This dish of Red-Cooked Pork with Dried Octopus illustrates a classic Chinese cookery technique known as ‘red-cooking’, in which the main ingredients are braised in a good Basic Chinese Chicken Stock enhanced with Soy Sauce and various aromatics. These ‘Red-Cooked’ or 紅燒 dishes derive their collective name from the dark, often reddish appearance that the Soy Sauce imparts.
Often, and especially in Cantonese cuisine, the aromatics include Star Anise, and sometimes cinnamon and orange peel, all of which add a very sweet background taste to the finished dish. Personally, I am not very fond of using 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.
The Basic Method
Browning meat prior to simmering in liquid improves the flavor through the Maillard Reaction. It will be easier for you if you brown the pork belly slab while it is still whole.
The Pork should be cut into bite-sized pieces, while the Octopus should be cut into smaller pieces as they can be quite chewy even after reconstituting and braising. If you are new to the use of Dried Octopus, you may wish to review my introductory post, Using Dried Squid and Octopus.
After sautéing the Onion and Celery along with the Garlic Paste, you can add in the Pork and Octopus along with the braising ingredients. If you do not have the Galanga called for in the recipe, you can omit it, or substitute it with a few slices of fresh Ginger.
The dish should be simmered until the liquid is reduced to about one-third to one-half the original volume and everything has a nice, rich, reddish-brown color from the Soy Sauce.
On a final note, ensure that the Soy Sauce you use is of the dark variety. If you use light Soy Sauce, the color will not be the same and the dish will be WAY too salty.
Your Recipe Card:
Red-Cooked Pork with Dried Octopus
- 1 lb. Pork Belly in one piece
- 1 small to medium Reconstituted 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 Chicken Stock
- ½ cup Dark Soy Sauce
- ¼ cup Rice Wine
- 4 tbsp. Sugar
- 3 -4 whole dried Red Chilies
- 2 slices dried Galanga
- Heat a little oil in a pan over moderately high-heat and quickly brown the outside of the pork belly slab on all sides.
- Cut the cooled pork into bite size cubes, and slice the octopus, including the tentacles, into small strips, or squares.
- Sauté the onion in a little oil or lard over medium heat and then add the celery and garlic paste.
- When the celery is softened, add the pork, octopus and the rest of the ingredients. Bring everything to a moderate 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
- Serve immediately, or chill it in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors develop and re-heat for service the following day.