Hong Shao Yu, literally means “red cooked fish.” This method of cooking, one of the oldest and more familiar ones in Chinese homestyle cooking, describes the way in which meats are slow braised in a broth of dark soy sauce, sugar, cooking wine, and aromatics like star anise, cinnamon, and peppercorn. The smells that fill the kitchen permeate each corner, reminding me at least, of afternoons pacing as a greedily hungry little girl, waiting in anticipation for my dad’s or grandpa’s red-cooked chicken or pork belly. Red cooked anything is meant to be eaten with a big bowl of rice, since the starchy globules soak up all the delicious broth, and serve as vehicles of flavor. Red cooking is as commonplace and nuanced as American style pot roasts or crockpot cooking. It stirs up just as many memories as it does feed a hungry stomach or a lonely spirit.
After hours of cooking, the meat falls off the bone, all tender and infused with spices and soy. The most common proteins used are whole fish, usually freshwater fish, whole chicken (the better if you can find an old rooster), slabs of marbled pork belly, and cubes of tofu and mixed vegetables. You can red cook anything though. I’m sure you can red cook squabs or a porterhouse if you really wanted to. It only describes the method by which meat is cooked.
I used several cuts of wild salmon. Chinese, unlike Americans, prefer salmon well done. I also added slivered onions, very unconventional for this dish, well, because I just felt like eating some onions. Fish takes less time to cook than say, chicken or pork belly which do well with stewing. The broth, as a result, becomes enriched with the proteins, calcium, and collagen of the protein and bones, making red cooked dishes not just comfort food, but also hearty and nutritious food.
Hong Shao Yu – Red Cooked Fish
1 whole freshwater fish, scaled and cleaned
or 4-5 fish filets
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing cooking wine
3-4 Tbsp sugar
1″ piece ginger, sliced in rounds, on the bias
2 stalks scallion, cut into 2″ pieces
3 whole star anise
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorn
flour, for dusting
oil, for frying
1. Dust the fish on either side with a light coating of flour. In a large wok or pan, heat enough oil to cover the bottom. Fry the fish on both sides, about 1-2 minutes each. Remove fish to a plate. Drain most of the remaining oil from the wok.
2. Add the soy sauce, cooking wine, sugar, ginger, scallion and spices to the wok. Add about 1 cup of water to this, let come to a boil, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Place the fish in the broth, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Pick out the pieces of ginger and scallion, and any aromatics. Serve the fish with the broth, along with a bowl of rice.