Chairman Mao claypot pork

It’s Chinese New Year tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, feasting on traditional foods that symbolise good luck, health and prosperity for the coming year. I thought I’d cook something Chinese this weekend, so I opted for the ‘Chairman Mao’ or ‘red braised’ pork belly recipe well known in the Hunan province. The pork belly is meant to turn out a deep red in colour – the reason for my choosing this recipe, as red is considered lucky in Chinese culture. I used the wonderful rare breed pork belly from my Farmison meat box.

I was also excited to play with my new claypot that I recently brought back from Hong Kong. Claypot cooking requires a much slower pace, and creates a unique earthy flavour due to the porous material’s ability to retain and release water. In addition, if you cook on a gas fire (unfortunately I have an electric hob) you will find a smokey flavour infuses the food. The real deal would be to cook on a coal or wood fire, like the olden days.

I followed the well known Fuchsia Dunlop recipe, which you can find here. However, the claypot forced me to make some modifications:

  1. As it was my first time cooking with the pot, I kept the heat relatively low throughout for fear of cracking the bottom. Consequently when the pork went in, it didn’t brown as much and has turned out rather pale (and not red – this is probably because the sugar refused to caramelise in the claypot).
  2. Secondly, I more than doubled the cooking time to 2.5 hours, allowing the claypot to really work its magic and break down the belly meat until meltingly soft. This I would definitely recommend.
  3. Thirdly, and not intentionally, I had toyed with the idea of putting a drop of red food colouring in. It was too late when I realised my food colouring was pink, not red, and for about an hour the pork looked like it might turn out to be a ‘Chairman Lau’ special! Luckily all the colouring boiled off…

Despite the complete colour fail – next time I realise I should pre-caramelise the sugar and brown the meat in a wok before adding everything into a claypot – you can’t go wrong with a slow braised pork belly. The braising liquid itself is essentially a simple Chinese formula (wine, sugar, salt) kicked up with the dried chillies so favoured by Hunanese cooking. Try this beautiful melt in the mouth dish if you fancy a change to Cantonese cuisine!


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