Inspired by Red Cook’s Red-Cooked Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

Hong Shao Rou

Delicious Pork Belly and a Cookbook and Dutch Oven Giveaway~~

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve red-cooked something. I’ve red-cooked the traditional pork belly many a time and have also tried red-cooking pork shoulder, chicken thighs and beef short ribs. But I’ve never settled on a favorite red-cooking recipe or method. Perhaps because I’m not Chinese, and my mom (or other family member) did not hand one down to me. But I have to have one. Because I have to pass the family red-cooking recipe down to my Chinese daughter. Otherwise, how will she have one?

For those who don’t know, red-cooking, or hong shao, simply means braising a protein in a caramelly Shaoxing wine-soy sauce-sugar liquid, tossing in some Chinese spices and aromatics to make it interesting, and letting it cook into a meltingly tender piece of meat with a redish-brown glaze. Even though red-cooked dishes originated in Eastern China, around Shanghai, every region of China, including Sichuan, cooks them, and every region has its own style. In fact, just as with American beef stew, every family has its own style of this ultimate comfort food.

Seeking my own, I tried the versions in my usual Sichuan cookbooks. But none were quite right—either the ingredients or the method were off and my red-cooked dishes just weren’t as tasty as I knew they could be. And I do know what the ideal hong shao rou should look and taste like, by the way, because on my last trip to China I went out of my way—making a reservation weeks in advance and still waiting in line for an hour—to eat at Old Jesse, considered by many to be the best Shanghainese restaurant in Shanghai and the mothership of hong shao rou.

Jesse's Hong Shao Rou

Perhaps the world’s most famous hong shao rou, at Jesse in Shanghai

To tell you the truth, it was the very last night of an emotional, stressful and ultimately rewarding three-week trip to China—Fong Chong’s first return to her country and village in Guangzhou as well as trips to Chengdu and Shanghai—and our little family was fed up with both restaurants and each other by that time. But despite our sour selves, the shimmering cubes of melt-in-your-mouth fat and deeply flavorful meat were a magical thing that pulled us out of our heads and into the moment, ending our trip on a sweet note.

Recently, longtime blogger and new cookbook author Kian Lam Kho asked me (and several other bloggers) to cook from his cookbook, the IACP-Award-winning Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival (September 15), promising a copy of the book for me, and another for one of my lucky readers. He then sweetened the deal by arranging for Anolon to offer me—and another one of my lucky readers—the Anolon pan of my choice to cook it in. (Keep reading to see how you can win one of them.)

“I’d be happy to cook from your book,” I told him. “But you don’t have to send me one in order for me to do it, because I bought one as soon as it came out.”

Kian’s book is unique among Chinese cookbooks, organized not by courses, ingredients or regions, but by cooking methods. It’s designed almost as a cooking course, guiding you through the many cooking methods of Chinese cuisine—not just the many different stir-frying techniques, but different braising techniques as well as steaming, roasting, smoking and pickling.

I decided to try his recipe for red-cooked pork, since Kian and his blog go by the name Red Cook and red-cooking is how he started his “adventures from a Chinese home kitchen.” If anyone has the tastiest red-cooking recipe, it should be Red Cook, right?

And he does.

Hong Shao Rou

Parboiled pork belly and its playmates

As is my usual approach, I didn’t try his recipe just once, I tried it three times. And is also my MO, I tweaked it a bit. He calls for caramelizing the parboiled pork belly in a wok and then transferring it to a clay pot, but I wanted to dirty only two pans, so after the parboil I made it from start to finish in a clay pot. As often happens, however, when caramelizing meat in a sugar water, the caramel started to burn, and I had to rescue it with a little added oil. That’s probably why the recipe suggests a wok for that step.

Hong Shao Rou

It’s easy to burn the sugar as I did here when you’re caramelizing meat for red-cooking

The second time, I tried using pork-shoulder chunks, which provide a lot more meat, a lot less fat, and are less decadent for a Tuesday night. These I cooked in a cast-iron dutch oven and they were terribly good, both that day and the next, when Fong Chong heaped them on some instant ramen noodles.

Hong Shao Rou

Red-cooked pork shoulder is more meaty than fatty

For my next attempt at the pork belly, I used the Anolon Nouvelle Copper Hard-Anodized Nonstick 5-Quart Covered Dutch Oven that the company sent me. Unlike the other two attempts, I did not have to add oil during the caramelization process, because the nonstick surface allowed me to get the meat quite darkly caramelized without burning. That was a triumph, because a dark caramelization adds to both the color and flavor of the dish. Another big plus is that I was able to parboil the belly in the same pan, so I only dirtied one pan for the whole process. This pan produced by far the most successful hong shao rou, with beautiful caramelization and, later, a quickly reduced sauce. And I’m not just saying this because I got a freebie. I definitely suggest a high-quality nonstick pot for this dish.

