My first meeting with foreign food was a Chinese restaurant in Harstad in the latter part of the 1980s. It was a world of red paper lanterns, beef chop suey, sticky rice and deep fried bananas. Brown gravy, boiled fish and caramel custard now had a serious rival. When I tasted Chinese food for the first time I went to college. When I had my first Tex-Mex I was a student. I was marked for life by sweet and sour sauce and a fried burrito named chimichanga. A decade later I would with pride and wonder recreate the magic in my own kitchen. What a wonder it was that ketchup and vinegear could bring back the Chinese flavour.
The Chinese kitchen is not one kitchen, but many. Still, some ingredients are more often found in Chinese dishes: Garlic, ginger, chili, spring onion and soy sauce. Add to that the liquorice-flavour of star anise. A dish that soaks up all these flavours, except garlic, is a dish from Hunan, the home province of Mao. It is said to be his favorite dish, hence it is often called Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork.
Red-braised pork, Mao shi hong shao rou, is one of the lovliest and easiest Chinese dishes. It is pork in a sauce with soy and Christmas spices. The original is made with slow-cooked pork belly, but I use leftover pork from Christmas Eve. For Christmas Eve I always make roasted pork belly with sweet and sour cabbage, a traditional Norwegian Christmas dish.
Red-braised pork (makes 4)
The recipe is based on Gordon Ramsey’s World Kitchen and contains more soy sauce than the original. He uses both light and dark soy sauce and boils the meat in the soy sauce, instead of adding it towards the end, as in the original recipe. Light soy sauce is the soy sauce we all kno;, it is saltier than dark soy sauce, which is thicker and sweeter and resembles ketchap manis. If you cannot find dark soy sauce, simply add 1 tbsp extra sugar and 100 ml extra water.
4 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp light soy sauce
6 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 cm knob of fresch ginger, peeled and sliced
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2–3 dried chilis (or fresh), split
400 ml water
about 600–800 g leftover pork belly
a bunch of spring onions, sliced
1. Start by melting the sugar to make caramel. Add the rest of the ingredients except the pork and spring onions. Boil for 45 minutes until the sauce has reduced into a thin syrup.
2. Cut the pork belly into squares and add to the sauce. Continue boiling for 5–10 minutes. Increase the temperature if the sauce is too thin. The sauce is finished when it is thick enough to cling to the pork but still has a running consistency.
3. Add finely sliced spring onions and serve with sticky rice.