Compared to other Asian cuisines (particularly Indian), Chinese food has always been a challenge for me. The ingredients and approaches have always felt very alien, being used to European methods. Indian food uses a more familiar approach, with many things being onion, tomato or stock based and relying on similar cooking methods to Italian or French styles (albeit with some complex spicing etc). So whilst I am confident on making a decent balti or rogan josh that will please an audience (and more importantly myself), my attempts at Chinese dishes always leave me fancying a Chinese takeaway.
One of my New Years resolutions this year was to change this, so I have been reading up on recipes and ingredients, and invested in a new wok.
This dish is based on Shanghai Red Braised Pork but is not meant as a faithful reproduction. I came across this dish in Rick Stein’s recent TV series and thought it looked both simple and amazing! The first time I attempted it however, I found the pork tough and was a bit disappointed. This may have been the quality of the pork but I decided to try a different approach (Rick’s recipe calls for an hour of braising). For this attempt I kept the same flavours (although with a lot more ginger because for me you can never have enough) but slow cooked the pork for four hours and was very pleased with the result: really tender, tangy sweet-savoury pork!
For me this dish was good for someone fairly new to Chinese cooking as the ingredients list is fairly short. I think most people are familiar with the spices used and the soy sauces. Its good to introduce only one or two unknowns at a time and cook a few dishes to learn how they behave. Shaoxing wine was a revelation to me and I’ve been using it in simpler dishes to good effect. It tastes very similar to a dry sherry and could probably be substituted easily. You can get massive bottles cheaply from Asian supermarkets but can also get small bottles from tesco/sainburies etc.
Serves 2 hungry people as a main course
- 800g of fairly lean belly pork
- Bunch of spring onions
- Large peice of ginger (3×1 inch)
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 bulb of garlic
- 4 tablespoons shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of white sugar (rock sugar is meant to be better)
- Finely chop the Spring onions. Slice the ginger. Peel the garlic cloves. Cut the pork into big cubes.
- Add a splash of oil to a heavy cast iron casserole and add the onions, pork, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and star anise. Heat on a medium-high heat until the pork is sealed.
- Add all the remaining ingredient.
- Reduce to a simmer and put the lid on.
- Cook until you are happy with the tenderness of the meat. For a more authentic red-braised-pork I think the meat should be tender but still have some bite (probably 60-90 minutes). I cooked this for about 4 hours on a really low simmer so the pork was falling apart.
- In the last 15 minutes take the lid off and bring the heat up to reduce to a sticky glaze for the meat.
- We ate this with boiled rice and steamed tender stem broccoli. I garnished with some Spring onions.
Note: I had some left over and the following day I stir fried it with some water chestnuts and some egg noodles and a splash more soy. Really good!