The Chinese-Style braised pork belly (aka. 红烧肉 or Hong Shao Rou) is a classic and holiday must-have dish for Chinese families, especially back when meat was scarce. Nowadays, due to the abundance of pork, braised pork belly is cooked regularly, especially when there are guests over.
The main ingredient for the recipe is the skin-on pork belly. The skin part might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But the skin is quite important in order to produce the optimal result. After simmering at low heat for about an hour, the skin, which is mostly collagen, becomes soft and gelatinous, and adds wonderful flavors and textures.
The fatty part of the pork belly can be intimidating to some people, but please take a leap of faith and give it a try. The fat complements the lean meat perfectly after being slowly braised, and the result is this juicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth heavenly experience. Without the fatty part, the meat loses that smooth and soft touch and would be too dull and dry.
The origin of the Chinese-style braised pork belly is up to debate. But it has been adapted in many regions in China based on local tastes. The variations include differences between various condiments and spices, which can result in one version being more sweet or savory than the other. Other variations include adding some non-meaty ingredients such as tofu-knots, boiled eggs, and pickled vegetables (meigan cai) towards the end of cooking (usually the last 30 minutes) to make the dish more interesting.
Because it was Chinese New Year when I cooked this recipe for the entire family, I added boiled eggs, which symbolizes ingots, to wish everyone good fortune in the coming year. The eggs, simmered together with the pork belly, slowly absorb the aroma from the juice and will become flavorful on their own.
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Serving: 4-6 family style
- 1.5 pounds of skin-on pork belly1
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 2 scallions (white part only)
- 3 large slices of ginger
- 1 large or 2 medium rock sugar pieces(can be substituted with 2 tablespoons of regular sugar)
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing Cooking wine (can be substituted with rice cooking wine, sake, or dry white wine)
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce2
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce2
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 anise stars
- About 2 cups of water
- 6 eggs (optional)
- Pat dry the ski-on pork belly with paper towel. Then cut the pork belly into 1 ¼ inch (about 3cm) pieces.
- Heat the 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet (or a shallow pan) over medium-high heat. When the oil is getting hot, add the pork belly pieces. Arrange them into one layer in the skillet. Do not overcrowd.
- Sear all sides of the pork belly pieces. It takes about 2-3 minutes for each side to brown. Use a splatter screen to prevent oil from popping all over the place.
- When all the pork belly pieces are nicely seared, take them out and place onto a plate.
- Heat the 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is getting hot, add the white part of the scallions and ginger slices, then toss and stir for about 30 seconds. Then add back the browned pork belly pieces.
- Add the rock sugar, 1 tablespoon Shaoxing Cooking wine, 2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 anise stars. Then add enough water to barely cover the pork belly pieces. Gently mix everything, then cover the lid.
- When the liquid starts boiling, reduce the heat to low to main a simmering state. Close the lid and let it slowly cook for 1 hour. Check every 15 minutes to make sure it’s kept at a simmer and gently stir the liquid to make sure the pork belly is evenly coated.
- While the pork belly is being braised, make 6 boiled eggs3: Put the eggs in a medium sauce pan and submerge them in cold water. Close the lid and turn the heat to medium-high. When the water starts boiling, start a 3 minute timer and continue boiling the eggs. When the 3 minutes is up, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the pot, with the covered lid and hot water, for another 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, take the eggs out and submerge them in icy-cold water to cool completely. Then carefully peel off the shell and set the peeled eggs aside.
- When the pork belly has been braised for 1 hour, add the peeled eggs and turn the heat to medium. When the liquid boils again, turn the heat to low to maintain a simmering state again. Close the lid and let it simmer for another 30 minutes.
- When the time is up, transfer some of the pork belly pieces and the eggs along with the juice to a large bowl. Pair them with rice and enjoy!
- Like I mentioned earlier, skin is quite important for this recipe. Make sure to use a tweezer (I sometimes use the tweezer from my Swiss Army Knife) to remove all the residual hair (if any) from the skin.
- The light soy sauce is mainly for flavor purposes. It has light color but robust savory taste. Here I used San-J Gluten Free Soy Sauce. But any light soy sauce (not the kind for coloring purpose) can do the job. Kikkoman, Pearl River Bridge （珠江橋牌）, Lee Kum Kee （李錦記）are some of the common Asian soy sauce brands. You can find them in most grocery stores and super markets. Dark soy sauce is what gives the pork belly the coveted deep burgundy color. Here I used Pearl River Bridge （珠江橋牌）Superior Dark Soy Sauce.
- Since the boiled eggs are to be simmered with pork belly later, the timing has been reduced.