Sunday, July 5, 2015

In search of 红烧肉..

In Search of

(Hong Shao Rou)

Many of you haven't heard of this traditional Chinese dish and you're not alone.. 
It's very rare to find it on a restaurant menu here in the states as it is usually 
a treat reserved for family gatherings (aka something grandma makes). 
But, it is well worth the search if you're willing to look for it!

Hong Shao Rou (红烧肉) or red cooked (braised) pork is a classic entree from mainland China. It's prepared using pork belly and a combination of ginger, garlic, aromatic spices, chili peppers, sugar, light and dark soy, and rice wine. The pork belly is cooked until the fat and skin are gelatinous and melt easily in the mouth, while the sauce is usually thick, sweet and fairly sticky.

As the English name suggests, the melt in the mouth texture is formed as a result of a long braising process, using relatively little liquid. A little juice is good though especially when served over rice or with Bao (buns) to soak up the goodness!

Hong Shao Rou made for me by Dana Tang!

Since it is such a popular dish (purportedly Chairman Mao's favorite) across China and especially in Shanghai it does vary slightly from place to place in the basic preparation, presentation, or even name! The most common to look for are Hong Shao Rou, Hongshao Rou, Hungshao Rou, Mao Pork Belly, Braised Pork Belly, or any combination herein. If all else fails look for 红烧肉 especially if some or all of the menu is written in Chinese.

Ones that are similar, but not the same are Twice Cooked Pork, Waipo Kaorou aka "Grandma's Meat", Twice Cooked Pork Belly, Dong Po Pork, Mei Cei Kou Rou (steamed pork belly with pickled mustard greens), Braised Pork Belly with Arrowroot, and Cantonese Roast Pork Belly. There are similar dishes across Asia- In Taiwan they have a pork belly sandwich called "Gao Bao" that is basically Hong Shao Rou in a steamed bun. In Japan their own version is called Kakuni, in Malaysia it's Tau Yew Bak, and in Indonesia theirs is named Babi Kecap. If you do happen to order any one of these don't fret- they are all delicious and equally as good!

Here are some of examples of the "pretenders" 
that can commonly be found and they are ALL worth a try!

Twice Cooked Pork at Hong Kong BBQ in Denver

Dong Po Pork at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe in NYC

Twice Cooked Pork Belly at Chef Liu's Authentic Chinese Cuisine
(unfortunately now permanently closed) in Aurora, CO

"Chairman Bao" (Gao Bao) at Baohaus in NYC

Pork Belly with Pickled Mustard Greens (Mei Cei Kou Rou) 
at China Taipei in Centennial, CO

It is indeed an illusive dish that is gaining in popularity. Reportedly in areas of the Pacific Northwest (where I'm originally from- go figure..) it is being presented at trendy restaurants in one form or another- especially in the Portland area. As for Colorado it is still very tough to seek out. Making it even more difficult my beloved go-to "real-deal" Chinese restaurant Chef Liu's Authentic Chinese Cuisine has closed forever leaving a gaping hole in the Asian food scene in Denver. It was one of the best Chinese restaurants I've ever been to! Out of all the places I've eaten in the search for Hong Shao Rou it was the one establishment anywhere that had nearly every type of Chinese-style preparation of pork belly on the menu. Truly a shame..

"Braised Pork Belly" (Hong Shao Rou) at Chef Liu's, one of the many places 
you have to look for 红烧肉 on the untranslated "secret" Chinese menu!

Don't fret though Denver-ites! There is still one place you can get the real thing though. As i've mentioned before the best feature of the Yelp App is that you can do a search for specific food items! It pulls from posted menu's, reviews, and photo descriptions so you will need to scroll through the pictures to see if it is really the thing you're looking for and what it might be called on their menu.. The next best feature? You can bookmark the restaurant in the app and save it for later for quick access! 

Anyway, in doing this I stumbled across JJ's Chinese Seafood Restaurant! It's not much to look at from the outside (or even from the inside) especially at night, but the food here is great if for nothing else than the Hong Shao Rou and the Cumin Ribs.. Always get the ribs..

"Braised Pork Hometown Style" or 家乡红烧肉 on the "Chef's Special" Menu
 at JJ's Chinese Seafood Restaurant (on Alameda) in Denver. 
Notice the last three characters are Hong Shao Rou.

Even though we do serve a lot of pork belly (bacon) it probably won't make it on the menu at The Little Diner (or anywhere here in Vail, CO in the near future) as its too expensive and time consuming for most establishments. Worst case scenario if you can't find it? No problem! Just make it yourself like I do. It's fairly easy to do, but the hardest part may be finding actual pork belly and a few of the ingredients- especially in a rural area. Most gourmet groceries and international markets will have what your looking for. I have found many great recipe's- [here], [here], [here], [here], and [here].

I'm sure by now you're wondering where the best one I've had was? Well, on my last trip to NY  I really made a concerted effort to find the "real thing" using the aforementioned Yelp technique. After three trips into Chinatown and two trips into Flushing to about 9 different restaurants and I finally found it! The most delicious (so far) was discovered at Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan right on Main St. in Flushing (Queens), NY. Also, be sure to get the Cumin Ribs here- they are worth the trip too! ;)

Behold! Revel in it's awesomeness! The BEST Hong Shao Rou to date.
"Braised Pork, Mao's Style" at Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan in Flushing.

Happy Hunting!