Red Braised Pork Belly 紅燒肉

Let's talk about the weather - it's not something we discuss much in Singapore. There's no spring season, no romantic autumn, no freezing winter. Just summer. It's perpetually 12 months of hot blazing heat year in year out. But for the past week, it had been different. Weather had been on everybody's agenda. For the past week, we had been poking our heads out of their window every morning. Buildings set in a blurry haze. To say that Singapore is smoggy would be an understatement. We had thick haze permeating the air. Making the heat even worse. The air was chokingly heavy, the city seems to be perpetually in the clouds at ground levels. The streets were quieter. The haze wiped the colors away leaving the city with shades of grey.  Everyone seems to be wearing some mask of that sort rushing from place to place with hastened pace.

He texted me to wear a mask. I texted him to go straight home after work. I am cooking Chinese.
He asked me while helping me to set the dinner table if Shanghai's haze is as bad. The haze that hung over Shanghai? I was lost for a second. Oh, yeah, it's like this. But that fact that it was permanent and nobody actually were bothered by it anymore. It's consider joy and luck to see clouds and blue skies. He gave me a disbelieving face. Saying how awful to live in a city like that. He wouldn't want to move there. 
Over dinner that night. He popped one pork belly into his mouth. He asked why is it sweet? and smittenly went on telling me his mom's version had Jin Jiang vinegar (a chinese type of black vinegar), implying me that I might have missed out vinegar. Ha! I replied jokingly. "What do you know kiddo?" Your mom's version is tang chu (A sweet sour type of sauce that have vinegar to balance the sweetness). This one is hong shao (red braised) Shanghainese style which meant to be sweet. He gobble the cubes of wobbly glistening belly one after another, piling on top of his steaming rice. When the plate was empty, he stood up going back to the kitchen wanting a second helping. Stopping him on his track, I said, "It's all out here, babe!" and came back with a sad frown. "Can you make more next time?" Who wouldn't fall in love with melting succulent pork fat and caramel? I won him over a cube at a time.
 A grander version one year ago: Shanghai Red Cooked Pork Hock 紅燒蹄髈

1 strip pork belly (300-400g)

4-5 Star anise
2-3 Cinnamon stick
6 Cloves
6 ginger thick slices
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed (optional)

200g rock sugar
2 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
½ tablespoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup huang jiu (yellow wine) or shaoxing wine
1000 mL water or enough to cover.

Set whole pork belly on a steamer and steam for an hour. Remove and rinse till cool. Cut into 1½ inch cubes.
Next, in a wok, add the rock sugar and about half cup of water. Let the sugar syrup simmer until it turns into a thick syrup (with a tint of yellow). Now add the pork cubes and coat it with syrup. Continue cooking until the sugar is slightly caramelized. Remove pork with all the syrup and set aside.

Clean the wok, heat the oil and add the ginger slices. Sauté for about 1 minute on medium heat. then add the aromatics. Stir about until the aromatic release it's fragrance, then add the light and dark soy, sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce and shaoxing wine all at once. Toss the pork and all its syrup into the wok. Let the sauce coat the meat and add the water to cover. Bring to boil, then turn down the heat to a low-simmer stirring occasionally. Simmer covered with lid until meat is tender approximately 2 hours). Adding more water if the sauce gets too dry or thick.

When the pork is tender, fish out and remove all the spices. Let the sauce reduce on medium high heat until the sauce caramelize into a thick sticky syrup.

Serve with stir fried bok choy and jasmine rice.

- till next post, ss. 

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