The Mao family’s Red-braised Pork is famous in Chinese cuisine. So popular, that it’s often just called Mao’s Meat. It is supposed to have been Chairman Mao’s favorite food – to the extent that it is reported he ate two bowls of this rich braise every day to maintain his sharp intellect. Chinese gastronomes seem to make a medical virtue out of every sort of food and Mao’s Meat is no exception. It is said to have healthful benefits beyond common sense. The people of Mao’s home village in Hunan province recommend red-braised pork as a health food; men eat it to build their brains and ladies to make themselves more beautiful. This dish is so integral to the myth and memory of Chairman Mao that the Chinese government has designated official guidelines to restaurants instructing them on how to properly cook Mao’s favorite food if they are claiming to serve authentic Hunan cuisine.
We ate it once on our recent trip to China and I thought it was great. It was not a hit with everyone, however. For some the luxuriousness of the dish was just plain fatty. I, however, agree with the Chairman; I could eat a bowl of this richly flavored, unctuous dish everyday. I’d probably weigh 300 pounds and die of a heart attack but I’d die happy. Eating it once a year or once in a lifetime is probably safer. Although I was able to get close to the flavor of what I tasted in China, I failed to achieve the burnished clinging sauciness that I remember. Maybe next time.
With Mao’s Meat we also had the standard range of dishes; lots of rice, soup, several types of braised or stir-fried vegetables (some with chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu) – all more than a home cook could muster for a simple dinner for two. However, one of the dishes that, in my mind, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Mao’s Meat was Vinegared Potato Slivers (essentially Stir-fried Shoestring Potatoes). First blanched and then quickly stir-fried with chilies and green onions and sauced with a shot of vinegar, these potatoes were difficult to identify on first taste. They’re lightly cooked to the point of being slightly crunchy and come off as undercooked by most Western standards. But unlike the ubiquitous potato as a main starch in Western cuisine, the Chinese treat them as a side vegetable.
Mao’s Meat (Mao Family’s Red-braised Pork)
hong shao rou
1# Pork Belly (skin optional – mine didn’t have skin)
2 Tbs. peanut or grape seed oil
2 Tbs. white sugar
1 Tbs. Shaoxing wine or Japanese sake
3/4″ slice of fresh ginger, skin on
1 Star Anise
2 dried red chilies
small piece (about 1″ long) cinnamon stick or cassia bark
Light Soy sauce
A few pieces of scallion greens
Put the pork belly into a pot of boiling water and simmer 3 – 4 minutes. Remove, cool and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1″ x 1″)
Heat oil and sugar in a wok over low flame until the sugar melts. Once melted, turn up the heat and stir until the sugar has a caramel brown color. Add the pork pieces and wine (or sake). Add enough water to cover the pork. Add the ginger, star anise, chilies and cinnamon stick. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
Towards the end of the cooking time, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce. Season with Soy sauce to taste. Add a little more sugar if desired. Add the scallions just before serving.
A note on Pork Belly. This is an ingredient that is supposed to be peasant food, meaning cheap but lately it’s become a hot item in the food world. If you live in New York or L.A. you can probably find it in your local market. In Wisconsin, where we happen to grow pigs, it’s hard to find. Pork belly is essentially the cut of pork that it is turned into bacon by curing and smoking it. I was able to get mine from a pork producer at my local farmers market by ordering it well in advance of their butchering date. If you wait to ask for pork belly after the pigs have been butchered, it will be too late as all of the belly will already have been turned into bacon. If you can’t find pork belly, don’t use bacon – the smokiness will radically change the dish. A nice fatty shoulder might work but the texture of the fatty parts will be different.
Potato Slivers with Vinegar
cu liu to dou si
2 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 or 2 Fresh Red Chilies, seeded, thinly sliced
3 scallions, green parts only, cut lengthwise into thin shreds
3 Tbs. Rice vinegar or white vinegar
3 Tbs. Peanut or Grape seed oil
Cut or shred the potatoes into matchstick shapes. Soak in cold salted water until ready to start cooking.
Drain the potatoes and blanch in boiling water just until the water returns to the boil. Drain and set aside.
Add the oil to a very hot wok and swirl around to coat the pan. Add the potatoes and chili slivers and stir-fry for a few minutes. Do not overcook. Add the vinegar and continue to stir-fry a few minutes more, until the potatoes are cooked but still slightly crunchy. Add the scallion shreds and mix until you can smell their aroma. Serve hot or lukewarm.
Both of the above recipes come from the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchshia Dunlop via any number of foodie websites.