Red-braised pork, in which chunks of pork belly are simmered with soy sauce, rice wine and sugar, is beloved across China, and there are many regional variations. In Jiangnan, and especially Shanghai, they like theirs dark, sleek and seductively sweet. The pork is only cooked for about an hour in total, so the meat and fat retain a little spring in their step. A secondary ingredient is often added, such as bamboo shoot, deep-fried tofu, cuttlefish, salted fish or, as in this recipe, hard-boiled eggs. The dish is a perfect accompaniment to plain white rice; I do recommend that you serve it also with something light and refreshing, such as stir-fried greens.
At the Dragon Well Manor restaurant in Hangzhou, they call this dish Motherly Love Pork because of an old local story. Once upon a time, they say, there was a woman whose son had traveled to Beijing to sit the imperial civil service examinations. Eagerly awaiting his return, she cooked up his favorite dish, a slow-simmered stew pork and eggs. But the road was long and the traveling uncertain, so her son didn't arrive when expected, and she took the pot off the stove and went to bed. The next day, she warmed up the stew and waited again for him, but he didn't arrive. By the time her son actually reached home on the third day, the stew had been heated up three times, and the meat was inconceivably tender and unctuous, the sauce dark and profound.
Hard-boil the eggs in a pan of boiling water, then cool and shell them. In each egg, make 6 - 8 shallow slashes lengthways to allow the flavors of the stew to enter. Smack the ginger and spring onion gently with the flat side of a Chinese cleaver or a rolling pin to loosen their fibers.
Put the pork in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil over a high flame and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse it under the cold tap. When cool enough to handle, cut the meat through the skin into 1 - 1 1/2-in (2-3cm) cubes (if your piece of belly is thick, you may want to cut each piece in half so they end up more cube-like).
Heat the oil in a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the ginger, spring onion, star anise and cassia and stir-fry briefly until they smell wonderful. Add the pork and fry for another 1 - 2 minutes until the meat is faintly golden and some of the oil is running out of the fat. Splash the Shaoxing wine around the edges of the pan. Add the hard-boiled eggs and stock or hot water, along with the light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce and the sugar. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour into a pot or a bowl, allow to cool, then chill overnight. In the morning, remove the layer of pale fat that has settled on the surface. Tip the meat and jellied liquid back into a wok, reheat gently, then boil over a high flame to reduce the sauce, stirring constantly. Remove and discard the ginger, spring onion and whole spices. After 10 - 15 minutes, when the liquid has reduced by about half, stir in the remaining dark soy sauce.
Shortly before you wish to serve, bring to the boil over a high flame and reduce the sauce to about an inch of dark, sleek gravy. Turn out into a serving dish. Then go and welcome your son back from his imperial civil service examinations!
If you have any leftovers - unlikely, in my experience - you can reheat them with a little water and some dried bamboo shoot, winter melon, tofu knots, deep-fried tofu puffs or radishes. In fact, you might wish, like some of my Chinese friends, to red-braise odd scraps of fatty pork just to cook vegetables, because it makes them so delicious.
Shanghai red-braised pork
Omit the eggs and increase the amount of pork to 1kg. Use only 1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 1/2 tbsp plus 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 2 1/2 tbsp sugar and 2 cups (500ml) hot water.