Hong Shao Rou, Red-Braised Pork.
It is often presented as a Shanghai dish. For someone from Hunan, however, it is quite obvious that this favorite of Mao Zedong’s should be considered a Hunan speciality.
For me, it is unbelievable that I have never presented how to make this dish. When I decided to re-start “Cooking with ChiliCult,” it was obvious that this was the dish I just had to start with, special as it is.
Be it Shanghainese or Hunanese, it is a fantastic dish if you like pork, fatty-succulent dishes, and spices.
The Spices of Hong Shao Rou
Where the spices are concerned, this is a very peculiar dish, especially if you want to consider it a dish of the Hunan kitchen.
The thing is, Hunan cooking (Xiang Cai) is famously known for the essential role that chile peppers play in that cuisine.
Mao-style Hong Shao Rou, however, may be made with red chile pepper.
But, it must be made with other spices which Chinese cooking (particularly in Hunan) otherwise uses but rarely.
The “Fresh” Aroma of Pork
Add the use of sugar in that meat dish, alongside the spices – ginger, star anise, bay leaf (laurel), and cinnamon (or actually, cassia) – and this flavoring may remind the Western cook more of Christmas cookies or mulled wine.
For a meat dish, it sounds a bit odd.
It is fantastic.
Through the preparation, with sugar and spices and soy sauce, the meat gets the fresh, non-porky aroma that Chinese cooking is typically after with that meat.
Through the slow cooking, the pork belly becomes luscious, melt-in-your-mouth soft, where its fat content is concerned. The meat retains a bit of bite, but also just the right amount to give a nice contrast.
Diet Food Hong Shao Rou 😉
Now, if you are into some sort of ancestral or Paleo diet, you may like the fat content but probably wouldn’t approve of the sugar, let alone the rice that would traditionally accompany a dish like that.
If you are into fat-reduced diets, against animal products, etc., you will probably hate a dish that makes it so obvious that meat comes from an animal like this does.
I’d hope, if you are a fan of ChiliCult, that you are into the joy of eating.
HongShaoRou is a very enjoyable dish.
Especially eaten with rice, with other dishes of vegetables alongside it, it is typical Hunan fare that is food “to down more rice.”
Food to provide nourishment to hard-working farmers and revolutionaries. Just like the most traditional, rustic of Austrian dishes.
It has the aroma and flavor of all the added spices, making for much more than just the nutrition.
The Food of Hard Thinkers
Hong Shao Rou is supposed to be the nourishing fat and protein that made this the food Chinese thought was particularly good if you had to think deep thoughts.
Mao Zedong supposedly liked it because of that, especially. The spices are sure to help in making the aromas hard to resist and the restorative effects of the dish all the greater.
With chile pepper, the spice a revolutionary must eat (according to Mao, again), I find it particularly good. It’s easy, if you so desire, to experiment a bit with it, though.
Fuchsia Dunlop, for example, suggests variations with water chestnuts, garlic cloves, deep-fried tofu or tofu skin, mushrooms, or preserved mustard greens. (Dunlop 2006, “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province”, page 80)
Hong Shao Rou, Mao Zedong-Style
- 300-500 g pork belly
- 2-3 tbsp sugar (crystal or brown)
- 2-3 tbsp chile pepper flakes red
- 3-5 slices ginger
- 3 pieces star anise
- 3-5 leaves bay leaf
- 2-3 sticks cinnamon (or cassia bark)
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce (or just a good shot of it)
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce (or just a good shot of it)
- Cut the pork belly into medium-thick strips (around 2.5 cm high and wide, 0.7 cm thick). Heat some oil in a heavy pot. Fry the meat until browning. Add sugar, let caramelize while stirring regularly.
- Add in ginger, fry lightly, then add spices. Fry just a little for aroma, but don't let them burn!
- Cover with water (until meat is just covered). Put lid on pot, let boil softly for at least 15 minutes. Longer is rather better.
- When you want to finish the meal, uncover it, add salt and a good splash of light and dark soy sauce, then let it simmer to reduce the 'soup' to somewhat thicker consistency.
- (At this stage, the HongShaoRou can also be put into a container and stored in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for who-knows-how-long. The fat will congeal, but the meat that - at least mainly - gets picked out to be eaten will be nice when reheated. And it gets easier, actually to reduce the 'soup' more, that way.)