One of my first experiences with real Chinese cooking was at the highly-regarded China 46 in Ridgefield, NJ. This restaurant, which specialized in Shanghainese cooking, was knocking it out of the park during its run from 2001-2007. We had countless meals here, each more memorable than the last.
The owner, Cecil, was always very helpful in steering me in the right direction, often offering us little samples of some of the more interesting stuff. One time, as I rattled off our order of dishes, he abruptly interjected "NO! Too much MEAT." He was right. I was ordering like a gluttonous American.
China 46 was our go-to place for big groups of friends and family. For those well-attended meals, we'd look forward to ordering a monster of a dish called Superior Ruby Pork, with a magnificent description: "A giant pork shoulder with mixed herb simmered for hours. Served very tender as melt in your mouth." I just love that. I don't recall much in the way of herb, but it was certainly flavorful, and no doubt tender as melt in your mouth. And it was red. And braised.
With little understanding of that type of cooking at the time, I had no idea what one would have to do to make this type of dish. It was mysterious. It was magical. But now, I occasionally buy and read books, and as the folks who follow this blog (and its Facebook page) may have noticed, I'm really into Chinese cooking these days. And I've been relying on books from Fuchsia Dunlop pretty much exclusively. So when I saw a recipe for "Chairman-Mao's Red-Braised Pork" in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province , well I just had to give it a whirl.
Ms. Dunlop was apparently nice enough to share a version of this recipe with epicurious.com, so you can view it here. It does differ a bit from the version in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, but I suspect the results will be very similar. Two differences are that the version from Revolutionary Chinese cookbook calls for par boiling (for 3 minutes) the pork belly, and caramelizing the sugar as the first step to create some color and flavor. I think both are probably good ideas.
This dish is incredibly easy to make and requires no special skill or equipment (other than a braising pot). Ingredients-wise, there's the pork belly, and a few basic items that you should have in your pantry anyway:
- Pork belly is available at Asian markets, and Whole Foods carries an excellent product from the Lucki 7 Farms (whose pork chops are fantastic as well). Get it with the skin on. A bit of nipple in your diet is a good thing.
- As far as soy sauce, I urge you to forgo the Japanese style soy sauce when making Chinese recipes, and pick up a bottle of both light soy and dark soy. Pearl River Bridge makes a well-regarded product, and it's available at just about any Asian market.
- I have not been able to locate Shaoxing wine for some reason, so I continue to use Amontillado sherry.
I braised the pork for about 2.5 hours so it would be served very tender as melt in your mouth, and as to blow my guests away. And you should too.
Serve with rice and steamed baby bok choy if you're so inclined.