Delicious, glossy, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly with an aromatic and flavoursome sticky sauce to drizzle over many many bowls of rice! This traditional and authentic red braised pork belly (or in Chinese, 'hong shao rou') is rich, sweet, salty, savoury with an ever so subtle heat that will have you going for seconds!
Just like a Taiwanese braised pork rice (lu rou fan), a good braise is all about cooking long and slow. This is key to tender, soft pork and a sticky rich sauce.
Hong Shao Rou (紅燒肉)
Red braised pork belly or 'hong shao rou' (紅燒肉) is a classic Chinese pork dish that has been around since the 5th BC, perfected during the Song dynasty (960 - 1279). It's a much loved and iconic dish in China that's hard to resist and a complete joy to eat!
Often times, this dish is also called 'dongpo rou', after the inventor of this dish, Su Dongbo, a great writer in the Song dynasty.
The name 'red braised' is a classic Chinese cooking technique and here, it refers to the delicious red and caramel colour on the pork. This is achieved by frying pork in rock sugar caramel for about 5 to 6 minutes (before other seasonings are added), staining the pork deliciously.
Throughout the slow braising process with soy sauce and spices, the colour on the pork intensifies and the result is a mouth-watering masterpiece.
See the pork below? Look at that colour! All this was achieved by sugar, fat and heat. Amazing.
Have I convinced you to make this yet? 😉
- Skin on pork belly - is the best cut of pork to use for an authentic hong shao rou due to its perfect fat and meat ratio (just like when making Taiwan's famous Lu Rou Fan!). If you're looking to cut back on the fat content/calories, you can use pork shoulder instead. However, the melt in your mouth fat is the best part!
- Dried chilli - Only 3 to 4 chillies will be sufficient as we are after a subtle hint of heat and nothing overpowering. Can be found at Asian grocery stores, sold in large packs. Use up leftover dried chillies by making my better-than-storebought Sichuan Chili Oil - it's seriously easy and lasts a long time. Perfect to drizzle over Pork Wontons or Noodles! Note, my chilli oil recipe calls for chilli flakes. Since these are whole chillies, simply finely chop them into flakes or use a blender if you've got one.
- Shaoxing wine - substitute: dry sherry or other types of rice wines.
You'll find many of my recipes call for brown sugar rather than white sugar. I find brown sugar tends to be richer and the added molasses helps elevate the flavours of many dishes.
However! When it comes to making an authentic red braised pork belly recipe, you want to use either white sugar or crystal rock sugar. Crystal sugars are not too different from white sugars, both produce the desired clean and pure sweetness to dishes.
At the start of this recipe's cooking process, the pork is stir-fried in caramelised sugar which in turn creates that rich reddish colour on the pork. Hence, the term 'red braised'. You'll see from the step by step pictures below and in the how-to video that even before any soy sauce is added to the braising liquid, the pork already has a delicious caramelisation coating.
Never use brown or dark brown sugar in this recipe as the sugar will burn very quickly and create an unpleasant flavour to this dish. Just like you would not use brown sugar to make caramel, the same concept applies to this recipe.
Crystal sugars can be found at most Asian grocery stores and are deemed as the superior sugar to use in Chinese cooking.
Quality soy sauce - it matters
Choosing the highest quality soy sauce you can afford really pays off in the finished dish. This is particularly important for soy sauce braised dishes like this hong shao rou recipe and Taiwanese Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice).
Good quality soy sauces are naturally fermented over a long period of time, ideally 2 years or longer. The long fermentation time creates a rich, umami aroma, complexity and depth of flavour.
Generally speaking, the more expensive the soy sauce, the better the quality (just like dried shiitake mushrooms). Cheap soy sauces generally lack complexity and are just very salty in taste.
The picture above shows my favourite soy sauces to use in Chinese cooking. Note, this is not a sponsored recommendation, I just really like these products.
How to make red braised pork belly
Although there are a couple of important technical steps involved, this recipe is actually very straightforward!
Remove impurities and cut the pork belly (the right way!)
To begin, the first thing you've got to do is remove the impurities. This is done by submerging the whole pork belly in a pot of cold water and then bringing it up to a boil. This will take about 10 minutes on high heat.