Hong Shao Rou

The Anolon nonstick pan allowed for deep caramelization without burning

Hong Shao Rou

Add the Shaoxing wine, soy sauces and aromatics and let it settle in for a braise

Hong Shao Rou

An hour and a half later, after reducing the sauce and returning the meat to the pan

The dutch oven retains moisture during the cooking process, which is good for a tender braise, though you’ll have to reduce the sauce at the end of the process to get that lovely glaze. With pork belly you’ll want to de-fat the sauce as well, though with pork shoulder you won’t need to. If you have a fat separator, that would be ideal, but I found that the reduced sauce quickly separates and it’s easy to just pour off a lot of the extra fat, which runs out first as you tip the pan.

You can serve the pork over rice or, as we prefer, stuffed inside homemade fold-over bao as luxe little sandwiches. A pillow of savory-sweet meat with a blanket of yeasty bread. Comfort food, indeed.

Bao with red-cooked pork

Hong shao rou is the perfect filling for fold-over bao, with a spicy quick-pickled cucumber and scallion

Finally, it seems, my search for the perfect family hong shao recipe has come to an end as I adopt, and slightly adapt, the Kho family recipe. I love the flavor combination he uses—lots of Shaoxing wine and lots of star anise are the major notes. But Kian would be the first to tell you to use his recipe as a guide to create your family’s own red-cooking recipe. Believe me: You’ll want to pass it down through the generations.

Bao with red-cooked pork

A caramelly outside and succulent inside

How can you be one of the lucky readers who gets a copy of Kian Lam Kho’s Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking or an Anolon Nouvelle Copper Nonstick Covered Dutch Oven? Leave a comment below that tells me how you feel about hong shao. I’ll randomly pick and notify two winners on October 10, 2016.  (U.S. residents only, I’m afraid.)

Inspired by Red Cook's Red-Cooked Pork (Hong Shao Rou)
Author: 
 
Lightly adapted from Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees (Clarkson Potter, 2015) by Kian Lam Kho
Ingredients
  • 1½ pounds pork belly
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
  • ¼ cup Shaoxing rice wine
Instructions
  1. Put the pork belly, in one or two pieces, into a dutch oven or soup pot, preferably nonstick, and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and cook, uncovered, on a low boil for 20 minutes, skimming off the scum that forms on the surface. Remove the pork belly and allow it to cool enough to cut into pieces about 1½-inch wide, each piece retaining fat and meat.
  2. Wash the pan, and add 3 tablespoons sugar and 4 tablespoons water. Cook over a medium fire until the caramel starts to turn a light brown. This will take a few minutes, but watch the sugar carefully because when it starts to turn color it does so quickly. Add the pork pieces and let sear and caramelize on one side until they are a nice dark color. Turn the pieces over and caramelize the other side. The sugar should be a deep brown but not burning.
  3. Add 1½ cups water with the garlic, scallion, star anise, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook, covered, at a just-bubbling simmer for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the meat is tender.
  4. Remove the pork pieces to a bowl, and cook the sauce over a medium-high heat until it reduces to your desired consistency (anywhere from a thick sauce to a thick glaze), about 5 minutes for a thick sauce. When you are ready to serve, add back the pork pieces and reheat. Then remove the pork to a serving bowl. Let the sauce sit for a minute to separate, then carefully pour off the accumulated fat, which will pour out first as you tip the pan. (Or use a fat separator.) Pour the remaining sauce over the pork and serve with rice or with fold-over bao as sandwiches.

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79 Responses

  1. Have you checked out the new cookbook All Under Heaven (https://www.amazon.com/All-Under-Heaven-Recipes-Cuisines/dp/1607749823)? I just got it and it’s fantastic! I love how it really focuses on Chinese style food that hasn’t received as much attention in the West.

    HSR has always been my go-to crowd pleasing dish whenever I cook a Chinese feast for friends. They might find some of the other dishes a bit outside their comfort zone or not to their taste but everyone dives into the HSR. My experience though is that it doesn’t really matter how you make HSR, even pretty bad HSR is still pretty good. But you have me worried now that I’ve simply never tasted good HSR and all the HSR I’ve cooked has been bad :o.

