红烧肉 Mom’s Shanghai Style Red-Braised Pork Belly

红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus d

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?

Shanghai Style Red Braised Pork Belly | bettysliu.com

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.

红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus dThis 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.
红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus d红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus dAdding 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.
红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus d红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus d红烧肉 red-braised-pork-hong-shao-rou | le jus d

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.

83,104,97,114,101,32,111,110,58:no erahSFacebookTwitterPinterest
  • Yum! Asian-style braised pork belly dishes are one of my favorite types of foods. Thanks for sharing this recipe! I also am much appreciative of your tips — avoiding a rubbery pork belly is essential. So is eating this with white rice :-)ReplyCancel

    • Thanks Michelle! I can’t count the number of times I called home to troubleshoot with my mom, and I’ve found that these tips cover anything I can think of! <3.ReplyCancel

  • I had an honor of trying this recipe before it was even published. Yes! I’ve got some serious special connections! 😉 And let me tell you, this dish is absolutely unbelievable! Follow Betty’s instructions to a word and you will get some magic on your plate for dinner.
    I was a bit nervous about trying it at first, but I was pleasantly surprised to have realized that it was much easier to make than I anticipated. So, do not let a pot of hot hissing oil intimidate you! :) Be brave. Be bold. Take a chance and impress you family (and yourself) with some heavenly tasting pork bellies!ReplyCancel

  • stephanie

    yes yes yes to the white rice. omg. i love white rice SO much.

    also, i can’t wait to see your new about page :)ReplyCancel

  • You deserve a million thank you’s for sharing this one! This is where I’m turning to for my first go at pork belly :)ReplyCancel

  • Betty, your blog is lovely, and you, as a person, are even more so! I’m really glad I got to meet you back in college, even if it was for a brief time. Knowing how sweet and warm you are makes me treasure your blog with sincerity. No matter when or what you choose to do with your culinary diary, I will be cheering for you and following your adventures along the way ^^. Say “hi” to the Alex and Annie for me (and a tummy rub too!)~ReplyCancel

    • Aww Wendy!!! Thank you so much – you are making me blush like crazy. I really enjoyed meeting you too and I wish we would’ve had more time to hang out! if you’re ever in Boston give me a call :).

      PS. Still waiting for YOUR food blog!ReplyCancel

      • I’m giving up on that food blog for now, maybe I’ll pick it up after I settle down ^^’ but I’ll live vicariously by enjoying all your posts!! <3ReplyCancel

  • P.S. I’m making this next month for sure :D!ReplyCancel

  • Betty!!! I wanna read little facts about you!! haha 😛 (not a stalker I swear). I love this dish!ReplyCancel

  • I love hongshao rou! I never knew why sometimes it came out perfectly fall-apart tender and other times it was weirdly rubbery – now I know, it’s because I definitely over-simmered it. The recipe looks beautiful – can’t wait to finally make successful hongshao rou :)ReplyCancel

  • Wow this is how i love to eat. Oh what a beautiful love story! And what gorgeous photos! I hear you about blog goals. I have no idea what a media kit is. I did just get my own domain finally, but not to monetize, just so I could make it as pretty as I want it to be. I like the idea of having my own little space. Glad you’re doing well! Your blog is beautiful. ReplyCancel

    • Thank you Amanda!! yes – having your own little space is what’s most important. I think doing it for yourself is the most important part, especially to keep it fun :)ReplyCancel

  • Gasp. I need to maaaaake this, girl! I’ve always been fond of the “most original version” of an ethnic dish that I can get my hands on, and Chinese is one of those that I’ve had original here and there but nothing to the extent of feeling like I KNOW IT. I’d love to try it more actually, and this awesome recipe is quite inspiring. Also–I love the sincerity in this post! I think you have amazing lookin’ recipes (I haven’t tried them yet), gorgeous photography that does entice my taste buds, and great writing that’s straight to the point. Keep up the great work and I am so glad to be connecting with you even if it’s through the computer screen 😀 <33ReplyCancel

    • Elli I’m soo happy I connected with you too <3. I absolutely love browsing your blog and following you on instagram. I am constantly inspired by the talented folks around me, so thank you for keeping me going :).ReplyCancel

  • you may be a little insecure about your photography sometimes (and what blogger isn’t?) but i thought you should know, your pictures are gorgeous! so dark and moody, and the perfect complement to your recipes.ReplyCancel

