On one end of the spectrum of Chinese cuisine, we have the crisp, fresh, quickly-cooked stir-fries with which we’re all familiar. On the other end, we have red cooking. This method of braising in soy sauce and rock sugar produces deeply savory dishes with a rich mahogany hue - a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.Properly called hong shao, red cooking is a specialty of Shanghai. The soy sauce produced in this city and surrounding areas is particularly excellent and red cooking shows off its quality.
Meats like duck and pork belly are probably the most common kinds of red-cooked dishes, but fish and tofu can also be used. The soy sauce thickens during cooking while the sugar caramelizes, producing an almost glaze-like sauce. Aromatics like ginger, star anise, and citrus peel are added to the braising liquid for even more depth of flavor in both the sauce and the food being cooked.
If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at Chinese cooking, this method is a good place to start. Braising is an easy and familiar technique, and the ingredients used in red-cooking are easy to find in almost any super market. It’s also a hard technique to do wrong. No matter what, you’ll end up with something tasty!