
    • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (老抽)
    • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (紹興料酒)
    • 1 1/2 cups clear stock (or the liquid from the par-boiling step) or water
    • Put the pork belly in a wok containing enough boiling water to cover the meat completely. Continuously skim off the scum as it forms on top of the boiling water. Boil for about 20 minutes then drain the pork belly and place on a plate to cool. The boiling liquid can be reused for braising after filtering through a fine sieve. When the pork belly is cool to touch cut it into pieces of about 1.5 inches cubes.
    • Melt the sugar and the vegetable oil in a wok over medium high heat. Continue heating until the sugar is slightly brown. About 3 minutes. Add the cubed pork belly and brown it with the caramelized sugar. About 8 minutes.
    • Put the garlic, scallion, star anise, dark soy sauce, rice wine and clear stock into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 40 minutes. Stir the meat every 10 minutes to make sure the pork at 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.
    • You can serve this dish right away or keep overnight and reheat the next day before serving. Plate it in a shallow bowl and garnish with shredded scallion and sprigs of cilantro.
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54 Comments

  1. Posted March 3, 2009 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this! I *just* bought a beautiful little piece of pork belly, and now I know what to do with it! :D

    +Jessie

  2. Posted March 3, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Kian –

    This is one of my all time favorites. What I love the most about it is that it tastes and smells exotic and it is “new” to many folks, but it goes down like comfort food.

    Thank you for the beautifully-composed recipes that have helped me make this and your patient instruction. My last effort turned out as good as yours – and that’s saying a lot!

    Kim

  3. Danielle
    Posted March 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I was just recently at a huge Asian market out in the suburbs of Chicago and purchased a package of pork belly for the first time. I’ve been looking for something to try using it in and I do believe this is the recipe! Thank you for sharing your experience with this dish.

  4. Posted March 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Looks really great! I have bookmarked this for my future use! Thank you so much!

  5. Posted March 3, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    KianLam -
    This is gorgeous. The red color comes from the caramelized sugar and star anise? Do you have a recommended use for red dates? I got some from the in-laws for New Years but have no idea what to do with them. We’re not big jook fans, I know that’s a common use.

    There’s a great dumpling place here that has a red pork dish like this (I think) – we saw it on someone else’s table and ordered it my favorite – “I’ll have what she’s having” way…!

    Can’t wait to share a meal with you again, my friend! Sorry I had no time on last trip. Maybe come for our heritage pig event in April? Cochon555?

    Cheers,
    Jacqueline

  6. Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Jacqueline,

    I’d love to share a meal with you again. Yes, April is definitely a possibility. As for the red dates, you can use them in soup or just soak them in water for about two hours, then boil them in simple sugar syrup for about 20 minutes. Serve at room temperature as accompaniment to warm Chinese rice wine or with a regular meal.

    –Kian

  7. Posted March 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    My parents, both ex-chefs, have started reading my blog and critiquing me whenever I visit them. They insist I should always par-boil meats, when I’m making soups, braising, or even stir-frying, to get rid of the excess oil/blood/dirt. (Though for some reason char siu for roasting is exempt.) Of course, I seldom remember.

  8. Posted March 6, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Diana, Your parents are right about par-boiling. This step is almost always required for making Chinese soup and braising in my research. I was being very lazy and still can’t get away from my Western cooking background I guess. I thought caramelizing was sufficient to seal the meat.

  9. Food Couch
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have been compiling Chinese recipes for my husband and hopefully, future children. I am a Filipino who married into a Chinese family and I want my husband to remain connected to his roots through my cooking. I want him to always feel like he never left home to marry a non-Chinese. And of course, I also want to preserve this beautiful culture and heritage for our future children to inherit. :)

    I’m putting you on my blogroll. Thanks.

  10. bfish
    Posted March 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Appreciate your posting and discussing the modified recipe; I’m glad I revisited your site to find this update as that (red cooked pork) is why I came here in the first place. I’ve made the red cooked pork twice — first time with “country style” boneless ribs (which I think is actually butt) and more recently with pork belly, both from your original recipe. Now that you’ve added the parboiling step, I’ll definitely do that next time. Before reading this post I was considering briefly microwaving the pork belly for a short time to seal it/exude a bit of fat — didn’t think of parboiling but that makes sense. I love pork fat, and this dish, but can only take in small quantities. Probably, that’s because when I made it with pork belly I pigged out on it the first night (couldn’t stop eating it) and felt a little queasy the next day.

