New Recipes

Red-cooked Pork Belly (红烧肉)

Red-braised Pork Belly
Red-braised Pork Belly pictures (5 of 7)

Shanti is a good friend of mine, we met each other through her husband Peikwen Cheng—my ex-colleague and the most talented photographer I know. Based in Beijing, Shanti travels all over China meeting with local families to learn about authentic home-style Chinese cooking. Her many journeys are documented on ShowShanti. If you’re a fan of local culture and story-telling, you have to check out ShowShanti. She is also the proud designer of her gorgeous and colorful Chinese aprons, which you can enter to win. Don’t miss this scrumptious red-cooked pork belly recipe, which she learned from real Chinese home cooks in China, and remember to start following her adventures on ShowShanti.com.

When I first came to China, I didn’t know about Chinese food any more than what I had eaten at countless Chinese restaurants in California. Typical dishes my family and I would order included egg flower soup 蛋花湯, barbecued-pork steamed buns 叉燒包, spareribs in black bean sauce, barbecued pork, roast pork, Cantonese roast duck, glutinous rice stuffed with pork and steamed in lotus leaves 糯米雞, Ma Po tofu, and pork fried rice. Those dishes were a great beginning for my American Chinese food repertoire. Upon living in China, I encountered many more dishes; too many to list and yet so many more to try.

The dish that quickly made an impression on me was hóngshāo ròu (红烧肉, red-cooked pork belly)—cubed cuts of pork belly braised in soy sauce and fragrant spices with fat that tenders the lean and falls apart in the mouth. The savory-sweet combination seduces the taste buds, rendering me addicted to this dish for life. As I write this, I wonder, “Is it time for me to stew another pot of this simple dish that waited nearly three decades to find my appetite?”

Red-braised Pork Belly

I learned a version from one Shanghai family (Chen Chen’s hóngshāo ròu recipe) that had neither chili nor spice; I felt something was missing. I’d learned hóngshāo yu (red-cooked fish), hóngshāo shanyu (red-cooked eel), hóngshāo tuji (red-cooked organic chicken), and hóngshāo zhuti (red-cooked pig’s feet); all of which included fragrant spices like star anise, chilies, Sichuan peppercorn, cassia bark, and black cardamom. I prefer hóngshāo ròu with chilies, Sichuan peppercorn, star anise, and cassia bark. Hóngshāo ròu is a simple dish and deserves every spice and minute you can give to its perfection.

After making different variations of hóngshāo ròu, I have decided upon a medley of flavors that makes my own family claim this recipe a favorite. As with all home-style recipes, you learn someone’s original recipe then you make it your own. Stick to my recipe a few times then stray with the muse of your own taste buds. Serve hóngshāo ròu with rice and Chinese broccoli. Enjoy!

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42 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

    • ShowShanti

      I have used my pressure cooker on low heat. You can use any pot as long as it conducts heat evenly through the base of the pot and doesn’t have ‘hot spots’. Stir occasionally. :-)

  1. This looks like the kind of Chinese food I really love, the more typical, the better. I never had this when I was in China, I think I should try out your recipe, xiexie.

    • tom

      Try it in China. Unfortunately, the skin and fat made up some 95% while lean meat made up the remaining 5% Ate only the lean meat. When the tour guide came and picked us up, she saw the uneaten ‘white meat’. She told us the ‘white meat’ was the best part. None of us(from US and Canada) dare to eat the ‘white meat”

      • ShowShanti

        When choosing your piece of pork belly, you can select the pork-to-fat/skin ratio you prefer. There are some with less fat or more meat than others. Typically, you want to choose a piece of pork belly with as even a strata of meat/fat throughout the piece as possible. It’s like eating bacon; I eat the fat and lean in every rash of bacon.

      • Sandra

        Yes that is so typical with You Americans, so obsessed with so called “healthy” food that You do not notice hidden artificial ingredients and colors in something that You use on daily basis like cereals. You are so afraid to even try specialty like this, OMG it wont kill You :)
        While people used to live on eggs, bacon, real non genetically modified meat and vegetables, nobody was seek.
        Please for Your own sake, do not listen everything that big producers tells you to. And for once, try to enjoy in what You eat! I would kill my self first If I will only see percentage in every food I eat :) Shanti, good work!

    • ShowShanti

      I can’t say there is a substitute for the flavor of Sichuan peppercorns, but you can leave it out and the dish will still be very delicious. Sichuan peppercorns possess a citrusy, numbing sensation which the dish can have or do without.

  2. Jeremy

    Isn’t this dish, without the spices, the same as Dong Po Rou, from the Shanghai area? They’re both really great dishes, but having lived in Sichuan for a year, I’ll take any opportunity (as these cooking traditions allow) to throw in chilis and hua jiao (pepper corns)!

  3. This is one of my favorite Chinese dishes ever!! We also have our own favorite but thanks for sharing yours…will definitely be incorporating some of this :)

    • ShowShanti

      Some other things you can add per your preference: deep fried tofu (炸豆腐), cubes of daikon, and/or dried shiitakes. These soak up the flavor and add another dimension to the dish.

  4. Ling

    Hi, can u let me know what can be used to replace peanut oil? Can I use normal cooking or olive oil or even sesame oil to replace?

  5. mycroftxxx

    The addition of Sichuan spices is a significant improvement over the more traditional Shanghai version of this dish. I think this may be the most delicious thing in the universe.

  6. Giles Gaffney

    This is not authentic. Here’s the real recipe from a Chinese source translated into English:
    Ingredients: belly pork 900g, 8 bulbs of green veg like Pak Choi,
    spices: 3 star anise, 4 bay leaves, 1 Black Cardamom, Cinnamon 5g, 8 dried chilies, 15g Chilli Bean paste, 20g ginger, 30g spring onion, 8 cloves garlic, 15g salt, 10g chicken powder, 5ml dark soy sauce, 10ml cooking wine, 50g caramel (with 45g sugar)

    • Kaegan

      It’s just another variation. bay leaves,Black Cardamom, Cinnamon, dried chilies, Chilli Bean paste are actually not typical for this dish. But the combination of the ingredients sounds wonderful.
      Cheers.

  7. Jim

    Giles said,”This is not authentic.”

    Meanwhile the recipe author clearly states….

    “After making different variations of hóngshāo ròu, I have decided upon a medley of flavors that makes my own family claim this recipe a favorite.”

    Sigh, there’s one in every thread it seems.

  8. Marc

    Have you tried this while gently smoking the pork as prior to braising? I have had Dong Po and Hong Shao before, and I think it might work but was wondering if anyone has tried that approach.

  9. KrispyNoodes

    I have made this dish several times and love the taste and really like the fat layers – I’m not one of those people who shuns fat. I eat quite a lot of it in fact. But the meat layer is dry and on the tough side. I have cooked it on very low, slow heat in a heavy bottom pot for a long time. I have cooked it in a pressure cooker – again low heat. I have tried slab cuts, and thick rasher cuts (like very thick bacon). Same result every time. Is the last bottom (furthest from the skin) thick meat strata supposed to be on the dry side? Please help.

    • Jee from Singapore

      The trick to moist succulent meat is to braised it initially WITHOUT SODIUM – sodium in salt and soy sauce draws out the moisture. So, braised with all the ingredients as given in the recipe for at least one hour, add the soy sauce and salt, then continue the braising. This technique is used in Kakuni, the braising of Japanese pork belly, and it works very well here too. Try it. ^^

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