I can’t remember the first time I had braised pork belly (or Hong Shao Rou), but it must have been some time in my early childhood—and since then I’ve eaten it hundreds of times. It’s a dish that’s not only ingrained in my own family’s culinary repertoire, but in the culinary collection of most Chinese families throughout China. Still, the beauty of braised pork belly is that while the flavors are similar, everyone has a different way of cooking it, and every recipe you see will be a little different.
In my family, we use brown cooking soy sauce (look for Lee Kum Kee, that’s our preferred brand) to give the dish an added depth. If you’re far from an Asian grocery store or can’t find it, you can use a combination of dark and light Chinese soy sauce (“light” refers to the color of the condiment, and is not synonymous with low-sodium soy sauce). Japanese soy sauce, such as Kikkoman, has a different flavor and won’t be a great substitute here. Have no fear though, you’ll find that brown cooking, dark, and light soy sauces are easy to find online.
Traditionally, Chinese leeks (which look like a cross between scallions and leeks, but have a more distinct garlicky taste) are used in this recipe. Here in Indianapolis, I can’t even find them at my local Asian market, so I make do with regular leeks. When I’m feeling particularly unconventional, I add in tofu, potatoes, or carrots to the pan with the pork before thickening the sauce. The dish is best served hot, accompanied by a bowl of rice and a side dish of steamed greens (such as broccoli, bok choy, or gai lan) to complete the meal.
Braised pork belly is delightfully rich—a treat to be savored on special occasions, like when I’ve gone home for the holidays or made a surprise visit to my family. Still, any day can be a special occasion if you want it to be, especially if that means braised pork belly will make an appearance. When you bite into it, you’ll experience layer after layer of intricate texture. Take a moment to soak in the buttery softness. —Iona Brannon
1 hour 30 minutes
skin-on pork belly, cut into 1-inch chunks
neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola oil
brown cooking soy sauce, or 2 tablespoons dark soy and 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1-inch piece leek or Chinese leek (from the base, root trimmed), cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices
pieces (about 5 grams) Chinese rock sugar, or a heaping teaspoon granulated sugar
Leek greens, diced, for serving (optional)
Place the pork belly chunks in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water until meat is just covered and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Stirring occasionally, skim white froth off the top of the liquid (discard skimmed froth). Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, place the pot in the sink and rinse the meat with hot tap water until the water runs clear. Drain the meat into a colander or sieve and set aside.
- Heat oil in a medium-sized wok over medium heat. Add granulated sugar and let it cook, without stirring, until it melts into a brownish-gold liquid and bubbles begin to form. Transfer the meat into the wok (I use tongs because this part gets messy), and fry until the pork is a light golden brown and the fat from the pork has started to render, about 5 minutes.
- Add Chinese cooking wine and cook for about 1 minute, then add soy sauce and stir for another minute. The pork should take on the color of the soy sauce. Stir in ginger, star anise, bay leaves and the leek. Cook the mixture until you the aromatics are fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add rock sugar, and pour in hot water until the meat is just covered. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the meat is irresistibly tender, about 1 hour. The meat should still be partially covered in water.
- Remove the star anise and bay leaves, and discard. Return the heat to high and cook until the liquid has thickened into a sticky sauce like molasses, 15 to 35 minutes, depending on how much liquid was left in your pot. Salt to taste. Garnish with leek leaf and serve with rice.