    Thanks for your recipes and mouth-watering pictures.

  11. Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    bfish, I’m glad you’re enjoying the recipe. Yes, I “love” fatty meat as well. They are tender and flavorful. A tip on keeping the fat down… cook the dish a day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator overnight. The fat will coagulate and you can easily remove before reheating to serve. In fact this dish taste even better when kept overnight just like other stews or braised meats.

  12. Sebastien
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    As a Hong Shao Rou fan I’ve developed my own alternative to this recipe..I’m french and always love cooking with red wine so that I replaced the Shaoxing Wine to a nice Bordeaux. And also reduced the par-boiling step to about 4-5 min with the already diced belly pork in a large boiling pot. I also added 2 thin slices of ginger and half bird eye chilli to the garlic, star anise and spring onions mix.

  13. tricia
    Posted June 26, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I was looking for this recipe and finally settled on my own version. I cut the slab of pork belly in 1/4′s. I par-boiled it. Heated oil, stir-fried shallots, garlic, cinnamon sticks, star anise, spring onions and ginger.

    Added pork, stir fried a couple of mins added thick soy, light soy, mirin, dried chilli, sake and water to cover. Simmer for 1hr.

    It all came together wonderfully and delicious!

    And yes, I kept it in the fridge overnight and it was definately better the following night!

  14. Evelyn
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    I wonder if I could substitute with a leaner cut of meat?
    also, does anybody know what is the sodium content of shaoxing rice wine?
    much appreciated.

  15. Adelina
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Hi Kian,
    Thanks for the wonderful recipe. I made it and my family loves it. The only thing I had modified is the number of anise used, two instead of three. Going to make it again in a few days. It’s really one of those recipes to keep. Thanks again.

  16. Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Adelina,

    So glad you enjoyed this recipe. I’m also glad you’ve adjust to your family’s taste.

    I am a big believer of recipe as a guideline. Not as strict rules to follow. I think if you learns proper techniques, understand proportions of ingredients and flavor profiles of the cuisine, then you can be very successful in the kitchen.

  17. Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kian,
    Thanks for posting your version of this recipe. I adapted it a bit the second time I tried it for even better results. After we boiled the pork we dried it well and then wok fried the chopped pork it till golden and it rendered some of the fat. We then caramelized the sugar in the pork fat / oil mixture and continues with the recipe. It gave us a more velvety sauce as well as a nicer texture to the belly. We also reduced the sugar by 1/2 a tbsp added more garlic and one whole dried red chilli.

  18. Posted December 1, 2010 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe! I have been exploring in the kitchen recently and have been pouring over ways to learn the dishes I had growing up, and this was a great find. I adapted it to my own tastes (substituting red wine and adding a little whiskey) — and the family was quite impressed.

    I also took some of the pieces, wrapped it in cabbage and phyllo dough – and they yield an incredible tasting treat.

    Some photos on my site. Again, thanks!

    http://say.whatchulookingat.com/2010/12/01/food-fun-with-pork-belly-for-thanksgiving

  19. Cherie
    Posted December 30, 2010 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Fantastic recipe,I love pork belly, such an underrated and underused cut in the West. My father-in-law used to live in Malaysia and made us red cooked pork with pork shoulder when we visited him. I am going to use your recipe for our New Years Eve dinner. Thank you for the updated version.

  20. Phil
    Posted January 26, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I live in Shanghai and eat this dish whenever i find it on a menu – the variety is amazing, always good, tho sometimes truly DIVINE. Shanghai Chic in Huangpu district is far and away the best.

  21. Posted February 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    This is exactly what I was looking for. thank you for sending me the link.

  22. sabino
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Dear Kian (and blog readers)

    I really love this dish. But, I have never seen it on the menu of any restaurants in the Baltimore/Washington area. So I have no way to compare it with an “authentic” or professionally prepared version. I hope you will permit me this somewhat long post to help me learn.

