I also want to take the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions surrounding this dish. Most people probably have never heard of it before, but recently I was watching my favourite pass time show – come dine with me (that’s cdwm to fans out there), and one contestant made this dish. Initial excitement was soon followed by despair. She claims to have first come across this dish whilst living in Dubai at her favourite Thai restaurant (what, right?) and got her recipe from there… So far still ok, but then one of her first ingredients was red food dye to colour the meat… oh spare me.
Whilst the colour (red or hong) is essential, it’s in the name, it comes from the way the meat is cooked and not artificially added. Another common misconception is mixing this dish up with Char Siu (literally means fork burn/roast) which is a cantonese dish and is also red on the outside (this colour does often come from food colouring).
Although not as iconic as Kung Pao chicken (certainly outside of mainland China) it is still a very symbolic. To me it represents an era of China before the modern day industrialisation machine really took hold. Perhaps it’s the colour (red) or because it was supposedly one of Mao Zedong’s favourite dishes but I always associate it with the period around the revolution when food was scarce and meat was rare. When people preferentially picked meat which had more fat as it gave the meat more taste and you more energy (I still remember first being in the UK and finding it astonishing how lean all the meat in the chilled isles were). This dish is typically made with streaky belly pork, known in China as ‘wu hua rou’ which literally translates to ‘five flower’ meat because of the 5/6 layers of fat and lean.
This might be the reason why its popularity has fallen in recent years as people in China becomes more health conscious. But I still think on occasions this dish can be a fantastically sensational treat and there can be no arguing with how it tastes… delicious! I’d usually eat this with a couple of other vegetable dishes with rice.
500 g streaky pork belly (with skin optional)
3 spring onions, finely chopped
30 g thumb-sized ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white sugar
3 tablespoons groundnut oil or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
3 tablespoons Sanchi gf soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (Shaoxing Wine if you’re not coeliac)
½ a star anise
500 ml chicken stock
1 medium non stick pan with lid
1 medium pot
- Cut the pork into 3 ± 0.5 cm chunks, try to ensure each piece has a good mixture of fat and lean meat, and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.
- Drain the meat and set aside.
- Add the oil and sugar to the pan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pork and turn the heat up to medium and cook for 2 minutes until lightly browned.
- Add the stock and all the other ingredients, then stir well.
- Bring the whole thing to boil, then simmer with the lid slightly uncovered over a very low flame for about 1 hour 40 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid burning, until the liquid is significantly reduced to a glistening coating.
- Serve, eat and enjoy!