Once the water starts to boil, white/grey-sh foam will begin to form and float to the top. That's just denatured protein. It's harmless to eat but does look unappealing! Now, transfer the pot to a sink, drain and rinse the pork clean under the tap.
Cut the pork belly into slightly larger than bite-size pieces (they shrink once cooked!) then thoroughly pat every single piece of pork chunk dry with paper towels. More on this below.
Now here is the important part: when cutting the pork belly, make sure to keep the skin, fat and meat layers. This is what makes a hong shao rou so special - the perfect meat to fat ratio! Just like a lu rou fan.
Watch the video just above the recipe card below for exactly how!
Removing impurities will also produce a 'clean' braise (the sauce won't turn out slightly cloudy).
Stir fry in sugar caramel
Now, time to stain the pork belly with that caramel, amber colour. In a large, non-stick pan (or wok if using), melt crystal sugar (substitute: white granulated sugar) with a small amount of oil on medium-low heat. Stirring occasionally until the sugar melts and starts to change colour.
Add in ginger, stir fry for about about 30 seconds then add in the pork belly and spread it out into a single layer. This is so that the pork caramelise evenly. Flip and turn the pork every minute or so for about 5 - 6 minutes on medium-high heat.
Since the fatty pork is being seared on high heat with a sugar caramel, there is a big chance that the sugar and oil will spit once or twice. Therefore, I strongly suggest you keep a bit of distance from the pan at this stage. This is also why it's important to pat the pork belly dry as much as you can before adding to the pan to avoid excessive spitting.
Look at how caramelly and glossy the pork is in the picture above! This is before anything else is added, all just sugar, fat and heat. Take care not to overdo it at this stage to prevent burning the sugar (no one wants a bitter aftertaste).
Now, deglaze with shaoxing wine and reduce for about 1 minute then add in garlic cloves and spring onions. Stir fry for 30 seconds.
Then, add in soy sauces, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon bark and dried chillies. Stir fry for a further 30 seconds.
Transfer the stir fried pork mixture into a heavy-based large pot. I used a cast-iron pot (Dutch oven). Clay pots are also a great option.
Braise until tender soft
Add in hot boiling water (or room temperature), just enough water to cover the pork for braising. I found 2 cups was sufficient, you may need a little more or less depending on the size of the pot used.
At this stage, I move the pot to the smallest hob on my stove for the gentlest simmer. Bring to a boil then turn the heat to the lowest heat possible. Simmer with the lid on for about 1.5 hours.
1.5 hours will yield tender soft meat and fat that completely melts in your mouth. Since it's so tender, care must be taken when scooping the pork out of the pot upon serving (otherwise, they break apart easily!). You can stop the braising after 1 hour and still yield amazing results with the fat a little firmer.
Once you're happy with the pork's doneness, remove the lid, turn the heat up to high and reduce the braising liquid by about half. As the sauce reduces, it'll thicken the sauce and turn glossy (yum)!
Serve with steamed rice and simply prepared Asian greens (eg. bok choy). You'll only need to drizzle a little bit of the rich sauce over rice. Excess sauce will make the rice too salty.
Look at that glossy colour! I am salivating as I type this post up and it's making me hungry! This is a seriously delicious recipe that is a must-try.
Useful tips and tricks
- Use Chinese crystal sugar or white sugar to caramelise the pork. Just like making caramel for a dessert, you don't want to use brown sugar. It burns way too easily and you'll end up with an unpleasant bitter aftertaste.
- Cut the pork belly the right way. Make sure that each piece of pork has a layer of skin, fat and meat. This is key to juicy, deliciousness at every single mouthful!
- Pat the pork dry before frying in caramel. Perhaps the most important tip I cannot stress enough! Water drops in hot caramel and fatty pork is a disaster waiting to happen - it'll make the caramel spit and ouch it does hurt!
- Braise on the lowest heat possible for tender soft bites. I do not recommend using a pressure cooker to speed up the process. For the most delicious, succulent and tender pork with melt-in-your-mouth fat, long and slow is key.
- Use the best quality soy sauce you can afford. This is a good to have but not a deal-breaker. However, quality soy sauces with complexity do make a notable difference to any soy sauce based braises.