    I don’t bother with the blanching step generally, I sear my meat gently until some of the pork fat is leaking out, take the pork out and then caramelize the sugar in that pork fat. I also add thick slices of ginger to the braising liquid and also add just a splash of Chinkiang vinegar at the end to balance out the richness.

    I’ve also found it’s important to pick the right pork belly. I think the quality of the pork belly (and cooking it to the right doneness) is more important than the exact ingredients for the sauce. Thick bands of fat end up pretty unappetizing in the final product IMHO, you want finely marbled, many layered meat.

    I also actually don’t like a melt in your mouth texture for HSR. Like BBQ, I think the best texture is when it’s just yielding but still has a snap. Of course, this means regular quality control tasting towards the end of the cooking to find the right doneness :D.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Xianhang, I totally agree about the quality of the pork belly being a major factor. American pork bellies are often too fat, a problem I discussed in detail in my hui guo rou (twice-cooked pork) recipe. I try to look for one that is at least half-lean, which is easier to find at Asian markets. That’s also why I’ll opt more often for pork shoulder. I disagree about the parboiling step, however, because I do think it cleans up the sauce. Kian discusses that on his own blog, how he used to skip that step but now includes it because it makes a cleaner, more focussed sauce. And, yes, I’m excited about All Under Heaven as well. I tested a few recipes for that book, but I haven’t gotten it yet. Thanks for your thoughts!

      • Taylor Holliday says:

        P.S. Caramelizing the sugar in the pork fat, as you suggest, would definitely make it less likely to burn. I often caramelize the sugar in oil instead of water for leaner meats like chicken.

      • I’ll have to try the boiling to see if it makes a difference but I was under the impression that if you sear, you don’t need to boil as both set the surface proteins. Please write a review of All Under Heaven when you get it!

  2. Christopher says:

    Wow, Taylor! This looks amazing! I am headed out to my local Rochester Asian market tomorrow to pick up some moon cakes for Mid-Autumn Festival and now I will have to pick up some star anise to try this recipe!

    I hope I can win either the cookbook or the pan. I think they would make a great addition to my little Chinese kitchen. ^_^

  3. Tanya says:

    I’m vegetarian but I still loved reading this post!!!

  4. Cheryl says:

    This is going to be tried for sure. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We have a fabulous Asian grocery store in my town so I will be heading there this week.

  5. Kristen Josey says:

    Hi, Taylor!

    Love reading your recipe adventures. As you know, living in a small-town, middle America we don’t have everyday access to some of the quality ingredients required for authentic Chinese cooking.

    I like the way you try out traditional recipes in different variations. Demystifying the techniques and ingredients for those us who are sometimes overwhelmed at the thought of making Chinese dishes at home.

    I love Carmel-glazed sauces with meats. After reading this challenge and the recipe, I suddenly feel I could make your one-pot version (opting for the pork shoulder).

    If I don’t win the cookbook, your description on the layout, makes it sounds like a good buy!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Kristen! So good to hear from you, and happy to know you’re reading. I know some of the ingredients on my blog are a stretch, but most cities have Asian groceries with the basics. I bet you can find dark soy sauce and star anise even in Stillwater. 🙂 The rest you can order online once and they’ll last forever. I hope you try it. Sure wish we could eat it together. xox

  6. What can I day – we love pork!! My three (3 Silly Chilliez adopted from Jiangxi, Gansu and Guangdong) love any pork… but especially Hong Shao Rou which I haven’t attempted to make, but absolutely will now!!!

  7. Spike Cornelius says:

    I have made this dish following the recipe in Red Cook, and it is indeed heavenly! I found a meaty chunk of belly at my local Chinese grocery, so it wan’t too awful fatty, but next time I will try with shoulder.
    I love it with noodles, but then everything is good with noodles!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Spike. Yes, for some reason, the Asian pork bellies are a better mix of fat and meat. Though if you ask butchers for less fatty bellies they can sometimes oblige. My daughter won’t eat the fat, so we do get more mileage out of the pork shoulder.

  8. Tanya says:

    The mushroom and tofu combination sound like a winner. Will have to try it out on the next three day weekend!

  9. Hao Liu says:

    I think “red braised pork” might be a better translation for this dish because the main portion of cooking is a low simmer in a pot. Nevertheless, I love your interpretation on this dish as it’s nearly every kids childhood favorite in Chengdu. I remember going to a restaurant for a big family dinner and one of the adults ordered this dish for the kids table. When it came, it didn’t last more than a minute before the plate emptied out. :D. Will try your recipe as mine tend to be a little watery and the skin of the belly doesn’t have the same texture as the ones I remember from childhood.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      I love that you remember hong shao rou being served at a restaurant in Sichuan. I wonder why we seldom see it in Chinese restaurants in the U.S.? People don’t know what they’re missing!

