The technique used in this recipe, called hong shao, or red cooking, is a particular favorite of mine; you’ll never taste meat so luscious or sauce with such concentrated flavor. When Deng Haiyan, a cook I know, applies it to rich, fatty pork belly, the results are spectacular. Before she does anything, she parboils the pork belly to jump-start its tenderizing and to render out some of its fat. Then she stir-fries the pork to brown it and simmers it in a braising liquid made with dark soy sauce and sugar until much of the liquid has been reduced and absorbed. Finally, she cranks up the heat again and stir-fries the contents of the wok a second time to further concentrate the sauce. While all of the dishes described here would be served along with a bowl of rice—the centerpiece of any Chinese meal—this pork belly’s spicy, sweet, and salty sauce suffuses and complements rice like no other.
- Kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 lb. boneless, skin-on pork belly, cut into ¾” cubes
- 1 tbsp. canola oil
- 2 red chiles, such as Fresno, roughly chopped
- 1 (1 1/2″) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. dark soy sauce
- 3 tbsp. mashed red fermented tofu plus 2 tsp. liquid from jar
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 pods star anise
- Bring 6 cups salted water to a boil in a 14″ wok (or a pot). Add pork and cook for 5 minutes. Drain pork and set aside. Wipe out wok (or use a stainless-steel skillet instead). Set over high heat until wok begins to smoke. Add oil around edge of wok, swirling to coat bottom and sides. Add chiles, ginger, and leeks and cook, tossing constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add reserved pork and cook, tossing often, for 3 minutes.
- Add sugar, soy sauce, tofu and its liquid, and salt and cook, tossing, until ingredients are browned, about 6 minutes.
- Add 2½ cups water, bay leaves, and star anise; boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until pork is tender, about 40–50 minutes.
- Uncover, increase heat to high, and cook, stirring, until liquid reduces to 2 tbsp., about 15 minutes.