Red Braised:There’s a lot of ways that you can red-braise stuff.  

Usually, you’re looking at a braise based on soy sauce, but sometimes you’re not.  

Sometimes it starts by frying up a sort of caramel called a tangse, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Often it includes a mix of spices like cinnamon, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorn, but it doesn’t have to.

And while the most well-known red braise is undeniably pork belly,  it definitely doesn’t stop there – you can really red-braise whatever you wanna red braise.

So today we wanted to give you a simple formula for a homestyle sort of red braise that you can use as a framework 
to hongshao pretty much anything.  

We’ll cover how to sort meat by showing you red braised ribs; tofu in the form of red braised tofu, and root vegetables using a red braised potato.

That said, do know that this “formula” is definitely far from the only way to approach things, and that like all things in the kitchen and in life, you can really do whatever the hell you want.

Now, if you ask a lot of people in the anglosphere, they’ll tell you that Chinese red cooking is based on the foundation of a tangse – an oil/sugar mix that gives the braise its titular sort of dark mahogany sheen. 

And traditionally, they’d pretty much be correct.  

But these days, that tangse is thoroughly optional, because of this.

This is dark soy sauce. Back in the day, dark soy, or laochou, would refer to a later stage of the soy sauce fermentation process,  but as food production changed in the 20th century, so did the nature of dark soy.  

These days, dark soy is basically a mediocre grade of soy sauce plus caramel coloring.

So then. The first choice for your red braise is if you want to fry up that caramel, or just use some dark soy.

Because we’ll be going for a lazy weeknight sort of red braise, we opted with the latter, but if you feel strongly on the subject, feel free to fry up your caramel.

Second choice – spices.

Now you’ve got a ton of options here, and like all things today, you can really just use the ones you like.  

Cinnamon and star anise are usually the two basic choices, but you could also add in your choice of clove, bay leaf, Sichuan peppercorn, fennel seed, caoguo, licorice root, or dried chilis.

That said if you’re doing a lazy sort of weeknight red braise?

You could use any of those,  or if you want, just a bit of five-spice powder.

Also hits the same place.

Now. Before cooking, let’s give you a high-level overview of what’s gonna be going on here at first.

Before anything else, you’ll cook your main ingredient – by blanching, if you’re going with meat; or pre-frying if you’re going for 
anything else.

Then, you’ll fry up the base of the red braise with a few aromatics, plus five spices if you’re using the powder, then go in with your ingredient.

Then you’ll start the braise by adding hot water – two cups for meat, a cup for anything else – together with your soy sauces,  sugar, and spices if you’re using them whole.  

At this point, you’ll let it all simmer together covered, for pretty much however long it takes for your stuff to get tender – we like about 45 minutes for meat, and 10 minutes for anything else.

After that, you’ll uncover, swap your flame to high, and let it all rapidly reduce until it’s about a third of the original volume. 

Then just season and thicken to taste, and that’s pretty much it.

So, let’s start off with the meat.

Now, obviously the most famous meat dish ever red braised is red braised pork belly.

And while we did cover that one in the early days of our channel courtesy of our buddy Rob as a guest cook – he actually wanted to share an updated recipe with you guys

So instead, today we decided to go with ribs, which are also another classic.

So. 500 grams of ribs, cleaved across the bone into one-inch pieces – and you’ll probably want a butcher to help you out with that.  

To start off, we’ll toss that in some cool water, bring it up to a boil, and let it blanch for about three minutes – this’ll get out the gunk and leave you with a cleaner tasting braise in the end.  

So just rinse that all right off, and now we can start the braise.

So, to a pot, toss in a tablespoon of oil and go in with your aromatics – here we opted for two cloves of crushed garlic, a half-inch of ginger cut into slices, and the white portion of two scallions. 

Give those a brief fry over a medium flame, then toss in the blanched ribs. With meat, you can give those a fry till they brown just a bit, about five minutes… and fear not if they stick a touch, a little fond in a braise never killed anyone.