      • Hao says:

        This new restaurant called Shao Mountain in our neighborhood of west San Jose actually does a chairman Mao version of it. It’s decent but again lacks the texture you showed in your picture and what I remembered. Still good in its own way. I think most modern Americans view the fat in pork belly the same way Superman feels about cryptonite. But in all other cultures, fat is looked much differently in culinary culture.

        • Taylor Holliday says:

          There’s been a trend of chef-y restaurants in the U.S. serving pork belly in various ways, but, yeah, it’s a tough sell for most home cooks I guess.

  10. R.B. Quinn says:

    Mindy and I bought something from K&S some time back to make red pork but we didn’t get very far. We’re going to make your recipe, so thanks. We’ll most likely use shoulder not pork belly (though the slabs of pork belly I saw yesterday at Costco looked pretty impressive and not entirely fatty). We also want to make the bao which we’ve never done (maybe you have a recipe at Mala Project?). If you can point me toward a source for the rice wine that would be great. Thanks Taylor. R.B.

  11. Alice says:

    This reminded me so much of my childhood! I used to watch my mom hong shao pretty much any meat. My favorite way of eating hong shao pork belly is with meicai gan (http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/01/mei-cai-kou-rou-pork-belly/) — that and a bowl of freshly steamed rice is absolutely delicious.

  12. Spike Cornelius says:

    I read somewhere that the reason the Chinese grocers have better stuff at better prices is that they work directly with farmers instead of going through wholesalers.

  13. Traci says:

    Thank you for thrice testing for us! This sounds amazing – can’t wait to try it! My 15 year old daughter and I had the opportunity to travel to Beijing this past spring and since then, I have been trying to reproduce authentic Chinese dishes. Love your blog and all the inspiration!

  14. Michelle Ma says:

    I grew up eating Hong Shao Pork Short Ribs made by my mother, and they are my ultimate comfort food. I’ve never worked up the courage to just wing it and try making them from memory, but I’ve also never found a good recipe in English. I may just try your recipe above with short ribs!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      I’ve made hong shao beef short ribs, which were fantastic, but I’ve never made it with pork ribs. We should both try that! Thanks for writing.

  15. Eggo says:

    Can’t wait to try this. Taylor, would you parboil pork shoulder, or is that just for pork belly?

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Good question! Chinese cooks generally parboil any meat that will be slow-cooked, so I did parboil the pork shoulder chunks, but only for about 5 minutes. But I braised the pork shoulder longer than the belly, probably closer to two hours. That’s just personal preference though, as to how soft you want the meat. Thanks for asking!

  16. Sally says:

    This looks like what I’ve been looking for as I wanted to add the red cooked method to our menu rotation.

  17. Lori says:

    Hi Taylor,

    I recently stumbled across your blog and as Chinese-American who only spent the first three years of her life in Sichuan, this was such a revelation. My father was great about consistently cooking authentic Sichuan dishes while I was growing up in the states, and skimming through your recipes and posts was like taking a walk down memory lane. Thank you so much for the carefully researched and documented recipes! Now that I am living on my own quite far from my family, I find myself missing the homecooked meals that I took for granted. I hope to start building out the necessary ingredients and cooking utensils so that I can start replicating them for myself.

    PS – This hong shao zhu rou looks amazing! I’m surprised it requires (relatively) few and easy to find ingredients. Can’t wait to make this once the weather gets a little colder.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Lori, I love your story. I hope you’ll someday get to learn Sichuan cooking from your family, but until then I’m thrilled that I can help.

  18. Bethia says:

    I’m looking forward to trying this dish and I’d love to win the cookbook!
    I hope you’ll come and visit Columbus sometime – we’d love to show you around our Sichuan restaurants and Chinese markets. We also have a Chinese dessert cafe.

  19. Joan says:

    Oh…. Taylor, that looks so good I swear I can smell it all the way up in DC! I loved the Hong Shao Pork I ate in Shanghai and I’m going to give your recipe a try!

  20. Ana C. says:

    I love how good hong xiao rou will melt in your mouth. In Chinese, we would say that it’s fatty without being greasy.. a distinction that’s lost in most American food.

  21. Juli says:

    Ok, this is it. It’s now Troye’s project to make this for us. Please enter us to win! And let him know! 😉

    The comments are quite the testimony to what you have been doing my friend. Will talk with our pig farmers about the belly/ fat issue. So many hogs in our region bred for different things and cut differently.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Yes, get Troye on this! You won’t be disappointed. And I would love to know what you find out from your pig farmer friends about why some bellies are so much fatter than others. Thanks for reading, my friend!