    I have made Hong Shao Rou a number of times and I mostly like how it turns out, but I do have a few questions or concerns. I would be grateful for a response either to my personal email address _or_ as a reply posting directly on this blog.

    1 Meat
    The cut of pork has been an concern. I know pork-belly is an inherently fatty cut of meat. But the pork-belly I have bought often has a LOT of fat on it, sometimes mostly fat, little red meat. Many of my friends or guests are not used to and just do not like the taste or texture of eating fat. And of course … it’s not very healthy for us. However, when I’ve tried using other leaner cuts of pork, the meat seems tough or dry. Any advise or suggestions?
    .
    2 Caramelizing
    I sometimes have problems with this. I try to be careful with this step but…. half the time the sugar melts then hardens before I can add and coat the pork with the caramelized oil/sugar. On advise of a local chinese cook, I switched from regular to rock sugar but are harder to melt evenly because of the larger crystals & chunks. And even this will quickly harden up if one is not careful.
    .
    3 Sauce
    After the caramelizing, I add the aromatic spices and enough liquid (stock or water) to cover the meat. After slow braising for 50-60 minutes, the liquid is still fairly thin. I usually remove all the meat before raising the heat to high to reduce & thicken the liquid to a sauce. The flavor of my sauce has always turned out excellent but…
    Questions –
    What is a good or proper consistency (thickness) for the sauce?
    About how much sauce should I try to end up with relative to the amount of meat ?
    .
    4 Accompaniment
    I usually see pictures of this dish traditionally served with just chopped spring onions & rice.
    Because this dish is somewhat rich & heavy as a main course, I often steam or stir fry some vegetable (cabbage, bok choy, etc) to mix in with the meat & sauce. What are your opinions or suggestions about this ?
    .
    Thank you for your time, comments and assistance.
    .

    • Phil
      Posted April 30, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Hi – great questions, my response is from the perspective of an Aussie that has just returned from two years living in Shanghai.

      1 And 4 – The Meat and accompaniment; yes, the belly is a VERY fatty cut. I’ve had varying levels of fat in the dish, always of a level greater than u would be accustomed to in a Western dish, but of course this isn’t a Western dish tho! When done well the fat melts away smoothly in your mouth, when not done so well it feels fatty to me yet retains the flavor still. The consistency of the sauce has varied from very thin and watery, to a velvety thick and sticky sauce as at my fave place in shanghai, mentioned above, and it is served with only 6 pieces of meat, a few half pieces of marinated hard boiled egg and a few pieces of wilted baby spinach/bok choy style vegetables.

      Try not to think of it as a main dish, rather one of the meat dishes you serve along with other lighter meat dishes, vegetables and rice etc. If only 1-3 pieces are eaten per person then the richness and fattiness will not be a problem.

      I hope this has helped, as with all food there is no perfect version of this dish, what you like is perfect!

      Visit China for the food if nothing else!!

      Cheers

    • Posted April 30, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Hi Sabina,

      Thank you for the great questions you posed in your comment. Phil is absolutely right about how there is no one single “correct” way of making Hong Shao Rou. He also makes a good point that in a proper Chinese meal the pork will only be one of many dishes served. So the fat in this dish would not overwhelm the meal.

      One point I would like to make is that when you cook the pork for such a long time most of the fat renders out. What is left on the meat is the connective tissue. One way to reduce the “oiliness” of the dish is to cook it one day ahead. Keep the sauce separate from the meat and refrigerate overnight. The next day you can scrape off the fat solid from the sauce. Incorporate the sauce back when reheating. This method will reduce the grease in the final dish but does not eliminate it.

      There are many issues you’ve raised in your comment and I think I will write a new post on Hong Shao Rou to address them. Look out for the post.

