Although I've watched my MIL 'red cook' many pork dishes, I can't quite get them as good as her. Other than not being Shanghainese, who are the best at hung shao ('red cooking', slow braising of meat with soy sauces and spices), I also lack patience. MIL's hung shao yuen ti ('red cooked' pork hock) is not braised but steamed and anyone who has cooked a whole pork hock knows that it takes about 2 hours to tenderize the meat by braising and upto 4 hours by steaming. The hock has to be so tender that it jiggles on the serving plate but still remains intact. This is a dish that is is served during special occasions such as birthday dinners or festivals.
We rarely order this dish in our local restaurants because the few times that we did, we were disappointed. None of them came half as close to MIL's yuen ti. Two things make a fantastic yuen ti: 1) the seasoning ingredients used, the most crucial being the right brands of soy sauces 2) the way the yuen ti is cooked. Many restaurants cook their yuen ti in pressure cookers which don't give the same flavor as yuen ti braised or steamed slowly. Slow cooking such as braising and steaming allow the soy sauces and spices to be imbibed by the pork. Steaming the yuen ti not only gets the pork hock all soft and tasty, it also leaves the skin smooth. Braising the hock can cause damage to the skin from the frequent stirring needed to prevent it from getting scorched and stuck to the pot. The hock also risks getting cut up during stirring especially when it becomes tender. Another difference is that MIL marinades the hocks for at least three days prior to cooking. Which restaurant will do that? Oh, make it three: experience in cooking yuen ti will be the most important criteria for making not a good yuen ti but an extraordinarily fantastic yuen ti.
This hung shao yuan ti was made by my MIL for CNY in February and frozen until now. Because it takes so much time and work to cook yuen ti, MIL makes about 4 to 6 each time and freezes the leftovers. Her strict instructions on re-heating the yuen ti was to steam it until it is heated through and thicken the sauce by reducing it over fire. Guess what I did. Yup, don't tell her, I reheated it by boiling. I reduced the sauce but also used a corn starch water mixture so that I get more sauce.
This is a dish for those who don't mind stirring or checking the steamer half a day in the kitchen. Me, I'd rather play the good DIL and get my yuen ti from my MIL.
It rained yesterday for the first time in months as I harvested the last crop of kai lan for the hung shao yuen ti. Rain means I can grow more veg again.
Hung Shao Yuen Ti
2 pork hocks, deboned
2-3 thin pieces ginger, bruised or crushed with a cleaver
2 star anise
1 T minced garlic
1 T light soy sauce
4 T dark soy sauce*
1 t salt
2 T castor sugar
4-5 T shao xin wine
some white pepper
*The best yuen ti MIL made was with a dark soy sauce from Singapore, "Da Wah" brand. The amount of ingredients here are estimates only because MIL cooked yuen ti in bulk. The taste can be adjusted later.
1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a deep bowl (big enough to hold the two hocks) until the sugar has dissolved. Place the hocks inside and coat with the marinade sauce. Cover bowl with cling wrap and leave in fridge for at least 3 days. Once in a while, turn the hocks to make sure they get well marinaded.
2. Heat up the steamer. At this point, MIL removes the ginger and anise but I think it's okay to leave them in. Steam the pork with the marinade sauce until the hocks are tender, about 3-4 hours.
When cool, the hocks can be frozen.
To serve, you can either re-steam the hocks or cook it gently in a pot. I prefer the later because the pork skin will go gloriously darker and also at this point, I season the sauce to taste with more sugar or salt or wine. Remove the hock to a deep serving plate with a bed of blanched greens such as kai lan or choy sum. Turn up the heat and reduce the sauce until it is thickened**. Pour over the hocks. Serve hot with plenty of rice. USe kitchen scissors to snip the hock into smaller pieces.
**If you want more sauce or if the sauce is too salty, add a bit of water to the reduced sauce and thicken with a corn starch and water mixture.