A week or so ago James and I feasted at the relatively new and exciting Hunanese restaurant, Yipin . We’d been warned that the food would be unlike anything we’d experienced before and yet I still wasn’t quite prepared to be greeted by a menu offering pigs’ intestines, ducks’ tongues and the likes. Obviously we ordered both of the above along with some tasty (if a little salty) smoked fish and most importantly to this post some Chairman Mao Pork (or Hong Shao Rou / Red Braised Pork).
Chairman Mao was from the Hunan province and this dish is said to be one of his favourites. It came to a point where the recipe was standardised and a set of rigid quantities and a strict method were put in place to make the dish, which explains why after quite an extensive recipe search the results were all pretty much exactly the same. I stuck to it as best I could, but found myself going a little off piste towards the end as I was trying to match the best I could the taste I’d experienced in Yipin (it’s all I really had to go on). Plus, I couldn’t quite lay my hands on any of the rare breed pigs of the Ningxiang region so it was never going to be truly authentic.
Easily serves 8
2kg pork belly, skin on
6 tbsp groundnut oil
8 tbsp white sugar
5 tbsp. Shaoxing wine – you can get this in China town or online. Some recipes say you can use sherry to replace it, but I think it makes up a large part of the taste and is really worth getting the real deal.
3 inch piece ginger, skin left on and sliced
2 1/2 star anise
3 dried red chilies
2 pieces cassia bark – you can replace this with cinnamon (it’s similar but a bit more floral) or easily find some in China town.
Light soy sauce, salt and sugar, to taste
4 spring onions, sliced
Cut the pork into four pieces and plunge each piece into a pan of boiling water (one by one) and simmer for about 4 minutes. Once each piece has been blanched and is cool enough to handle, cut into 3cm chunks.
Here comes the bit I found a little strange, stick with it though as it really works. Heat the oil and white sugar in a wok (or a casserole) over a gentle flame until the sugar melts, then raise the heat and stir until the sugar turns a deep caramel brown (this is what will give it it’s colour so don’t be afraid to take it quite far)
Remove the dish from the heat and add the Shaoxing wine and the pork (be careful as it will spit). Add enough water to just cover the pork, along with the ginger, star anise, chilies, and cassia. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes.* I did quite a bit of skimming off the fat while it was cooking as I couldn’t stop myself, I’m not sure that’s very authentic but for my taste it worked.
Toward the end of the cooking time, turn the heat up and reduce the sauce. Season with soy sauce, salt, and a little sugar to taste. I added some more Shaoxing at this point, mainly because the wine smells so good that I couldn’t resist a bit more of it in there and I feel it lifted it a bit, again, probably completely inauthentic.
Serve immediately with rice and some greens, it went very nicely with these edamame which I made by frying off a couple of garlic cloves, a sliced chilli and about 1/2 tsp of chinese five spice in some oil. Then adding frozen edamame and chicken stock. I blended a little cornflour with some water and then added it after a few minutes to thicken. They were a lovely accompaniment.
*This is how long I cooked it for, but I feel it could have done with the same amount of time again for it to become lovely and tender. It was getting there and my friends were hungry so we had to got for it.
If you don’t want to try it yourself, go to Yipin – they have all sorts of bold and wonderful Chinese foods to excite.
Yipin, 70-72 Liverpool Road, Islington