Cook this: Mom's red-braised pork belly from My Shanghai
'With its fragrant caramelized pork; thick, glistening sauce; and tofu knots to soak it all up, this dish is legend in our family,' says Betty Liu
Red-braising is among Liu’s favourite ways to prepare pork belly, and her mom’s recipe holds a special place in her heart. “This was one of the first dishes that I really wanted to learn and recreate at home,” she says.
Whenever her mother thought she needed cheering up or there was something to celebrate, she made red-braised pork belly. When Liu left for university, it became the go-to comfort dish her mom made upon her return for holidays and special occasions.
“That would be one of the first dishes that she would prepare for us,” Liu recalls. “It was her way of saying welcome home.”
MOM’S SHANGHAI RED-BRAISED PORK BELLY
shàng hǎi hóng shāo ròu
2 tbsp neutral cooking oil, such as canola or grapeseed oil
4 tbsp (60 g) rock sugar — 2 tbsp finely crushed, 2 tbsp left whole
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 cup (240 mL) chicken stock or water
1/4 cup (60 mL) light soy sauce
1/4 cup (60 mL) Shaoxing wine
3 whole star anise
2 thin slices peeled fresh ginger
4 scallions — 3 cut into 2-inch (5-cm) segments and 1 chopped
Cooked white rice, for serving
4 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and slashed lengthwise 2 or 3 times for maximum sauce absorption
8 frozen tofu knots (available at Asian markets)
Bring about 2 inches (5 cm) of water to a boil over high in a large pot. Add the pork belly and boil for 3 minutes. Add more water to cover the pork if necessary. This step removes impurities from the pork, making for a clearer dish. Drain and set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut the pork into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) cubes.
Heat the oil in a well-seasoned wok on low, until wisps of smoke curl up off the edges. Add the crushed rock sugar and stir until the sugar melts and dissolves.
Increase the heat to medium and, working in two batches if necessary, gently slide in the chunks of pork belly. Brown all sides of the pork. Any residual water on the pork will pop in the oil — don’t be scared! A splatter screen can help keep the oil contained. Stir only occasionally, so that the pork can caramelize and brown. This step gives it a rich caramel flavour. Add the dark soy sauce and fry for an additional minute.
In the wok or in a separate braising pot with a lid (a clay pot works well for this), combine the browned pork with the stock, light soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, remaining rock sugar, star anise, ginger and scallion segments. The mixture should come three-quarters of the way up the side of the pile of pork. If not, add more stock or water.
Bring to a boil over high, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer, partially covered, for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The longer the pork simmers, the more tender and flavourful it will be; it’s ready when it’s tender enough to slip a chopstick in with ease, but you can go up to 2 hours longer to build the flavour even more. Add more stock or water as needed; the pot should never be dry. When there’s approximately 2 hours of braising time left, add the hard-boiled eggs to the pot, if using. Twenty minutes before you’re ready to serve, add the frozen tofu knots, if using.
When nearly ready to serve, remove the lid, increase the heat to high and boil until the cooking liquid becomes a thick, dark, glistening sauce that covers the pork belly. If the pork belly has begun to break down (the lean meat is separating from the fatty portion), use a slotted spoon to remove the cubes before cooking down the sauce and add the cubes of meat back in at the end.
Serve with white rice and the chopped scallions.