The Tsai Family’s Red Roast Pork

This is a favourite dish on the family table of my friend Ming Tsai. Unlike a majority of Chinese-Americans, who are of southern Chinese ancestry, Ming’s family roots are in northern China. Shanghai, like Canton, is a coastal city, but it is much farther north. Along with many other northern Chinese, the family migrated to Taiwan during the troubled times following World War Two.

Red roast pork is a typical Shanghai dish that became quite popular in Taiwan. It is not usually found in Cantonese households, or in restaurants whose fare characterizes the kind of Chinese-American cooking we know in the US. The fleshy and robust pork shoulder is braised for hours until it is meltingly tender. Ask your butcher for a piece with both the bone and rind on the meat. In Ming’s family kitchen, a large piece was customarily cooked for six to eight hours. The resulting sauce is sweet rather than salty. Just before serving, they would cook either bok choy or Chinese leaves in the liquid and then serve the dish with plain white rice, making a nutritionally balanced and delicious family meal.

It is interesting that their original recipe called for white wine, a cooking ingredient that is unusual in Chinese cuisine. The traditional Shaoxing rice wine was until recently quite expensive and hard to obtain. However, here I have followed the Chinese method and used Shaoxing rice wine, which is indeed a wonderful ingredient.

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  • 1 pork shoulder joint with rind and bone, about 2.7–3.6 kg (6–8 lb)
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 5 whole Chinese cinnamon barks or cinnamon sticks
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 3 dried red chillies
  • 4 pieces dried tangerine peel, each about 4 cm ( in) square
  • 900 g (2 lb) Chinese leaves, to garnish

For the Sauce

  • 1 litre ( pints) Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1.5 litres ( pints) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 480 ml (16 fl oz) dark soy sauce
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) light soy sauce
  • 205 g (7 oz) crushed Chinese rock sugar or 100 g ( oz) granulated sugar
  • 10 slices fresh ginger; each 5 cm × 3 mm (2 × ⅛ in)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 6 spring onions
  • tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the pork shoulder. When it comes to the boil again, skim, reduce the heat and simmer gently, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Place the star anise, cinnamon, cumin seeds, dried chillies and tangerine peel in a piece of muslin and tie together tightly. Then make the sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients in a very large pot and bringing the liquid to a simmer. Add the spices tied in the muslin.

Add the blanched pork shoulder and bring back to a simmer, partially covered, skimming all the while. Now cover the pot tightly and continue to simmer gently for 3 hours, until the pork fat and rind are very soft and tender.

Cut the Chinese leaves into 5 cm (2 in) chunks. When the pork is done, remove it to a warm platter. Add the cabbage to the pot and cook over a high heat for 10 minutes, or until it is very tender. Remove the cabbage to a serving platter. Place the pork on top of the cabbage.

Skim off all the fat and reduce the liquid in the pot to a syrup. Serve with the pork.