Don't be alarmed by the use of dried chillies in this recipe. Its purpose is to add subtle heat and nothing overpowering. On the other hand, if you're a chilli lover, add a couple more in for that extra kick!
Good to know (FAQs)
Tender, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth sweet, salty, savoury pork belly with a rich, aromatic sauce!
Definitely not! Through a slow braising process, the pork belly in this recipe is juicy and tender soft.
Red braised is a classic Chinese cooking technique with soy sauce and sugar as the key flavouring ingredients. It creates a dark red, caramel-like colour on the food and is rich in flavour.
Yes, overcooking the pork belly in this recipe will result in the pork completely falling apart as soon as you try to scoop it out of the pot. Although the flavour will be amazing, you still want the pork to stay intact and melt away in your mouth!
Reheat over the stove or in a microwave with both sauce and pork. Oftentimes, you'll need to add in some water to help loosen the sauce as it can reduce quite quickly when reheating.
Like all braised dishes, hong shao rou gets better with time. You'll find the pork will taste even better the next day, making it the perfect dish to cook a day in advance!
Simply reheat either in a microwave or on the stove. If the sauce seems a little too reduced and thick when reheating, simply add in some water and loosen it up.
This dish keeps well for 3 to 4 days in the fridge and 2 - 6 months in the freezer stored in airtight containers.
Slow cooker (crock-pot) method
To slow braise using a slow cooker, follow the recipe as is up until step 9 in the recipe card below. Then, transfer the pork mixture into the slow cooker, add 2 cups of water then cook on low for 8 to 9 hours. Just before serving, reduce the sauce by about half on high heat in the slow cooker. If browning/sautee function is not available, reduce the sauce on the stove.
I do not recommend using an instant pot (or a pressure cooker) for this recipe as the meat tend to turn out more tough than melt in your mouth soft.
Made this recipe? Let me know your thoughts or questions by dropping a note in the comments section below! I'd love to hear from you. 🙂
If you're active on Instagram, take a picture once you've made this recipe and tag me on Instagram! I'd love to see them!
Happy cooking! - Gen
Red Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou 紅燒肉)
- 1 kg pork belly
- 6 cloves garlic large, peeled
- 5 cm / 2 inches ginger sliced
- 2 spring onions cut into 5cm/2inch lengthwise
- 3 tablespoon crystal sugar or white sugar (note 1)
- 2 tablespoon shaoxing wine substitute: dry sherry
- 1½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oil neutral-tasting
- 3 - 4 dried chilli
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon bark
- 2 bay leaves
Prepare (remove impurities) and cut the pork belly
- Submerge the pork belly in a pot of cold water and bring the pot up to a boil on high heat. This will take about 10 minutes. White/grey scum (impurities) will float to the top.
- Discard the pot of water and rinse the pork belly under the tap, removing any impurities. Pat the pork dry with paper towels.
- With a sharp knife, cut the pork belly into large chunks. See video or step by step images in the post above for reference. (note 2)
- Pat dry the pork belly chunks thoroughly again. (important! note 3)
Braise the pork belly
- Add crystal sugar with oil into a large non-stick pan. Dissolve sugar on low heat, stirring regularly.
- Once the sugar has melted and begun to caramelise, add in ginger. Gently stir for about 30 seconds.
- Add in pork belly and spread it out into a single layer. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Flip the pork belly every minute or so for about 6 minutes.
- By now, the pork should be glossy and caramelised by the sugar. Deglaze the pan with shaoxing wine. Stir occasionally for about 1 minute.
- Add spring onions and whole garlic cloves, stir fry for about 30 seconds. Then, add in soy sauces and spices. Stir fry for 30 seconds.
- Transfer pork belly mixture into a medium-sized heavy-based pot with a lid. I used a cast-iron pot (clay pot is also a great option). Add in 2 cups of water.
- Bring up to a boil then place the lid on and simmer on the lowest heat possible for 1.5 hours (note 4). No need to stir the pot whilst braising.
- To finish off, remove the lid and reduce the sauce by about ½ on high heat. This will take about 3 - 5 minutes.
- Serve with rice and preferred Asian greens!