This dish is a legend in the Liu family. It’s one of those dishes that you know is probably unhealthy and bad for you (just look at that fatty layer!), but you still have to eat because that part is unfortunately what makes this dish so good. You could probably substitute pork butt or pork shoulder, but I’m going to be honest with you – you’re not going to get the signature texture of the dish.
I’ve served this at dinner parties with great success. I always find that this is a great dish to introduce Chinese cuisine (more specifically, home-style Shanghai) to those who’ve only eaten Chinese takeout. This recipe actually has a cute little story. One of our friends was going over to his female friend’s place so they could cook together on Valentine’s day. I gave him this recipe. He trekked through a blizzard to locate pork belly and star anise. Two single people, bonding over great cooking skills (her desserts are killer). And now they’re a couple!!! He dropped a note to me about how this is one dish he’ll never forget. Isn’t that so sweet?!!! I’m not really sure if their getting together actually had anything to do with this dish – let’s be honest, probably not – but let me romanticize this okay?
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about where I want this blog to go, and why I even started it in the first place. In my “About” page, I feel like I touched on it a little. I created it to document my kitchen experiments (because they are legion), so that when I want to recreate something, I can just pull up the site and refresh my memory. An online culinary diary, if you will. I’ve met SO MANY wonderful, warm, and kind people since entering the food community. I’m still so flattered and humbled when someone visits my little tiny corner of the Internet world… and even more so when someone actually tries my recipe!! I’m still so new to this, and I have a lot to learn (for example, I was just introduced to the idea of a media kit, which is sort of like your blog portfolio. I probably come off as naive, and maybe I am). I’m a little afraid to dip my toe into the water and officially “monetize” my blog, because I’m selfish and I want to keep this blog all to myself. When I first started blogging, I was really shy. I was scared and self conscious of putting myself out there. I can’t even count the number of times I’d begin a blog post, then quickly delete the draft and put it away in my mental drawer for another time. I always second guess my photos, my writing, and even my editorial schedule – when I should post this cake, or these pancakes. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Traffic is really picking up (thank you, all!!!), but I don’t know when the right time is to monetize the blog. I do know that when I do make that decision, it’s going to be made with thought and sincerity. I don’t want anything to compromise the quality of material I put out on the blog. I want to maintain the integrity of this adventure without turning it into a business.
I do have plans to do a formal “About Me” post soon, complete with photos, why I named my blog something french, even though most of my posts of Asian fusion, little facts about me that nobody probably cares about, and my thoughts on food photography. So keep an eye out for that!
Without further ado, let’s talk about red braised pork belly. The famous 红烧肉 from my mother. I feel like I can call this authentic, because I learned it directly from my mom, who was born and raised in Shanghai.
This is an important part of the process: caramelizing the pork belly. This step ensures that your pork belly won’t be rubbery and instead melt in your mouth like ice cream. Those who’ve had this will know what I’m talking about. It might seem scary when you first slide the pork belly into the heated wok and oil/sugar mixture. Just step back and turn on the fan.
Adding tofu knots (百叶结) is optional. I personally always add these, because they do such a great job of soaking up the flavor. Serving this dish with rice is a must, and it must be white rice. I’m sorry – I’m a big fan of brown rice and quinoa as well, but this dish CANNOT be paired with anything else. This is very strict of me, and uncharacteristic, so I apologize for that. But please trust me with this. It’s a classic combination.
Troubleshooting + Notes
- If your pork is still too tough, or the color isn’t quite right, you can stop simmering and start heating up a new, clean skillet. Place the pork bellies on the heated skillet, with no oil, and dry-fry until browned on each side. This will help soften the pork belly fat and add to the flavor. You can also then add in 1 tbsp dark soy sauce + 1 tbsp brown sugar and fry it some more. Then put it back into the braise and continue as planned.
- This is a very forgiving recipe. If it’s too salty or too sweet, just add more soy sauce or sugar to compensate. In true Chinese cooking way, simply taste the sauce as it finishes the simmer.
- Some recipes call for adding cornstarch, but I’m gong to tell you straight-up: authentic recipes do not call for any cornstarch to thicken the sauce. It is thickened by cooking the sauce, uncovered, at the end on high. It’s easy to cook off too much of it, so keep an eye on the consistency of the sauce. It should be thick, glistening, and will easily cover the pork belly.
- Don’t add the tofu knots in too early, otherwise they may overcook.
- Dark soy sauce is mostly for the color, light soy sauce gives it the flavor. If you had to use only one, I would use light soy sauce for the flavor.
- Garlic is optional. It’s not in the original recipe, but I sometimes add it for some extra flavor. Up to you.
- Traditionally, rock sugar is used, but I used brown sugar in the first step because I love the extra caramel-ness it adds. Any extra sugar added I do use rock sugar, as it helps with the texture and viscosity of the sauce.
RECIPE: 红烧肉 Mom’s Shanghai Style Red-Braised Pork Belly
1.5 lb pork belly (五花肉)
2 stalks scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1/4 cup shaoxing wine
Chicken stock or water (approximately 1 cup)
3 whole star anise
2 slices of fresh ginger
tofu knots, optional
2 cloves garlic, optional
2 tbsp rock sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar for caramelizing
oil for frying
1| Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan. Cut pork into 1″ slices. Put pork into saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. This step is to get all the gunk off the pork. It makes for a more tender / prettier pork belly dish. Drain and set aside.
2| Heat up wok on low until you see wisps curling off the edges. Add in oil and brown sugar. When sugar is melted, turn heat to medium and throw pork in and brown all sides of pork (This step might be a bit scary! The oil will pop, but don’t be scared! Don’t stir too much – just let it brown. Flip to brown all sides. This step gives it that rich caramel flavor). Add in 3 tbsp dark soy sauce. Keep frying (this time stir-fry) for 5-6 minutes. This is a very important step to ensure softness.
3| Place stock, light soy sauce, wine, star anise, ginger, garlic, scallions, in a saucepan or dutch oven. Sprinkle some more sugar in, to taste. (For first-timers, you can even mix light soy sauce and some sugar first to get the balance). Place pork in. The mixture should come up about halfway up the pile of pork. If not, add more water or stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low. Simmer for at least 1-1.5 hours (the longer the better the flavor and tenderness), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom. When it’s almost done, I add in tofu knots.
4| When it is tender enough to slip a fork in with ease, take the cover off and let liquid evaporate and thicken. You should end up with a thick, glistening sauce that covers the tender pork belly.