Mao's Red Braised Pork
Red cooking in Chinese cuisines is done to bring good luck and joy. These associations are linked to the color red that comes from fire, which is the symbol of prosperity in Chinese culture. Red cooking is a process that involves cooking with soy sauce and caramelized sugars to give the food a reddish color. Braising is the method used here, and that’s really effective for taking tough meats and making them tender.
Mao’s Red Braised Pork comes from a recipe cherished by the Chairman Mao, the man considered responsible for the founding of the People’s Republic of China. He loved this dish so much that in Chinese it is often referred to as “the Mao family’s Red Braised Pork.” The key to getting this recipe done the right way is caramelizing the sugar in perfectly heated oil. You don’t want it to get too hot or else it will burn the sugar, but too low a temperature may result in poorly cooked sugar. If this is done correctly, your meat will come out perfectly flavored.
Pork belly can sometimes be a harder cut to find, and so it may do you some good to call ahead and ask for it to be set aside or held onto for you. Be sure to have it skinned too, or you may have the added steps of having to skin it yourself, which can be a little time consuming. Pork belly is basically bacon that hasn’t been smoked, and it is a fatty meat. If you can’t get your hands on this particular meat, you might be alright in using short ribs as a substitute.
Traditionally this pork dish is served with rice, and that’s exactly how we prepared ours. All the taste testers absolutely loved the flavor of this meal, but they especially loved the sauce on the rice, too. It is also good with fried vegetables, or even some pan fried noodles. When it was first introduced, this dish was touted as a health food, since it was supposedly good for the brain. Today we recognize that it is a treat to be eaten occasionally, since it is actually quite greasy and not exactly the healthiest choice! Pairing it with vegetables certainly helps up the nutrient factor, of course.
- Fill a large pot or a Dutch oven with water and bring to a rapid boil. Place the pork belly in the water and cook for 7 minutes. Remove pork belly from water and let cool. After pork belly has cooled, cut into bite size pieces.
- In a wok, heat 2 Tbsp. Vegetable oil and 2 Tbsp. Sugar together over medium-low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase heat to medium and stir regularly until the sugar caramelizes and is golden colored.
- Add the pork, Shaoxing wine, and enough water to cover to the wok. Add the ginger, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and Thai chiles and simmer for 45-50 minutes. Skim if necessary.
- After the pork belly has cooked for 45-50 minutes, increase heat and reduce sauce slightly. Season with soy sauce, Beet Root Powder, and salt if necessary.
- Garnish with scallions and serve!
*Beetroot Powder will provide sweetness, and a rich red color.