A Hunan Culinary Detour

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Hunan cuisine is one the Great Eight Traditions of Chinese cuisine and one well known worldwide for its fiery spiciness. As central as chili peppers have become to Hunan cuisine, they did not reach Hunan until late in the 17th century. Once there, the freshness and flavor they brought sold over the population who not only adopted it but brought it over to Sichuan. Centuries later, Mao would claim liking spicy food as a sign of a revolutionary.

Beyond peppers, Hunan cuisine is varied and uses a wide variety of ingredients and cooking methods. I explored several of these but, unfortunately, I neglected to write the recipes around the time I made them and was unable to recall/retrieve them later on. Therefore I decided to revisit the cuisine and cook a single dish - alas, not a particularly spicy one

For my quick sojourn into Hunan cuisine, this is the recipe I made:

Mao Shi Hong Shao Rou

Chairman Mao's Red-Braised Pork

Chairman Mao's Red-Braised Pork

Mao Zedong is known for many things, but in the culinary world he is known, above everything, for this Hunan dish of sweet-and-spicy pork belly. He didn't invent it, but he loved it and is said to have eaten it every day. He thought it made him smarter.

Fortunately for his cooks, this is a pretty easy dish to make. Pork belly is, however, mostly fat, so I see this more as an appetizer than an entree. I couldn't find Mao's favorite recipe, but I combined a few into the one below. We liked the results, but I felt it tasted too much of anise (my husband disagreed).


Chairman Mao's Red-Braised Pork


  • 2 scallions
  • 1 lb pork belly
  • 1 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 oz rock sugar
  • 3/4" ginger root, sliced
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 dried red chilis
  • 1" cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • salt & granulated sugar to taste


Trim the scallions and slice them, separating white and green parts. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the pork belly and par-boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove, let cool and cut into bite-size cubes. Set aside.

Heat the oil over low heat in a wok. Add the rock sugar and cook until it dissolves and becomes a deep brown color. Raise heat to medium and add the ginger slices, white scallion slices and pork cubes. Stir to make sure the pork is covered by the sugar. Stir in the star anise, red chilis and cinnamon stick. Add the Shaoxing wine, soy sauces and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes.

Turn heat up to high, add the green onions and boil until the pork starts to darken and the sauce has reduced. Taste and adjust seasoning/sweetness as needed. Using a slotted spoon remove the pork from the wok and serve.

Adapted from recipes at The Wok of Life

Chinese cuisines I've explored so far: Cantonese, Chengdu, Chinese Muslim, Dai, Fujian, Ghizhou, Haipai, Hakka, Hangzhou, Hongkonese, Huaiyang, Hunan, Imperial China, Indo-Chinese, Jiangsu, Jiangxi

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