Red-braised pork

Red-braised pork, or hong shao rou, is a popular dish in Sichuan province (there’s also a Hunan version that was allegedly Mao’s favorite dish). It’s also known as wu hua rou, or “five-flower pork,” because of the layers of skin, fat and lean in each piece of the meat.

It took me two tries to get this dish right. I initially used pork belly from Chinatown and the recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty (known in the UK as Sichuan Cookery). I found the meat too fatty and the sauce underflavored.

After some research I learned that I’d probably not reduced sauce down sufficiently. I got a second piece of pork belly from Mario Batali’s incredible Eataly, which was significantly less fatty (although still with plenty of fat). I also took on some of the recommendations of eGullet user Prawncrackers, whose recipe for Dong Po pork on that site is served in UK Sichuan restaurants – he or she describes it as a “more ‘glamorous’ version of the dish.”

Below is the recipe that I used on my second try, which is a hybrid of the two approaches, and turned out fabulously unctuous & explosively flavorful. Served with white rice, roasted ground Thai chile powder and sriracha sauce on the side.

Some notes:

– the blanching is to rid the pork of any off flavors and make it easier to cut
– the deep frying makes the skin significantly more soft and delicate
– after 2 hours, the meat still had some chew, which I liked – you could take it to 3-4 hours to have it really melting
– like most braises and stews, it will taste even better after a night in the fridge! but is wonderful the day of as well

enough vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 1/2 lb boneless pork belly, skin still on
2-3 inch piece unpeeled ginger, smashed with a cleaver or heavy pestle
3 scallions, cut into 3 pieces each (white and green parts)
1 whole star anise
2 dried red chiles (I used Thai chiles)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbs palm sugar
1/3 cup light soy sauce
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing rice wine
1 1/4 cup good brown chicken stock (ours was homemade from an old Gourmet recipe)

Bring a pot of water to the boil, blanch pork in boiling/simmering water for 10 minutes total.

Fill wok with enough oil to half submerge pork belly. Over highest possible heat bring to 325-350 F. Put pork belly carefully in oil, and deep-fry top for 1 1/2 – 2 mins, then carefully turn over and deep-fry the bottom for about the same time, keeping temp in that range as best as you can, also maybe 30 seconds on the sides and the thicker end of the belly if necessary. Remove pork to a plate with paper towel and allow to cool. (Prawncrackers said to pat meat dry at this point but I forgot.)

Cut belly into 2-3-inch chunks, leaving each piece with a layer of skin and a mixture of lean and fat.

Heat 2-3 tbs oil in a Le Creuset dutch oven or similar over very high heat, add ginger and scallions, and stirfry for 1-2 mins or so; add pork chunks, continue to stirfry for 1 min or so, add the rest of ingredients (the liquid should just barely cover the meat – adjust quantities for your pot, keeping proportions – do not dilute the mixture too much with the stock), bring to a boil, then let simmer gently over a low flame half-covered or uncovered for at least 2 hours.