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Chairman Mao's Red-Braised Pork (Mao Shi Hong Shao Rou)

(recipe, Fuchsia Dunlop)

Introduction

Red-braised pork is a dish that in Hunan is inseparably bound up with the memory of Chairman Mao: many restaurants call it "The Mao Family's red-braised pork." Mao Zedong loved it, and insisted his Hunanese chefs cook it for him in Beijing. It's a robust concoction, best eaten with plain steamed rice and simple stir-fried vegetables; the sweet, aromatic chunks of meat are irresistible.

Ingredients

  1. 1 lb. pork belly (skin optional)
  2. 2 Tbsp. peanut oil
  3. 2 Tbsp. white sugar
  4. 1 Tbsp. Shaoxing wine
  5. Fresh ginger (a ¾-inch piece), skin left on and sliced
  6. 1 star anise
  7. 2 dried red chiles
  8. A small piece of cassia bark or a small cinnamon stick
  9. Light soy sauce
  10. Salt
  11. Sugar
  12. Scallion greens

Steps

  1. Plunge the pork belly into a pan of boiling water and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes, until partially cooked. Remove and, when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized chunks.
  2. Heat the oil and white sugar in a wok over a gentle flame until the sugar melts, then raise the heat and stir until the melted sugar turns a rich caramel brown. Add the pork and splash in the Shaoxing wine.
  3. Add enough water to just cover the pork, along with the ginger, star anise, chiles, and cassia. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes.
  4. Toward the end of the cooking time, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce, and season with soy sauce, salt, and a little sugar to taste. Add the scallion greens just before serving.

Note

In Shaoshan, Mao's home village, cooks traditionally leave the skin intact for maximum succulence, and cut the meat into rather large chunks, perhaps 1 1/2 inches long; I tend to make the pieces a little smaller. This recipe takes its color from caramelized sugar, which gives it a lovely reddish gloss, but many people just use dark soy sauce at home.