  22. CW says:

    Wow, this looks so yummy! I wonder how this recipe would do in a pressure cooker? I might give it a try and see how it turns out in my instant pot. I love your blog. We just returned from a trip to Shanghai over the summer and planning a trip next summer to Chengdu. Can’t wait!!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Thanks, Christi! I have never tried this in a pressure cooker, but as long as you can caramelize the meat first, why not? Thanks for the comment.

  23. Kevin O. says:

    Even though my grandparents never made hong shao, I feel connected with them whenever I make it or its variants since I know it’s something they would have had and enjoyed.

  24. Daniel says:

    HI! Love your blog and love trying all of the recipes you put up! I raise my own pigs and really enjoy cooking the meat in various szechuan dishes 🙂 Can’t wait to try this one, which is simple and looks divine.

    And hope I win the book & oven!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Wow. I bet YOUR twice-cooked pork is delicious. You could get any cut and fattiness you want. Love it! Thanks for writing.

  25. Cheryl says:

    This one is on my to make list! That list seems to grow faster than I can cook when I read your posts.

  26. Tawnie says:

    Looks fantastic!

  27. Chin Ting Ison says:

    I’m Singaporean Chinese and hated braised pork belly growing up…! But as an adult, my tastebuds thankfully have come to their senses!! Thanks for the recipe and pictures- it looks and sounds great- I definitely have to try this out!

  28. Rae says:

    So many of my youngest students here in Taiwan don’t want to eat the fatty part, either. I was on board with them until I actually had to try it at a dinner party and it was like bacon with superpowers. Hong Shao Rou is one of the few Chinese dishes I have made “successfully”, as in it wasn’t a total disappointment. I’d love to try this recipe.

  29. Bill Youhass says:

    I will be in NYC Sept 29- Oct 1. Can you recommend a couple places for hong shao rou, and Sichuan in general.. My sister is also going and is vegan – ugh — too bad for her. :>) We’re staying in Chelsea, not that it is important. Many thanks.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Bill. There are at least two great Sichuan restaurants in Manhattan, both of which happen to be in Midtown. I love Cafe China. And my friend swears by La Vie En Szechuan (even if it’s a weird name for a Sichuan resto). Not sure about hong shao rou, but they both have very authentic menus. Hope you have fun. I’m jealous!

  30. Bill Youhass says:

    Hi Taylor, Amazing.. I found Cafe China also as maybe good choice also, and my friend in Brooklyn recommended it, so…, and I will check out La Vie En Szechuan as well. Thank you so much..

  31. Heather says:

    I have Kian to thank for posting on his blog the importance of caramelizing and parboiling beforehand when I first made the recipe from a different cookbook five or six years ago. When I was in Korea, I found it worked well with more thinly sliced pork belly, too, by simply adjusting some of the cooking times.

    I find the flavors always please guests, especially men. I think it’s the heartiness.

  32. Jillian Too says:

    I’ve never tried cooking hong shao but after reading this, I’d love to give it a try.

  33. Lori says:

    This looks surprisingly simple to make, and requires relatively few ingredients. I suppose using fattier pieces of pork shoulder/butt would also work? Thank you (again) for this recipe!

  34. Cortney liu says:

    I’ll give this a try tomorrow as pork belly is one of my husbands favorite dishes…and now our sons. I’ve used your recipe for the bao’s before and we used them for everything!!!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      You did it! Loved the photo you shared on Facebook and I’m particularly happy that you made the bao to go with the pork. Sounds like your family loves it as much as mine. Thanks for letting me know!

  35. Mark says:

    Do you think that this dish would work with chicken? Obviously we’d need to add some fat for the caramelizing, but it seems like a much more interesting way to do chicken than the standard red cooking recipes I’ve seen which dump in sugar with the sauce.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Mark,
      I think this would be great with chicken. However, as you guessed, it’s harder to caramelize skinless chicken without burning the caramel. For that reason, when I want to caramelize chicken, I often use a caramel made of equal parts sugar and oil instead of sugar and water. Let me know if you try it!

  36. Taylor Holliday says:

    Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments on hong shao rou and what it means to you. After a very scientific drawing—Fong Chong and Craig drew numbers out of a bag—I have notified the winners of the give-away. Kevin from San Rafael, CA, won the Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees cookbook, and Cheryl from Irvine, CA, won the Anolon Braiser. Congrats to them!

    But everyone wins if they make hong shao rou. 🙂

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