Braising is one of my favourite ways of preparing pork. The flavourful and tender melt in the mouth pork is irresistible. Braising is also a very forgiving way of cooking, it is difficult to go wrong unless you do something really really wrong. And since the cheapest cuts of meat are ideal, so it is economical. In a nutshell braised pork is cheap, easy and tasty.
The ideal cuts of meat are parts of the animal which is used more, such as knuckle or shanks. The muscle fibers are more developed and it is loaded with collagen. When the meat is cooked long and slow the collagen breaks down into gelatin, giving a dish a very nice texture. It almost has the consistency of fat but it is healthy. I think Tony Bourdain referred to collagen as the next fat in one of the ‘no reservations’ episodes.
I prefer the Asian style that uses a variety of sauces. The ‘Western approach’ uses stock and root vegetables. For the Asian approach it is important to ensure that the braising liquid is balanced between sweet, salty and acidity. You should test the braising liquid at the start. However since it is a long and slow cooking process you will get plenty of opportunity to make adjustments along the way. As I said earlier it is a very forgiving method of cooking.
I use a different braising mix each time and the result is always fantastic. My choice of braising liquids depends on what is available in the pantry. I try to include ingredients that brings the following flavours to the party:
- Salty: soya sauce
- Sweet: hoisin sauce, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), oyster sauce, wine, brown sugar, molasses
- Acidity: rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar
- Spicy: 5-spice mix, star anise,
- Other flavours: garlic, paprika,chilli
You can choose one item from each category. Or if you want, you can leave out a category such as acidity if you don’t want the braised pork to be slightly acidic. The bottom line is that even if you leave out all the ingredients and just use plain salted water for braising you will end up with salted tender melt in the mouth pork, and this will be very nice.
I have not given amounts in the recipe below, just proportions. If you are in doubt use more not less. If you end up with too much sauce at the end, great! You can freeze them in ice cube trays and use as flavour enhancer for soups, noodles and other dishes. The sauce will be rich in collagen, meat juices, different flavours and fat. Because of the abundance of the collagen (and fat) the sauce will have a jelly like consistency at room temperature and when warmed it will be thick with a pleasant mouth feel.
Soya sauce – 2 parts
Kecap manis – 2 parts
Hoisin sauce – 1 part
Red wine – 4 parts
Apple cider vinegar – 1 part
Garlic – 1 part
Chinese 5-spice – ½ part
Paprika – ½ part
1. Brown the meat in oil over medium heat
2. Add minced garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, don’t let it turn brown
3. Add all the rest of the ingredients and enough water to just cover the meat
4. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 1½ -2 hours
5. If the amount of braising liquid runs low during cooking, add more water. If there is too much liquid towards simmer uncovered.