Hakka braised pork is a typical dish you get at grandma's dinner table. The delicious gravy is a result of braising Hakka Char Yoke (fried pork which has been first coated in a fermented red tofu batter) in a stew. Many sing praises for the tender and juicy meat. Wood ear mushrooms are added to the stew for the extra crunch in every bite.
Fermented red tofu is also added to the batter. The flour which was added to the batter contributes to thickening of the gravy while giving it a subtle flavour. That makes the dish so special. I cannot help but to flood my plate of rice with the gravy. Every mouthful will make you crave for more.
Why This Recipe?
Fermented red tofu may taste very intense in a dish. If too much is added, it can taste offensive to some. That is why it is important to get the amount right. It can taste bitter as it burns quickly. Additional spices like star anise and cinnamon stick are added during the cooking process. Trust me, they bring the dish to a whole new level.
Most importantly, step 1 shares a kitchen tip using baking soda to get rid of the pork odor and impurities. Do not omit this step if you are sensitive to boar taint. Doing this will also tenderize the meat.
Pork Belly, Pork Ribs or Chicken?
The Hakka community is known for their love for pork. Pork belly is often selected to be used in this braised dish. As the meat is first fried before braising, the dish do end up pretty oily.
For those who enjoy a less greasy version, this recipe works perfectly well using pork ribs. It is less fatty but yet full of flavour.
Moreover, pork ribs add a richer flavour to create an infused broth taste. Not forgetting, bones contain lots of vitamins and nutrients too. This is a win-win situation.
Besides pork, chicken is another option you can choose.
Fermented Red Tofu and Substitute
There is no substitute for fermented red tofu (Nam Yu/ 南乳) a common ingredient in Hakka dishes. They are tofu chunks fermented in red yeast rice produced by fermentation of a yeast on rice. You can find it at Asian grocers, often sold in the canned food/pickle section.
The flavour is rather intense in savouriness with a distinct aroma which cannot be replaced by other fermented food like miso.
What Is Wood Ear Mushroom?
Wood ear mushrooms are thin crinkly fungi which are commonly used in Chinese cooking. They are sold in dried form. Therefore, they need to be hydrated first by soaking them in water. After that, cut off the hard section, if any, as that part of the mushroom is not edible.
Why Is My Braised Pork Tough?
This happens when the pork is cooked at high heat or for a short period. It is best to braise it by simmering for a longer time. Normally, I increased the heat to bring the content to boil and then reduce the heat to the minimum and leave it to simmer. By doing so, the meat will be tender once the dish is done.
Of course, the baking soda that was added in Step 1 helps to tenderize the meat.
Important Tips Before Making Hakka Braised Pork
If the heat is too high during the frying process, the batter might burn quickly resulting in a bitter after taste in the dish. Ensure the heat is about 160 degrees Celsius or test with a droplet of batter. If the batter fizzles and floats immediately, the oil is heated enough for frying.
The fried batter should be fully cooked before braising or it will disintegrate during the cooking process. That would be a mess although it is still edible.
The other tip is for those who dislike the intense flavours of fermented red tofu. In Step 7, omit fermented red tofu and its brine. That way, the gravy will be much more subtle. Anyway, I had prepared the dish this way for those who swear that they dislike the ingredient. Guess what? They loved the dish!
Is Shaoxing Wine Optional?
Yes, you can skip this and opt for sesame oil instead for its fragrance. Substitute with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil in the batter (Step 2) and the gravy (Step 9). However, remember not to add too much or else it will overpower the fermented bean curd flavour.
Can I Freeze This Dish?
Hakka braised pork tastes even better overnight. You may also freeze the dish. I like to prepare a big portion and freeze it for later consumption. To reheat, simply steam the dish and serve with rice if you are craving for something wholesome.