Shanghai Style (Red Cooked) Pork Belly
Pork belly was a thing in culinary circles awhile back and lately isn’t so trendy in the US, but in China, and specifically in Shanghai, red-cooked* pork belly has been a specialty of home cooks and chefs for generations. It’s been more than a decade since I last visited Shanghai, but I’d bet that hasn’t changed. Few things can match these chunks of slow-cooked, deeply flavorful, melt in your mouth pork belly served with a dark rich sauce brimming with subtle flavors.
When I set out to research and make this dish, I recognized immediately that I’d have to surrender the idea of being meticulous about authenticity. I can get most of the ingredients online or at my local Asian market, but there is probably no chance that what I can get is identical to what I would find in a Shanghai restaurant. The goal was to come close, and this recipe does that. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this to a friend from Shanghai.
The research turned up a number of promising recipes all of which used the same basic techniques, which is essentially a braise, but preceded by a brief parboiling of the pork belly. The recipe below is adapted from several of these recipes, mashed up and adjusted to taste as I tried to duplicate what I remembered from dining in Shanghai.
This makes a great starter course by itself or does well as a main course over rice with one or two Chinese vegetable sides.
*The dish isn’t really red. It turns out that in Chinese cooking, the characters for the colors brown and red are essentially the same, hence the name for this style of cooking.
- 2 pounds pork belly, ideally with skin on and bone-in
- 1/4 cup Chinese rice wine (Xiaoxing Wine) or a dry sherry
- 1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
- 6 thin slices of raw ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 whole star anise (or 6-8 of the little pods)
- 4 large scallions, cut into short pieces
- 3 tablespoons rock sugar (turbinado or regular sugar will work)
- 2-3 Tbsp. cup cooking oil (not olive oil)
- Additional scallions for garnish
- Cut the pork belly into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Rinse the pork, then place into a 4-quart pot, covering it completely in cold water. Bring the water to a moderate boil, and cook pork for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again.
- Clean out the pot and return the pork belly then add enough water to cover the pork by an inch or so. Add half the ginger and scallions. Bring the water to a boil, add half the rice wine and reduce to a minimum simmer. Cook for another 25 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork and set aside. Save the cooking water for later.
- In a wok or dutch oven, heat the cooking oil to near smoking and then add the pork pieces. Saute briefly to coat pork evenly with oil, add the remaining rice wine and stir for about 30 seconds.
- Add the garlic and stir while it cooks for another 30 seconds, then add the sugar and cook rapidly to coat the pork, which should start to caramelize and turn a nice brown color.
- Add enough of the reserved cooking water to nearly cover the pork. Add in
- star anise, remaining ginger and green onion and the dark soy sauce, cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the light soy sauce and stir to coat the meat.
- Lower heat to a simmer, cover with a lid but leave enough of an opening to allow some of the liquid to slowly evaporate, and continue braising for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Remove the pork with a slotted spoon to a warm plate, turn up the heat until the liquid boils rapidly and reduce until it's about the consistency of a syrup. Add the pork back in briefly to warm it through and coat it with sauce, then serve immediately, garnished with sliced scallions.