It is Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year for the PC 😉 ) in 5 days, and there are probably a bunch of posts about ‘traditional Chinese New Year foods’. My family has never really followed any traditions, and I don’t remember a set menu of dishes we ate every year for New Year. The closest thing to traditional is probably my grandma’s ba bao fan (8 treasure sticky rice). You can almost always count on PoPo to make her KILLER ba bao fan for any large food gathering :d Eep, thinking about makes me want to make it, too…
Anyway, I believe that tradition has it that you should make a whole fish (or is it two?) to eat in celebration for Chinese New Year, because it is supposed to symbolize surplus or prosperity (年年有餘) – nian nian you yu, which more or less means ‘may every year have surplus’. Yu for surplus and yu for fish are homophones, so I think that’s where the fish comes from!
I think that you are supposed to cook a whole fish, so if you are looking for that, might I suggest some lovely steamed fish? But, this braised fish dish is one of my absolute favorites, so maybe you should buck tradition and cut your fish up this year =O Hopefully I don’t get my Chinese card taken away for saying that.
This is one of my favorite everyday dishes my mom used to make (I know, I know- they’re all favorites, aren’t they), and I have fond memories of picking out all the soft pieces of garlic and mixing them up rice, fish, and more sauce. My mom made a lot of variations of hong shao when we were growing up, and this hong shao yu is a way to get hong shao on the table relatively fast. This may not be the prettiest dish out there, but it is proof that it’s what’s on the inside that counts!
I realize that southern California is not like most of the rest of the US, and realize it more and more as I am NOT in southern California, where Chinese supermarkets are indeed, SUPER markets. Anyway, if you have the luxury to be near Chinese/Asian SUPERmarkets and they happen to sell bone-in catfish or other firm white fish pieces, get them! I believe they are the remnants leftover after the fishmongers have butchered (?) the fish into filets and such. They are a great candidate for this dish, because the fish needs to be cut up anyway.
Growing up, I ate a lot of hong shao rou (braised meat)- mostly pork and sometimes beef. Sometimes my mom would make braised pork spare ribs (you can easily replace the pork shoulder with short spare ribs), and those were even better. This is a dish I learned by watching her make it so many times, so I definitely do it by feel. I love this dish because it’s forgiving and rather simple; it just requires some time to wait for the meat to get nice and tender. Please, do yourself a favor and do not use lean meat with this.
Also, the best part is the sauce, so make sure you add some of the sauce on the rice when you eat it!
I like serving this with brown rice and sauteed green veggies. Every time I make it, I might do something different..this recipe is pretty flexible and forgiving!
2 servings + leftovers
-1 tsp canola oil (or any neutral oil)
-1 lb pork butt, belly, or fattier pork meat (some sort of bone-in pork would be great, too! In that case, use more; about 1.25-1.5 lbs)
-1/2 Tbsp to 1 Tbsp sugar, or more to taste
-2 Tbsp Shaoxing (preferable) or rice wine
-3 thin slices of ginger
-1-2 star anise
-3 Tbsp soy sauce
-5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)
Other hearty veggie add-ins (pick one): peeled and chopped to a similar size as the pork
-Winter Bamboo (冬筍)- 1 bamboo
-Potatoes and carrots- 1 1/2 cups
1) Heat oil in a 3 or 4 qt saucepan. While it is heating, slice the pork into 1 1/2 inch dice.
2a) When the heat is hot / shimmering , cook the meat until it is gray or no longer pink/red anywhere. It doesn’t have to be browned. The point of this step is to semi-cook the meat and not end up with cooked bloody shards in the sauce (ew =( )
2b) The slightly healthier alternative: Bring water to a boil, and gently simmer the meat until it is no longer pink/red on the outside. Rinse the meat until the water runs clearish with few impurities (you can fish these out with a strainer).
3) Transfer the meat to a bowl.
4a) If you used the pseudo-browning method, just add some sugar (start with 1/2 Tbsp to start) in the residual oil until the sugar starts to brown.
4b) If you used the healthier method, add the oil now, then the sugar. Stir the sugar over medium high heat until it starts to brown. Immediately add the meat and accumulated juices back into the pan, stirring well.
5) Stir in the wine, ginger, star anise, soy sauce, mushrooms, and enough water to cover everything 3/4 way. Taste the sauce, and add soy sauce or sugar for more savory/sweetness. I like it mainly savory with a hint of sweetness at the end.
6) Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour or hour and half, until the meat is tender and almost falling apart. If you want to add veggies, winter bamboo is hearty enough to add in at the same time as the wine. If using potatoes and carrots, add them when the meat is 3/4 done (after about 40-45 minutes).
7) This dish is easily made in advance and reheated before serving. Feel free to scrape off the fat that rises to the top of the sauce when it cools, if you want to watch your calories!
-I don’t remember my mom and grandma making this dish with shiitake mushrooms, but I like to add them in sometimes. Feel free to omit them if you like, or replace with whole button or cremini mushrooms for something a bit different.
-This dish is best served with a simply sauteed vegetable or salted mustard greens, and lots of rice.
-If you have extra sauce or tiny bits of leftovers, it’s great with thin noodles for a savory breakfast.