Red Cooked Pork is succulent, delicious and easier than you think–and a great example of the traditional Chinese dishes to be found in Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees. A copy of the cookbook was provided to me in exchange for an honest review; cookware from Anolon was provided to me for use in this review. Affiliate links have been used to link to items I am discussing.
Happy Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival! How’s that for a mouthful? Kinda makes me wish I could say it in Chinese. At any rate, the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is September 15 this year; the holiday, second most important in China after the New Year, celebrates the harvest and falls on the Harvest Moon (the closest full moon to the autumn equinox). And to celebrate, a group of bloggers is celebrating Kian Lam Kho’s Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking with a review and giveaway of that cookbook, as well as a giveaway of select Anolon cookware!
That is a lot of stuff to discuss! So first, the cookbook itself. You guys already know that I consider cookbook reviews to be one of the great perks of food blogging. When it is a cookbook already on my wish list? Then the perk is more like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one! Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, from the mind behind Red Cook, has been on my wish list ever since it won the 2016 IACP Julia Child First Book Award. And I am happy to say it does not disappoint. The book is gorgeous–hardback with loads of stunning color photographs–but not at all intimidating. I thought the Red Cooked Pork might be difficult but it was broken into such simple steps that the dish as a whole felt very easy. Overall, the book is broken into various Chinese cooking techniques, such as slow cooking, boiling, steaming, using a wok, frying in oil, etc. It is fair to say there is something here for everyone, if you have the slightest interest in Chinese cooking (and if you do not, why not!?).
About the Red Cooked Pork itself…. As I mentioned the dish is easier than it looks. It includes several different steps: caramelizing the sugar, stir frying and browning the pork belly, and then braising the pork belly. But each of these steps is pretty simple–and not at all stressful as long as you remember your mise en place. In other words, have all of your ingredients prepped and measured before you start cooking this dish.
We loved this Red Cooked Pork. It definitely needs to be served with some kind of carb (we chose rice) and vegetables. It goes without saying that the dish is rich and filling–you will only want a small amount. I chose to remove some of the fat from the dish after browning the pork belly, and I also added one tablespoon of brown sugar at the end. Just a personal preference that we wanted the dish a tad sweeter. But we all loved the dish–and interestingly we all loved the sauce even more than the pork belly itself!
Anolon generously agreed to supply cookware for the dish we chose to make–and if we used two pieces of cookware they supplied two pieces of cookware! And even better, they are also providing the same cookware that they provided to me to my readers! The cookware they provided were pans suitable for stir frying and pots suitable for braising. Braising was a no brainer for me–I knew I wanted a piece of enameled cast iron because I already know that is what I prefer. Based on what I already own (and wanting something different) I chose the Anolon(r) Vesta(tm) Cast Iron Cookware 5-Quart Round Covered Casserole:
For the stir frying portion I chose to go with a pan, rather than a traditional wok. I did this because, first of all I already own a cast iron wok and prefer it to nonstick woks. Second of all, I wanted to show you, the reader, that you can make this traditional Chinese Red Cooked Pork in a traditionally European stainless steel pan, the Anolon Nouvelle Copper Stainless Steel 12-Inch Covered French Skillet. And it worked beautifully (although I want to make clear I understand what makes a wok superior in many cases):
The one caveat is that when using a smaller pan to stir fry you may need to fry in batches. In some cases that can be a deal breaker, but for this Red Cooked Pork it just meant browning the pork in two batches and was no big deal.
The giveaway is now closed.
- 1 1/2 lbs . pork belly meat
- 3 T water
- 2 T sugar
- 3 cloves garlic (I minced out of habit)
- 2 inch scallions cut into 2- long pieces
- 3 whole star anise
- 2 T dark soy sauce
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (I could not find and had to use white wine)
- 1 1/2 cups clear stock or water or the liquid from the par-boiling step
Put the entire pork belly in a large pot covered by enough water to cover the meat completely. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a low boil. Continuously skim off the scum as it forms on top of the boiling water. Boil for about 20 minutes uncovered and then drain the pork belly and place on a plate to cool. The boiling liquid can be reused for braising after filtering through a fine sieve. When the pork belly is cool to touch cut it into pieces of about 1.5 inches cubes.
Melt the sugar and the water in a wok over medium high heat. Continue heating until the sugar is yellow at the edges (do not cook further so that the sugar coats the meat rather than crystalizing). Add the cubed pork belly and brown it in the caramelized sugar. Toss the pork regularly to prevent burning--and if needed, brown the pork in 2 batches.
Add the garlic, scallions, star anise, dark soy sauce, soy sauce, wine and clear stock (or water) into the pan. Bring to a boil, scrape the bottom of the pan and then transfer the contents of the pan into a braising pot, such as a Dutch oven.
Cover the Dutch oven and simmer over low heat. Stir the meat every 15 minutes to make sure the pork at the bottom of the pot does not get burnt. Do this for 1 hour or until the meat is tender. Remove the cover and remove the pork with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat to medium high and boil the liquid to the desired thickness. Pour over the meat to serve.
You can serve this dish right away or keep overnight and reheat the next day before serving. (I chose to garnish this dish with snipped scallions.)