      Kian

  23. sabino
    Posted May 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Dear Kian & Phil -
    My sincere thanks for your replies.
    .
    You both wrote to comment on issues # 1 & 4.
    What I came away with from your advise on these concerns is:
    A. Be selective in picking the cut of meat to use.
    Some pork belly has more (or less) fat relative to the red meat on it.
    Also maybe using a different but similar cut might work.
    For example, boneless ribs/country ribs have lots of good fat layers or marbling.
    B. Boil the meat first.
    I know that pork-skin is mainly collagen (protein). So I am not concerned about that.
    Boiling the meat first not only helps texture but will draw out some the fat of of the cut.
    I wonder to what degree boiling reduces actual “fat content” of the white fat-layers 10% 20% ??
    C. If still needed, chill the sauce and skim any additional fat from the top.
    D. Moderation of portions
    This dish is best served accompanied by other main dishes and as well as vegetables and rice.
    .
    What thoughts or comments can you share about issue # 2
    the problem of sugar hardening up or re-crystallizing… rather than coating the meat.
    I’ve tried to be careful about controlling the heat so the pan is not too hot.
    I’ve tried using both regular white granulated sugar and rock sugar.
    .
    And lastly issue #3, (though is is not as big a concern) when I reduce it,
    should the final consistency of the sauce be about as thick as maple syrup or thinner.

    Thanks again.

    p.s. – BTW I am going to make shu mai -and- will also make your pork & chive dumplings
    .

  24. Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I liked your red cooked pork very much! I loved the way you write and the detailed points to be kept in mind while cooking this dish. I loved your blog and I am hooked to it now. I am making an “Interesting blogs” list on my blog and would add your blog there.

  25. Gao KeSi
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve made red-cooked meat a number of times, and RedCook’s recipe is a good one. I agree with the long, slow cooking at as low a temperature as will continue cooking, for tenderness and to render the fat. I also agree with holding the dish and sauce overnight in the refrigerator to separate and skim off the rendered fat, and because that’s an unusual good opportunity in Chinese cooking to let the spices and wine develop deeper flavor.

    Yes, red-cooked meat is VERY rich (heavy). Rather than adding vegetables to the dish, which would change the taste and consistency, one might lighten the impact through the presentation of the dish. I have served the meat on a plate or platter, surrounded by a ring of vegetable that complements or even uses a red-cooking sauce. Try baby bokchoy sauteed with lots of julienned ginger root, or red-cooked bamboo shoot, or sugared snowpea leaves.

  26. Vijay
    Posted October 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I’ve made Red Cooked Pork three times according to your recipe and it has always been fantastic. Thanks very much for this. I really enjoy your blog; your style of creating dishes through uncomplicated recipes and well thought-out technique leads to great results each time.

    Do you have a recipe for Soy Sauce Chicken (which I believe is sometimes called Red Cooked Chicken)? I am not satisfied with the outcomes of the few of the recipes I’ve tried so far, primarily because I am judging them based on what I’ve had in NYC Chinatown.

    Vijay

    • Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      Hi Vijay, Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you are enjoying the Red Cooked Pork. For Red Cooked Chicken you need to pre-cook the chicken pieces just like with the pork. Then use garlic, ginger and scallion for aromatics but do not use any other spices. start with enough liquid to cover the chicken and cook at medium heat until the liquid has reduced to just about one third.

      You can add other ingredients such as mushrooms and bamboo shoots to this dish when braising. In northern China they usually use chestnuts in the braise. I’ll try to blog about this in future post.

      Enjoy!

      Kian

  27. Cissy
    Posted November 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Kian,

    I just stumbled across your blog yesterday, and went home and made this recipe. It was delicious! The flavors transported me back to winters of my childhood, when my grandmother would lovingly braise pork and trotters in her small kitchen in China.

    I am often nostalgic for those homemade recipes, but I have yet to find a restaurant that serves it on Upper East Side. (Have you found one in that area?) As a working professional, I find little time to cook, but Chinese take-out just doesn’t do it for me when I am craving a warm bowl of paigu and winter-melon soup. Your blog has definitely inspired me to wipe the dust off the wok, and try your delicious looking recipes!

    Last night, I had a tough time with the caramelizing stage in your red cooked pork. The oil began popping and splattering immediately after I added the parboiled pork belly—it was quite hazardous in my small Manhattan apartment! Do you know why that would happen? Was the oil too hot? I had no problem melting the sugar without crystallizing it. Thank you!

