Throughout the eighties, my Mom was on a diet. It wasn't always the same ridiculous diet but it seemed similar enough for me to question my mom's sanity -- why struggle so painfully for something that's just not going to happen? It wasn't until she moved to
It was around this time I finally got to eat some amazing food. To be fair, she had terrible will power and I had some yummy things growing up, but it was mainly after the debacle of the 80s dieting that things really got going. When she would 'break fast' from the diet, we would get to eat some fabulous food: curried crab, dim sum, Peking duck, fatty beef noodle soup, and my favorite, the beautiful pork dish hong shao rou, or red-cooked pork. Thick, meaty, tender and fatty, it hit every area of the satisfaction sensors in my mouth.
It's a classic high-end northern Chinese way of cooking meat, and this particular dish was one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes in the world. The man may have been a little nutty, but there was nothing wrong with his taste buds. I've seen a lot of different versions of the recipe, but the best one I've tried at home has been adapted by me from a recipe my friend Jenny shared with me from the cookbook Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook.
Part of what makes this dish so good is the different strata of fat and meat layers on each bite, so make sure you get a cut of meat that lets you have the layers you want, like pork back or belly. I used pork back in the particular instance, but I think the belly is more traditional.
Hong shao rou (Red-cooked pork)
2 lbs pork belly (you can keep the skin on) - chop the meat into 2-inch cubes
3 scallions – cleaned and cut into 2-inch pieces
2-inch piece of ginger, smashed
5 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbs cooking oil
1 tbs granulated sugar
4 whole star anise
2 tbs Chinese xiao shing wine
3 tbs light soy sauce
3 tbs dark mushroom-flavored soy sauce
¾ cup water
conservative pinch of salt.
Pour oil in the wok and heat over medium until shimmering. Add sugar and stir sugar is caramelized and dark brown.
Turn up the flame and add the ginger and pork. Stir-fry for one minute, stirring the ginger and pork in the sugar and oil until well-coated.
Add the garlic and continue to stir-fry together for another 1-2 minutes. Add the scallions, the star anise, xiao shing wine, both soy sauces, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for 3 minutes, without stirring. Cover the wok and continue cooking the pork for 7 more minutes.
Add the water and bring it all to a boil again over high heat and let boil vigorously for 5 minutes before covering the wok. Drop the heat to a simmer cook for 1 hour, or until it pork becomes very soft.
Serve immediately with freshly steamed rice and fried shredded taro.