Stewed pork belly 🐖 also known as red braised pork belly or hong shou rou 紅燒肉 is a popular Chinese pork dish - it is also one of my favourites. Hong shou rou is enjoyed all over China and in Chinese communities around the world. It is considered a "hundred family dish" 百家菜 meaning, a dish which every Chinese family has a recipe for - so there are many variations of hong shou rou. It is basically a savoury sweet dish with tenderly soft skin, meat and almost melt in the mouth fat. The versatile dish is eaten with rice, noodles or bun.
I divide cooking of red braised pork belly into 3 main stages. This recipe is a more traditional one (there are simpler recipes that merge steps 2 and 3):
2. Stewing / braising
3. Finishing / glazing.
Select a slab of fresh pork belly with skin, fat and lean meat.
Put the entire slab of pork belly in a wok or pot of room temperature water. It is important that you do not use hot water (otherwise the gamey taste will not be well purged).
Bring the cool water to boil (with the slab of pork in the pot).
As you do so, add in Chinese rice wine, stalks of spring onion, and slices of raw ginger. Cover and let the slab cook in high heat for 10 minutes. The purpose of this step is to rid the gamey taste and smell from the pork.
Transfer the boiled pork belly to a wok / pot of chilled water. Dunk the whole slab inside. When cool to touch, remove and drip or pat dry.
Throw away the water (which would be greasy, foamy and murky with lumpy coagulates).
Cut the slab of pork belly lengthwise along the grain and then into large neat 3 layered chunks with skin, fat and lean meat in each piece. The pork belly will still be slightly pink inside (don't worry about this) but you should smell only pleasant fresh porcine sweetness.
Separately in a wok, bring spoonfuls of cooking oil (peanut oil, soya bean oil, canola oil etc is fine) to sizzle and stir fry ginger slices, stalks of spring onion, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf till aromatic.
Add in the chunks of pork belly and stir fry till none of the pork look pink and you can smell the pork's sweetness. You will see some browning of the pork surface too.
Add both light and dark soy sauce as well as Chinese rice wine, and stir fry. The light soy sauce provides flavour, and the dark sauce gives the pork colour. (Some recipes call for apple cider vinegar at this stage to tenderise the meat.)
Stir fry till you can smell the aroma of caramelised soy sauces.
Add in room temperature water, enough to cover all the pieces of pork belly. Add a bit of salt and sugar to taste. (Some recipes call for beer or even coke in part, or completely replace water.)
Let the meat simmer in low heat inside the wok or pot. When you see steam bubbles break the surface gently, that's the right temperature.
Cover and let the contents stew / braise in the simmering liquid for 40-50 minutes. Remove the cover and stir the contents occasionally. By 40-50 minutes, most of the liquid would have evaporated.
Remove the stewed pork from the wok / pot. Let it rest in a large plate.
From the residual liquid in the wok, skim off excess grease on the surface.
Add more sugar into the wok and stir fry it in low heat in the residual greasy liquid till the sugar is melted into a thick gooey syrup.
When the sugary syrup has caramelised (amber brown colour), return the stewed pork belly to the wok, and stir fry.
Add light soy sauce and stir fry.
Add hot water and stir fry.
Add a sprinkling of dried peppercorn, and stir fry.
Keep stir frying the simmering contents in the wok.
When the contents are just moist (no longer watery), add in julienned fresh leek, chili pepper, and stir fry.
Transfer the stewed pork belly which now has a shiny sheen outside from caramelised sugar to serving plates or claypot. It's up to you 😊
Enjoy your classic hong shou rou 紅燒肉 with boiled rice, noodles or steamed buns.
List of ingredients 👉
Slab of pork belly
Fresh chili pepper
Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing wine 紹興酒)
Light soy sauce
Dark soy sauce
Sugar (rock sugar optional)
Bon appetite 😋