    Cissy

    • Posted November 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Hi Cissy,

      You are absolutely right about not being able to find good homemade authentic Chinese cooking in Manhattan. You will however find good restaurants in Flushing. So I only occasionally venture out to Flushing for good Chinese food fix. Otherwise, I cook at home. I’m glad you are finding my recipes helpful and do cook more at home. It can be so very rewarding.

      You right the pork will splatter as you brown it in the caramelized sugar. There is no way to prevent that. But you can use a splatter guard or just use the wok lid. Cover the meat for a while then stir it again to prevent from burning. Repeat this process until completely browned. I’m sorry I cannot offer you any easy solution for this.

      Kian

    • sabino
      Posted November 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Dear Cissy -
      .
      I have a different problem with the important caramelizing step, about which I have posted a follow-up question to this blog, which I’m hoping Kian or someone can help me with it.
      .
      However, I have a comment or suggestion which may possibly be helpful regarding your concern about splattering. The splattering occurs because of the water/moisture of the meat, especially if it’s been boiled.
      .
      I prepare this dish in one of those enameled stock-pots rather than a wok, mainly because it holds the heat better & more evenly during the long slow braising of the pork (for 40-60 minutes).
      But the other advantage of using this pot is that it has high sides compared to a wok. So it tends to better contain or limit the splattering.
      .
      You may already do this but, the other suggestion that I offer is to do a really good job of draining and patting the pork-belly dry with paper towels after boiling it to reduce the surface moisture.

  28. sabino
    Posted November 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Dear Kian & others -
    .
    I posted about Red-Cooked Pork back in April-May with 4 general issues or concerns. Most of my questions were answered or addressed except for issue #2 regarding the step of caramelizing.
    .
    I am still somewhat uninformed & clueless about making this step consistently work out properly. Sometimes it goes well. Sometimes it doesn’t. And I can’t figure out WHAT or WHY makes it go wrong. – - –
    The problem I encounter is this:
    the sugar melts… then turns golden-brown… then crystallizes or hardens -and- clumps on the bottom of the pot rather than coating the pork.
    I have tried both regular granulated sugar and rock sugar.
    The rock sugar takes a longer time to melt because of the larger size of the crystal chunks.
    I have also tried lowering the heat (gas flame) under the pot.
    But the sugar sometimes STILL re-crystallizes.
    How do you prevent or avoid this ??
    .

  29. sabino
    Posted November 18, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Kian -
    .
    I received the email notification about the Reply or updated posting on this topic. You were correct, I missed the Part 3 entry “Red-Cooked Pork Revisited”.
    .
    That was perfect ! It addressed and clarified all of my initial questions.
    From your explanation, it appears that I should add the pork sooner to the hot oil/sugar mixture. I was letting the sugar turn light brown first before adding the meat. Your advice tells me to let it melt and barely start to turn light yellow or gold. I will try the dish again soon trying out your guidance. Thank you.
    .
    p.s. – I am used to the mistake so it does NOT bother me at all, but I thought I would clarify for you that I am a male fan of your blog. Thanks again for your help.

    • Posted December 3, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Sabino, I am so sorry for confusing your gender. I will edit my post to reflect this mistake. Thanks for being supportive and for sharing your cooking stories. Kian

  30. Brown Eyed One
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Do you discard the pork fat which renders from the meat. My husband and I are in the midst of making your recipe… I assume the answer is yes..
    Thanks you for supplying us with a recipe to use on our first pork belly!

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Generally I do discard the pork fat. But if you’re not too concern about consuming animal fat, then it can used in variety of ways. You can use the fat to stir-fry vegetable or to flavor noodles soup for example. Most people though discard the fat to make the dish less greasy. Enjoy!

  31. Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Made this dish again last week, wanted to get a few opinions… (First off, it took a nice bit of revenge to my left hand with a rather nasty burn that is still healing..)

