Red Cooked, or 紅燒 dishes, are, as I have explained in previous posts, those in which the main ingredients are braised with soy sauce, giving them a dark, often reddish color. One encounters pork cooked this way with dried squid from time to time and I originally intended to do that here but, on discovering I had run out of squid, I decided to use some dried octopus I happened to have on hand instead. This dish, whether with squid or octopus, is not one you will find on many restaurant menus but is rather more of a rich, home-style preparation. Normally, especially in Cantonese cuisine, red-cooked dishes are spiced with Star Anise, and possibly cinnamon, orange peel, or the like. I am not fond of the addition of the sweeter aromatics in dishes of this type so I am omitting them here and have instead added just a little dried chili and Galanga, both of which you might find in Sichuanese interpretations.
By the way, the process for reconstituting and preparing the octopus for cooking is largely the same as that for Dried Squid, so you may want to take a look at my earlier post on that topic. Also, you really ought to look at my notes at the end of this post before trying this dish yourselves…
- Pork Belly, in one piece;
- 1 small to medium Dried Octopus;
- 1 small Onion, cut vertically into slivers;
- 1 cup sliced Celery (include some leaves if you like);
- 1 tbsp. Garlic Paste;
- 2 cups good quality Chicken Stock;
- ½ cup Dark Soy Sauce;
- ¼ cup Rice Wine;
- 4 tbsp. Sugar;
- 3 -4 whole dried Red Chilies;
- 2 slices dried Galanga;
This is the octopus I am using. As I mentioned above, the mode of preparation is similar to that for dried squid but there are a couple of differences. In the first place, in octopus, there is no clear, plastic-like ‘quill’ that needs to be removed and, secondly, the outer membrane on octopus is a bit thicker than on squid, so it is a bit more important to peel it away. In the picture, the membrane is a much darker brown than the surrounding flesh.
You will want to brown the pork belly before adding to the braising medium and this a bit easier if you do it before cutting it into small pieces.
Once the pork belly is browned on all sides, allow it to cool and then slice it into 1 inch squares. Drain the octopus, rinsing it well if you used bicarbonate of soda to soak, and then cut into strips or chunks, including the tentacles.
Heat a little oil or lard in a pan over medium heat and sauté the onion just until soft and then add the garlic paste and celery.
When the celery is softened and you can smell the garlic, add the pork, octopus and the rest of the ingredients. Bring everything to a boil, skimming away any froth, and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer.
Continue to simmer away for an hour or two until the liquid has reduce by about one half or two-thirds, at which point you should remove the dried chili and Galanga slices; You can serve now but the dish will be better if you chill it in the refrigerator overnight and re-heat for service the following day.
Well, sadly, this effort didn’t receive great critical acclaim. The first issue was that I accidentally used light soy rather than dark with the result that the meal was considerably more salty than most people would like. I didn’t mind too much but my wife was much less enthusiastic. Also, my wife really didn’t care for the texture of the octopus. Had the pieces been smaller, in slivers perhaps, the nice flavor would still be there but the chewiness she disliked wouldn’t have been so obtrusive. Again, I didn’t mind it that much but I think I would like o try this meal again using fresh octopus instead…