In her book Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China, Fuchsia Dunlop devotes part of her book to her travels in Hunan province, the birthplace of Mao Xedong, and she presents us with a recipe for a dish said to be a favorite of the Chairman himself, and which she calls ‘Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork-Belly’.
I have discussed the Chinese cookery technique of ‘red cooking’ (or ‘red-braising’)before, and have even posted several recipes in that style over the years. Today, I am presenting a dish that is inspired by Ms. Dunlop’s recipe, but which departs from it through the use of different seasonings. In addition to dried chilies, Ms. Dunlop uses Star Anise and Cinnamon… I have replaced the dried chili with a Chinese Chili Paste and then omitted the other two spices for Fennel Seed and Black Cardamom, along with some dried orange peel, thus giving the dish a bit more of a slant towards Sichuan, rather than the Hunanese original …
For this recipe, you need a piece of pork belly weighing about a half-pound or so, with the rind still attached. To prepare it, you need to briefly boil it in salted water until barely cooked. This will speed the braising process a little bit, but is chiefly employed to render out a little fat and also blanch the meat so that it makes your finished sauce a little ‘cleaner’.
After the meat is blanched, let it cool and then cut it into bite-sized pieces. If you look, you can see that there is just a tinge of pink still remaining in the meat.
Next, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a moderately hot pan and stir in a tablespoon or two of sugar. Stir this until the sugar is melted and begins to brown.
Now add the meat and the following ingredients: A tablespoon of Chili Paste (or more to taste), two tablespoons each of Rice Wine and Soy Sauce, one Black Cardamom, a tablespoon of Fennel Seed, and two or three strips of dried orange peel. Add water to cover, let it come almost to the boil and then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer.
After an hour or so, the meat and the skin will be nicely tender. At this point, remove the meat to a bowl, strain the sauce and return the pan to the stove over high heat. Let the sauce now cook down until it starts to become syrupy.
Finally, add back the pork, and throw in the green part from one or two scallions cut into two or three inch lengths. Cook just until the onion is wilted and then serve.
For this post, I have presented part of the dish as an appetizer. It is a very rich and unctuous dish, however, and much more suited to being a main course preparation. I actually ate mineover a small bowl of plain boiled rice…