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hzrt8w

The many meanings of Hong Shao 红烧

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The Chinese term 红烧(Hung Siu [Cantonese], or hong2 shao1 [Mandarin]) bears many meanings. My brother-in-law asked me once what is considered a Hong Shao dish. My answer is… well it depends on what it is. Hong Shao pork is different from Hong Shao fish or Hong Shao tofu. All that because this term has been used broadly in many dishes.

The word 红(Hung/Hong) means Red (implied hot), and 烧(Siu/Shao) means burning (implied flaming or cooking or braising). I have seen some translated it as “Red Braised” (which is pretty good, though it puzzles readers where the red (color) comes from).

I picked up the menu from a neighborhood Chinese restaurant, and I can find 5 different dishes the bear the term 红烧 yet that all mean different things.

1. 红烧排骨 Hong Shao Pai Gu [Mandarin] (spareribs): This is an appetizer. The spareribs are barbequed or grilled.

2. 红烧鱼Hong Shao Yu (fish): The fish is first deep-fried, then cooked again (braised) with a sauce made from brown bean sauce, chili bean sauce, garlic and ginger.

3. 红烧豆府 Hong Shao Dou Fu (tofu): Similar to fish, the tofu is first deep-fried, then braised with garlic, green onions, ginger and oyster sauce.

4. 红烧乳 鸽 Hong Shao Ru Ge (young pigeon): The young pigeons are actually deep-fried. They are dry and have crispy skin. No sauce.

5. 红烧肉 Hong Shao Rou (pork): Unlike fish or tofu, the pork is simmered for hours in a broth made with dark soy sauce, five spices, garlic, ginger, leek and sugar.

As you can see now, the term 红烧 may mean barbequed (baked), grilled, deep-fried, braised (brown bean sauce), braised (oyster sauce), or simmered depending on the meat associated with the dish.

Very confusing, huh?


W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"

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Confusing? Yes. Delicious? ABSOLUTELY! After all what's in a name? :biggrin:

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In Shanghainese cuisine, hong shao invariably refers to braising (or simmering) in soy sauce, usually lao (dark) soy sauce. The "hong" refers to the color, not the heat.

Chinese color words (or more precisely our translations of them) are, of course, maddeningly imprecise and never seem to line up with our ROY G. BIV.

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1.  红烧排骨 Hong Shao Pai Gu [Mandarin] (spareribs):  This is an appetizer.  The spareribs are barbequed or grilled.

2.  红烧鱼Hong Shao Yu (fish):  The fish is first deep-fried, then cooked again (braised) with a sauce made from brown bean sauce, chili bean sauce, garlic and ginger.

3.  红烧豆府 Hong Shao Dou Fu (tofu):  Similar to fish, the tofu is first deep-fried, then braised with garlic, green onions, ginger and oyster sauce.

4.  红烧乳 鸽 Hong Shao Ru Ge (young pigeon):  The young pigeons are actually deep-fried.  They are dry and have crispy skin.  No sauce.

5.  红烧肉 Hong Shao Rou (pork):  Unlike fish or tofu, the pork is simmered for hours in a broth made with dark soy sauce, five spices, garlic, ginger, leek and sugar.

Very confusing, huh?

I'll have an order of each, please -- plus a bowl of rice!!

I never noticed Hong Shao labeled for deep/fried pigeon or squab. I wonder if the bird was rubbed with any of the common Hong Shao ingredients, before cooking - like anise, cinnamon soy, etc.

I'll have to keep my eye out for the characters on menus. I always think of it as braising - but now I want to know more about it.

When I think of Hong Shao foods, I always remember an incident that happened about 25 years ago. My DD was living in England -- right out of college and wanted to make HongShao Chicken Wings -- A favorite. So she called by phone, from England to New Jersey, saying she couldn't get any chicken wings in the food stores. What should she do?? I told her to just get a whole chicken and cut it up and adjust the cooking time! At that time, you didn't make casual long distance calls for a recipe question!!!!! LOL!

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I'll have to keep my eye out for  the characters on menus. I always think of it as braising - but now I want to know more about it.

That's interesting, because when I was younger, and hadn't yet been exposed to Chinese foods from all the different regions, I thought of hong shao as something that's dry and grilled or barbequed, like hong shao pai gu. It's possible that I thought of hong shao that way because hong shao pai gu was one of my favorite dishes as a child.

It's interesting that hong shao only has one meaning in Shanghainese cooking. So we now have different meanings because at one time chefs in different regions used the same words to describe methods of preparation that are unique to each region?

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That's interesting, because when I was younger, and hadn't yet been exposed to  Chinese foods from all the different regions, I thought of hong shao as something that's dry and grilled or barbequed, like hong shao pai gu.  It's possible that I thought of hong shao that way because hong shao pai gu was one of my favorite dishes as a child.

It's interesting that hong shao only has one meaning in Shanghainese cooking.  So we now have different meanings because at one time chefs in different regions used the same words to describe methods of preparation that are unique to each region?

Well, my wife makes "hongshao paigu" but in her parlance "paigu" is always a pork chop, not a rib (which she calls xiao paigu), and it's braised in soy sauce. Barbequed ribs in Shanghai are invariably called Wuxi xiao paigu in deference to Wuxi's famous product. (What was that about Beijing, Chengb?)


Edited by Gary Soup (log)

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I never noticed Hong Shao labeled for deep/fried pigeon or squab.  I wonder if the bird was rubbed with any of the common Hong Shao ingredients, before cooking - like anise, cinnamon soy, etc.

Anise, cinnamon (five spice), salt and such are rubbed on the *inside*. The outside, primarily soy and red vinegar. Just like fried chicken (炸子鸡), the bird is first half-cooked (boiled) in a soy/vinegar/five-spice mix, then hung up to dry from a few hours to overnight, then deep-fried to fullycooked before serving. I think the vinegar draws most of the water moisture out of the skin so that when it's deep-fried, the skin will become thin and crispy.


W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"

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Anise, cinnamon (five spice), salt and such are rubbed on the *inside*.  The outside, primarily soy and red vinegar.  Just like fried chicken (炸子鸡), the bird is first half-cooked (boiled) in a soy/vinegar/five-spice mix, then hung up to dry from a few hours to overnight, then deep-fried to fullycooked before serving.  I think the vinegar draws most of the water moisture out of the skin so that when it's deep-fried, the skin will become thin and crispy.

There it is! All the ingredients for 'red cooking' with the final step being the deep-frying to accent the flavors. Sounds wonderful!

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