    Anyway, this time around I used sugar in the raw along with peanut oil for the caramelization step. When I completed the rest of your listed recipe steps, I found that there was a slight bitter aftertaste when I ate a sample piece. (Sampling the food — the primary benefit of the chef? :)

    Any thoughts on the possible source for the bitter aftertaste? I was thinking it was coming from burning during the caramelization step — the sugar had started to puff up (smelled like cotton candy, a whole different yummy smell) — and the meat was a little darker than I was used to.

    In either case, I generally take this dish, fridge it overnight and then steam it for a few hours the next day. The meat ends up getting even more tender, and it mellowed the bitter taste enough for most people to not notice it.

    • Posted February 7, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Hi Terry,

      Sorry to hear about the nasty burn. Yes, it is a good idea to use a splatter guard to prevent burns. I am going to modify the recipe instructions to include this advice.

      As for the bitterness, I suspect it is because of the caramel browning a bit too much. Try to add the pork to the sugar just as it turns yellow and not when it starts smelling like candy.

      You may want to read this other post…

      http://redcook.net/2011/06/21/red-cooked-pork-revisited/

      There is a lot of discussion on variations and tips on making this dish.

  32. liz
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Ive just cooked this to eat tomorrow although its hard not to dig in right now as it looks smells and tastes delicious.
    As i am not using it straight away should i remove the star anise?

    • Posted July 22, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Yes, you can remove the star anise, garlic and scallion if you wish. You can also wrap these ingredients in a cheesecloth next time you make this dish. But leaving the spices in the stew is a common Chinese practice making the dish feel rustic. Bon appétit!

      • liz
        Posted July 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        This was absolutely beautiful. So tender and bursting with flavour. I have never had belly pork as wonderful as this.Thank you so much for posting this.It will definitely be a regular for us.

  33. Rob
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Xian – I just discovered this site of yours today when my girlfriend and I were trying to find a recipe for Hong Shao Ru, and it looks awesome! Thank you so much for this – as an expat living in Beijing, it’s nice to find a Western recipe approach to dishes that I can follow.

    I loved the sauce in this recipe so much that I want to try it with a pork roast, so thank you for posting it to your site!

    Cheers!

  34. julie
    Posted September 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I tried your version of the Red Cooked Pork yesterday, even went to our Asian food store and bought the pork belly. Unfortunately, my efforts were a big belly flop! (pun IS intended) The problem relates to the caramelization step. I mixed the sugar with the oil and heated over med high heat. The sugar never dissolved in the oil and never took on any color before it hardened. I threw it out and started over with the same result. Question: should the sugar be melted alone and lightly taking on color and then the oil is added? My pork never did caramelize to the degree shown in your illustration.
    Thank you for solving the mystery of the Yunnan Clay pot which came to me from my mother’s kitchen after she passed away. Sure wish I had more tie with her to learn her kitchen secrets and general wisdom.

    • Posted October 3, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Try adding the meat to the pot just as the sugar starts to melt. The liquid from the pork will dissolve the sugar. Then use medium heat to slowly caramelize the pork.

  35. sabino
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Julie -
    I sympathize with you and decided to post this reply.
    I too had difficulties with the caramelization step, but …. I had a different/opposite problem.
    .
    For me the sugar was melting –> then caramelizing –> then hardening before I could get it to coat then meat. I tried different sugars (white sugar, rock sugar, turbinado, etc). Finally (and with Kian’s help) I determined that my heat was a bit too high AND I was letting the sugar get too brown after melting before adding meat. Now I add the meat once the sugar is melted and still clear or just slightly blond colored. Sugar IS tricky to work with. (BTW – I just use regular cane sugar now.)
    .
    Not sure if this addresses your issue but if I understand your question/problem, the sugar does NOT really dissolve in the oil. As they both heat up in the pot they remain separate — they do not combine or dissolve into one another. Just heat carefully until sugar melts, then add cubes/pieces of pork-belly and toss to coat. (NOTE – be sure the meat is patted fairly dry before adding to pot or it may spatter when hitting the hot oil.)
    .
    Next comment I want to share is that I too thought the caramelization step would render the meat dark brown – as shown in the final pictures. It usually does not. Most of the rich brown color comes from the long slow step of braising in the sauce .
    .
    Hope these comments are relevant and helpful.
    I love this dish !!

