My earliest food memory as a child would have to be my mother's braised pork shoulder otherwise known in Chinese as "Hong Sao Rou -- here the centerpiece for a feast is turkey, at my home it was the almighty braised pork shoulder. It was always everyone's favorite, I'd remember smelling the wonderful aromas of star anise and ginger enriching the air melting into the delicious meat, and that rich succulent braising liquid that holds the union of spices and delicious juices of the pork in all that dark syrupy goodness. I use to sit on my hands so I wouldn't be tempted to steal tiny tastes before everyone else sat down at the table. Once seated, my mother would exclaim "Bu yao ke qi, da jia chi chi chi!" meaning "No need to be polite, everyone eat eat eat!!". She never had to tell me twice, my chopsticks would immediately dart for the pork shoulder, but would be quickly slapped away by my mother -- "Not until everyone gets some."
That was horrible. How could she make me wait? I would watch painfully as slice after slice was handed off to every plate EXCEPT MINE. But I'd tell myself the waiting made the pork taste even better and once it was my turn I would drench my rice in liquid heaven and ask for a slice of pork with a lot of pang ruo (fatty meat) on it! It really was one of the most glorious, satisfying things I've ever tasted, like...ever. So I am happy to share this recipe with you guys, it is a comfort food to many Chinese and is extremely popular in Shanghai. The braising liquid becomes thick and sweet and is rich in spices like cinnamon, star anise and ginger. The pork meat, especially the fatty parts, are so melt in your mouth tender that the only logical reaction would be to close your eyes sit back and sigh MMMMmmm.
I have made some slight changes to the recipe, I am using pork belly instead of shoulder. I have also added a jalapeno for an extra kick to the sauce. You must steam the pork belly and cook it half way through and allow it to simmer in the braising liquid several hours after so all the good flavors can seep throughout the entire cute of meat as well as melt in your mouth tender.
How to Steam Pork Belly:
Take a large pot and fill it a quarter of the way up with water. Take your pork belly and place it in a heatproof bowl. Add 1/4 cup of ShaoHsing Cooking Wine and one cinnamon stick and place it on a steamer rack inside the large pot. Cover pot and allow pork to steam for 10-15 minutes or until the meat feels firm to the touch.
Ingredients for Braised Pork Belly: (serves 2)
- 1 - lb pork belly or shoulder, cut into 4-5" pieces
- 1 lotus root
- 2 small yucca, steamed
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 cup ShaoHsing Rice Cooking wine
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup dark soy sauce
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 1/2 cup rock sugar (yellow or white)
- additional brown sugar to thicken liquid
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, chopped
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tablespoons star anise
- 2 large ginger slices
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- salt to taste
In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil at medium high heat. When almost smoking, add the spices along with the ginger, garlic and shallots. Once the spices are aromatic, add the pork belly along with the cooking wine and remaining liquids to the pot. Stir to mix well and add the rock sugar. Once sugar is dissolved, reduce mixture to low heat and braise for 2 hours. If the liquid becomes too low, simply add more water and adjust the sweetness and salty level to your tastes.
Peel the lotus root and cut into thin slices. Place in the braising liquid and cook until slightly tender, about 20 minutes. It will have a nice starchy and crunchy texture to it. Meanwhile, take the yucca and place it in a heat proof bowl. Allow to steam until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Once done, peel off the skin and mash the yucca to a paste. Add a little bit of salt and sesame oil, set aside until ready to serve.
Prep Time: 40 minutes Total Cooking Time: 3 hours
Using a fork, check to see how tender the meat is. If the meat easily flakes with pressure, it is ready to eat, if it is still tough allow to braise for an additional 20 minutes, repeat until meat is fully tender. To plate the way I have, simply take some different sized ring molds -- you can find these in any baker/pastry section at places like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, and use a big ring mold for your steamed rice and place a piece of braised pork belly ontop. Finish by using a small ring mold to plate the steamed yucca ontop. You can also substitute yucca for taro or regular potatoes if you'd like. Place slices of lotus root on the side and place braising liquid all around the plate -- it is the best part!
If the braising liquid is too thin, simply remove the meat and lotus root and cook the liquid until it further reduces. If it is having trouble reducing, one of the issues could be not enough sugar. If this is the case, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it reduces to desired consistency or reaches your desired taste. One of the most important things a good cook should learn is to taste with their palate. If the dish is missing salt, add it in SMALL increments until it reaches the desired flavor, same with sweetness, tartness, etc. Remember, adding in small increments is key -- it is not pleasant for anyone (especially yourself) when you over season your food -_-.
Also, do not remove the pork belly from the braising liquid until you are ready to serve or it will dry out. The traditional "Hong Sao Rou" is usually just the meat itself but I have chosen to add the lotus root for some crunch and the steamed yucca for starch. All components are good sauce "soppers" so at the end of the meal you are sure not to miss a single drop of lusciousness.