Pork Simmered in Soy and Spices (Hongshao Zhurou)

Simmering or braising food in a sealed pot is called men in China, but when soy sauce is the dominant ingredient in the cooking liquid, it becomes hongshao, literally "red cooking." It is a popular cooking method for large cuts of meat, tough cuts like pigs feet, and whole poultry, particularly game birds, which require slow, gentle cooking to achieve gelatinous, melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. Certain dishes cooked by this method have a special symbolism and are served on festive occasions, such as New Year or wedding banquets. The Chinese name of a dish of pork shoulder or pigs feet red-cooked with black moss for longevity and lettuce for prosperity translates as "windfall everywhere," while hongshao zhurou earns the poetic Chinese title "peace and harmony."Brown-sauce cooking is the less evocative description of the richly flavored Shanghai dishes cooked in hongshao style. Popular favorites include freshwater and saltwater eels braised in rich brown sauce and served liberally dusted with white pepper. Wonderfully fragrant dried black mushrooms, fleshy amber abalone mushrooms and eggplant are frequent additions to hongshao dishes. They absorb the rich flavors of the sauce, returning their own intense flavor and textural contributions, as do ginger, crunchy bamboo shoots and chestnuts.
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