  36. Cheney
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad I found your blog!
    I’ve just made a pot of this for a dinner party I’m having tomorrow night. I followed the recipe almost to the letter, except that I was unexpectedly out of cooking oil and so I substituted in unsalted butter (sounds more French than Chinese, I know, but it seemed to work!). It all smells amazing, and I’ve separated the meat and sauce into different bowls so I can skim and reduce the sauce before I serve it tomorrow.
    I’m really looking forward to dinner tomorrow, and trying more of your recipes.

    • Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you find Red Cook to be helpful.

  37. Jeremie
    Posted August 18, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Ginger is missing, I had trouble with my wife when eating, she was complaining about to strong anis, no salt and “nothing inside”.
    I think ginger would add extra taste to this recipe.

    We will try it once again tomorrow.

    • Posted August 20, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jeremie,

      Thanks for your great comment. Ginger in fact is deliberately not included in this recipe. As a general rule thumb in Chinese cooking flavor profile, pork meat (not the bones or innards) is considered mild flavor and ginger will overwhelm the taste. So in this red cooked pork recipe ginger is not used so as to highlight the star anise. When making other “gamier” meat such as beef or lamb for red cooking then ginger is included. Enjoy!

      Kian

  38. Steve- Brooklyn
    Posted November 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kian

    I had another question as I just heated up my pork belly after the overnite sit in the fridge…

    Everything came out great, but again if you saw my previous question, Im not quite understanding the 50 min cook time? I cooked mine for 3 hrs at least, until the pork was nice and tender and falling off the bone, etc.

    But this post in directed at the sauce. When I re heated the entire dish today there was only MAYBE about 2-3 Tb of “sauce” and the rest was just pure fat. When it was cold in the bowl, you could see it just all completely like lard. So my question is, how did you get some much velvety sauce?

    Thanks
    Steve

    • Posted November 12, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Hi Steve,

      I’d say that after three hours of cooking the braising liquid is probably reduced quite considerably. You may not need to reduce the sauce further. But if the sauce is already too thick you can always dilute it with broth (if you have some on hand) or water. Be sure to remove the solidified fat before reheating the sauce again.

      I usually like my pork belly to be soft and tender but not falling apart pulled pork style. So I only cook the pork up to the point of fork tender but still in one piece. So for me cooking for less than an hour is sufficient. But we all have our own preferences and there is no right or wrong way to cook pork belly.

      Kian

    • Sabino
      Posted November 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Steve -
      Thought I would contribute a few thoughts or comments that might be helpful to someone new to making this dish as I was and have learned a bit from having made this dish quite a number of times now.
      .
      BTW – Kian is “the man” and was a big help in resolving a couple of issues/questions I had at first.
      .
      The cut of meat you use does matter for this dish. Many westerners are unaccustomed to cooking/eating pork belly and may think it too unhealthy. But if this dish is prepared properly (as Kian suggests) using a leaner cut of pork (more red meat) will result in tougher pieces/cubes of meat.
      I point this out because you mentioned … “the pork …. falling off the bones“. Now I may be mistaken but I have never seen real pork belly with bone. It may be that you were using short ribs, or country ribs, or some other cut of the hog. I have made this dish with boneless country ribs, but I am careful to choose a package with lot more fat layer than red meat to it. True pork belly will often still have the skin as the top/outer layer. This can be trimmed off, but it can also be left on. I’ve come to like it left on.
      .
      A second point that comes to mind is that with pork belly, it is best to boil it first. This will help make it tender and also helps render and reduce some of the fat. Most sources suggest boiling it BEFORE cutting the slabs up into chunks/cubes. Various recipes/sources suggest very different amounts of time for the boiling; from 10 minutes to much longer. I have gotten good results with boiling the whole slices/slabs for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes — depending on the size & thickness of the slices. Then drain it. Pat it very dry (or water drops may spatter when pieces are added to hot oil). Using this pre-boiled pork belly you will not need hours of cooking to produce tender meat. The meat and sauce should also be less fatty.
      .
      Hope this is helpful.

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