Pork 9: Three Ways of Preparing Red-Cooked Pork (紅煨肉三法)

持牲單::紅煨肉三法
或用甜醬,或用秋油,或竟不用秋油、甜醬。每肉一斤,用鹽三錢,純酒煨之;亦有用水者,但須熬乾水氣。三種治法皆紅如琉璃,不可加糖炒色。早起鍋則黃,當可則紅,過遲則紅色變紫,而精肉轉硬。常起鍋蓋,則油走而味都在油中矣。大抵割肉雖方,以爛到不見鋒稜,上口而精肉俱化為妙。全以火候為主。諺雲︰「緊火粥,慢火肉。」至哉言乎!

Red-cooked pork on rice. Looks good. (Credit: FotoosVanRobin )

Pork(List of the Ceremonial Animal)::Three Ways of Preparing Red-Cooked Pork
To make red-cooked pork, one can used Tianmian sauce [1], autumn sauce, or neither of these two sauces. For each jin of meat, add three qian of salt, and braise it with wine.[2] If one uses water in cooking the pork, it must be boiled away to reduce the cooking liquid. All three methods of preparation produces pork with colours as bright as red cast glass, [3] thus there is no need to prepare caramel in order to colour it.

If the meat is removed from the pot too early it will only be yellowish, but if is cooked for the right amount of time its colour will become an appetizing red. However, if the pork is cooked or soaked for too long in the cooking liquid, the meat will darken from red to purple, with the leaner meats turning dry and hard. [4] Be aware, if one continuously opens the lid to check the cooking pork, the oils inside the pork would be rendered out of the meat along with its flavours. [5]

The pork for this dish should be cut into rough cubes and braised until their edges and corners have become rounded and soft [6], the lean meat melting in ones mouth. The success of this dish depends wholly on the strength of the cooking heat. A proverb goes: “A burning hot flame for congee, but a slow flame for meat.” What a pertinent saying!

Random notes:
[1]: Translated by some as ” sweet bean sauce”, a type of fermented bean paste made with a large amount of white flour or dough giving it a special sweetness. It’s also the sauce one uses when wrapping and eating Peking duck.

[2]: One jin (斤) is 597g while one qian (錢) is 3.7g

[3]: Liuli (琉璃) is considered one of the precious items in Chinese Buddhism along with gold, silver, giant clam shell, agate, amber, and coral. What is confusing is that depending on the source, luili could either refer to cast glass or a deep blue stone (likely lapis lazuli). In this case, Yuan Mei’s red coloured liuli is clearly not the latter, which means that he was referring to the red cast glass produced in Tibet that was very popular in Ming and Qing Dynasty China.

[4]: Some recipe books suggest that the cooking liquid be strained out from a red-cooked dishes like this and only added back in when serving, all to prevent the meat from being made salty, darkened, and hardened by the sauce.

[5]: See Things to Avoid 11: Rendering Fat (戒走油)

[6]: Basically the meat should be so tender as to barely be able to hold its form.

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3 thoughts on “Pork 9: Three Ways of Preparing Red-Cooked Pork (紅煨肉三法)”

  1. After a successful recreation of the red braised pork (soy sauce + alcohol variant), I tried a variant with pork shoulder butt over pork belly and duck sauce + water over alcohol. Served in a wrapped tortilla with green onions.

    Those who’d been to the northern parts of china will probably (correctly) recognize this as “smoked pork in a tortilla” (which by now has become one of my white whales of nostalgia). You’ll be glad to know that this is a surprisingly close replication of the street-food variant of this dish.

    It’s hard to tell when you’re going too far when you’re trying to adapt these recipes for the modern kitchen (or in my case, nostalgia), but I think this recipe is worth sharing for the sort of people that’d look at the comment section for an english translation of the suiyuan shidan.

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