It was said that the dish was originally created by a great Chinese poet in the 11th century called Su Shi. Whether it is true I cannot tell, but he certainly helped making the dish famous and popular through China. Su Shi was a scholar-official in Song Dynasty. He was constantly on exile due to his disagreement with the emperor or premiers. At his time, the pork was poor people’s food and very cheep. The officials and rich people thought pigs dirty so rarely ate the meat. Since he was on exile and had no privilege nor money for the lamb, he had no way but ate the pork. He recorded his recipe in a poem which was circulated around and passed on to today. In the places where he had lived, many people may not know his name or his poems but definitely heard the dish.
How to cook the braised pork then? Like other cuisines, the first step is to choose the proper ingredients. Almost all recipes will tell you that for a genuine braised pork, the pork belly with skin should be used. For people who don’t like fat or skin, the neck meat or the spareribs meat (without bones) are good alternatives. If you can get Iberian pork, that would be the best!
Now comes to the preparation. Cut the meat into 3-4cm squares and soak them in cold water with some Chinese cooking wine for about 20 minutes. Remove the pork from the water and put it into a clay pot, add again the cold water, 2-3 spoon cooking wine, 1 tea spoon vinegar (don’t use white vinegar!) and boil for 10 minutes. During this period remove any froth which comes out of boiling. Then turn the heat to medium level, cover the port and keep boiling for another 20 minutes. Then lower the heat at a gentle simmer level to braise for at least one hour. Now move everything to an iron wok and continue cooking. It’s the time to add soy sauce. Use the medium-low heat to cook for 30 - 40 minutes. When the sauce gets thickening, add the sugar, keep cooking in high heat until the sauce becomes very dense and wraps each square of the pork. It’s done!
Some small tips:
1. There are several Chinese cooking wines. Shaoxing Yellow Wine suits the braised pork best. If you can get “Hua Diao” wine, that’s even better as it will add richer flavor to the dish.
2. You can use regular sugar. But it’s better to best the rock sugar because it is sweeter, purer and transparent.
3. I would suggest to mix the dark (for the color) and light soy sauce (for the savory). The ratio depends on the saltiness you prefer.
4. It’s the best to eat the braised pork with steamed rice or steamed bun!