Red Braised

Then swirl a tablespoon of liaojiu a.k.a. Shaoxing wine into the pot, and after a brief mix go in with that two cups of hot water.

Bring that all up to a boil then toss in two tablespoons of soy sauce, a half teaspoon of that dark soy sauce, and two teaspoons of sugar.

And because we went with whole spices for this one, we decided to go in with one-star anise, one dried bay leaf, a quarter of a cinnamon stick, and a quarter teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorn, and again, feel free to use what you like.

Then just cover, and let that braise over a low flame for 45 minutes.

45 minutes later now, our ribs were about as tender as we wanted, so now we can swap our flame to high and reduce. We let it go for about ten minutes, or until the sauce was reduced to about a third of its original volume.

At this point, taste, and season.

For this post, we went with another ¼ tsp of salt together with a sprinkle of MSG, but the reduction is not a science so do go by taste. And for the same reason?

While we prepped a slurry of a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of water, only add about a third of it at first.

You don’t want to over-thicken, so definitely eyeball this one needed the whole bowl, but that won’t always be the case.  

Once it’s thickened to your liking, shut off the heat, toss in a drizzle of the toasted same oil, out, and sprinkle over a few sliced 
scallions.

Red braised ribs, done. 

Next up, tofu.

This was just 350 grams of firm tofu that we sliced up into about one-centimeter pieces.

Now, while we do prefer pan-frying tofu a wok, it’s not mandatory or anything – you can also totally fry the tofu in a non-stick skillet. 

Just toss in about a quarter cup of oil, nestle in your tofu pieces, and fry those over a medium-high flame.

Now, I often see a lot of people in the west really go nuts with their tofu pressing it, adding cornstarch coatings tofu doesn’t need any of that stuff – tofu needs patience.

Fry that for about five minutes on one side until nice and crisp, then go another five minutes on the other.

Out, and toss on a paper towel-lined plate. 

Now, you could really stay in that non-stick skillet if you liked, but one classic look for a red braise is to serve in a clay pot and we do have YouTube thumbnails to make.

But, same deal, quick fry of the aromatics, but this time we’ll be tossing in a half teaspoon of five-spice powder instead of adding in those whole spices later – the powder’s a bit less in your face which we personally prefer with tofu.

Then after a quick fry, add in the tofu, Shaoxing wine, quick mix, and add in your cup of water.

Same seasoning mix as before, the same process as before, but you’ll only need about ten minutes for the tofu to absorb that flavor.

Then uncover, reduce, season, and thicken to taste, and sprinkle over that sesame oil and those scallions. Red braised tofu, done.

Finally, potatoes. About 400 grams worth – a slice that into quarters, and cut each quarter into about inch and a half wedges using the Chinese rolling cut – cut it on a bias, twist it to the next flat side, cut it on a bias again working down the potato.

Then once those are all done, toss them in a bowl, give them a good rinse, and let them soak until you’re ready to fry.

Now, I like frying potatoes in a wok because it does give me a bit more room to maneuver, but also feel free to just shallow fry these like we just did.  

Medium-high flame, about a quarter cup of oil, fry the potatoes until completely cooked through, or about ten minutes.

Then, set those aside.

So, same as before, but this time I’m just keeping everything in the wok. Medium flame, in with the aromatics, and once those are fragrant, toss in the five-spice.

Then once that’s fragrant, about 30 seconds, toss in the potatoes and the Shaoxing. 

Same braising liquid as the tofu, cover, and let it go for ten minutes.

Then just reduce, taste, and season. When thickening, for potatoes you do need to be a little careful with the slurry – here I probably only used about a quarter of it in all.  

Toasted sesame, quick mix, out, scallions, and the red braised potatoes are also done.

So when we make this for ourselves, how we will sort the meal is that we make the rice first – of course – and then we’ll start the braise. 

And when it’s braising on top of the stove, we’ll go make some other dishes like blanched vegetables or basic stir-fries and when the braise is done, everything else will be done too.

Everything is under one hour.


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