    • Chaya, thank you so much! I’m blushing – I feel like I’m still playing around with food photography, finding my style, props, etc… but it’s definitely a fun process!ReplyCancel

  • Hi Betty!!! Gorgeous blog and recipes!! this is one of my favourite things to eat (if I allow myself to) and you nailed it!ReplyCancel

    • Oh HI Mandy!!I was JUST posting a new recipe and was in the process of linking to your xi an hand smashed noodles when I saw your comment!! :) Thank you for visiting <3.ReplyCancel

  • Betty

    Thank you for the recipe! I’m making it right now, but have a few questions (obviously won’t be answered in time, but for next time!). How much garlic? I used 2 cloves, but it wasn’t listed in the ingredient list. I’m pretty sure I messed up this step, but after caramelizing the pork and adding dark soy sauce. Was I supposed to drain the oil/fat from caramelizing and use a new pot?
    Thanks so much!

      • Amy

        Hi Betty! I would love to make this. Can you let me know the answer too?ReplyCancel

        • Hi!!! What was your question? I couldn’t find it in the previous comments. Feel free to email me directly too!ReplyCancel

          • Amy

            The braised pork Belly recipe, can I cook the day before and reheat it next day for party ?

          • Yup, just heat it up again and add more water if necessary.

  • this looks so amazing. I love pork belly, and am so happy to have found an authentic recipe! Would this also work in steamed pork buns? Those are my favorite!!!


  • Wilson Yeung

    How much garlic should we add? It’s mentioned in the instructions but not in the ingredient list.ReplyCancel

  • Wilson Yeung

    Made this last night. I didn’t include the tofu knots, I chose to use just water instead of chicken stock, and yes to the optional garlic.

    Mom said she had only had it this good once before, so anyway, she’s a big fan.

    It was a big hit all around.ReplyCancel

  • Chrissy

    I made this, cooked it for 2 hours and let it cool down so it absorbs flavours – the meat and fat was really tender, but the skin was tough and chewy – it was acceptable while hot, but became really tough at room temperature – should I simmer it longer – I also browned the meat before braisingReplyCancel

    • Hi Chrissy! I’m so sorry that happened – yes I would recommend just simmering it longer. If I have time I would let it simmer for even 3-4 hours, and that will for sure get you a really soft, melty skin!ReplyCancel

  • Quinn

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I cannot wait to get started on it :)ReplyCancel

  • Edmond

    Thanks for the receipe. I had never made this dish before, thinking it was too complicated. Then pork belly went on sale for $1.25 a pound. I bought it without knowing what to cook. And I just happened to have bought some Shanghai Bok Choi so I looked online and kept finding westernized recipes. Luckily I stumbled onto this webpage. Totally authentic! The finished sauce was a little too sweet for me, so I poured out some sauce and added in two tbsp of vinegar in the pot to balance it out and also to help tenderize the meat. Came out perfectly. When the pork was done I layered the bok choi on top and simmered for another 20 minutes. With so much fat on the meat it’s good to have some veggies to balance it out. Yes I completely agreed that white rice is the way to go. With so much fat you need the white rice to soak it up.ReplyCancel

  • ~WOW Betty

    What an awesome website you have. Your photos are simply outstanding. The layout, the font, all wonderful!

    I came across your site yesterday as I was looking for an Hong Shao Rou recipe. I’ve followed your recipe to the T with a few additions of a cinnamon stick, dried chillies, cloves, fennel seeds and black peppercorns.

    The pot is on the stove as I write this message…

    Love your site, it’s been added to my favourites.


  • Is there a link to PRINT this recipe?ReplyCancel

  • Michael

    Dear Betty;

    Thanks so much for the recipe and the sumptuous pictures. I was curious whether you were aware of the customary prohibition against sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, as in your photos here. In China and Taiwan it is thought to resemble incense commemorating the dead, and avoided at mealtimes. Was that not something you learned, was it something your family decided not to emphasize, or have you opted for a deliberate choice of aesthetic over custom?
    I ask not out of any sense of ritual propriety, but rather curiosity about how food customs translate and transmit over time and place.
    BTW, I’ll be using your recipe for Christmas lunch this year. Looking forward to it!ReplyCancel

  • claire sen

    Hi! I just had to say thank you for this recipe, it’s such a massive hit in my house, I cook it a LOT. It’s just so delicious. I love serving it with pak choi.
    Thanks again for posting :)ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *