What the Chinese name for this dish is, I still have to discover. Some say it is hong ba or hong ma but it appears that hong ba or hong ma is made with cut pieces of pork belly rather than a whole pork hock. In Chinese restaurants in the Philippines, this dish is known as pata tim. Whatever its original Chinese name may be, it is a dish of pork hock braised in a sweet-salty sauce and slow cooked until the meat is literally falling off the bones. Traditionally served with steamed sweet buns (cua pao), it is also eaten with rice.
I have experimented with this dish so many times, even tried cooking it three times (boiling, roasting and steaming), to achieve that melt-in-the-mouth texture but my last attempt seems to be the best. The juices well well sealed in, the pork skin, fat, ligaments and meat were so tender and they were such a joy to eat.
- 1 whole pork hock, about 1.5 kg.
- 1/2 c. of cane (red) vinegar
- 3/4 c. of sugar
- 1 c. of Shao Xing rice wine
- 1/2 c. of dark soy sauce
- 2 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 cloves of garlic, bruised
- a thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced thinly
- 2 shallots, cut in halves
- 1 tbsp. of dry roasted sichuan peppercorns
- a bunch of pak choi, blanched
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced and blanched
- 1 tbsp. of sesame seed oil
To sear the meat, seal in the juices and prevent the formation of scum during braising, place the pork hock in a shallow baking dish lined with non-stick paper. Roast for about 45 minutes in a preheated oven at the highest temperature that your oven allows.
About 10 minutes before the roasting time is up, start making the braising sauce. Pour the vinegar in a pot just large enough to hold the pork hock. Add the sugar. Boil until the sugar melts. Lower the heat and simmer until the mixture starts to turn syrupy. Add the soy sauce and Shao Xing rice wine. Lower the pork into the sauce. Add the bay leaves, sichuan peppers, star anise, garlic, ginger and shallots. If the sauce does not come up to 1/2 of the height of the pork hock, add water. Simmer for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, turning the pork hock over every 30 minutes. Check the liquid after an hour and add more soy sauce if necessary (or salt if you don’t want your braised pork hock to turn too dark). If too little is left, add a cup or so of water. Do not, however, add more water during the last hour of cooking to make sure that the sauce thickens and do not acquire a soupy texture.
When the pork is done, carefully transfer to a serving bowl. Arrange the blanched vegetables around it. Strain the sauce and pour over the pork. Heat the sesame seed oil until smoking and drizzle over the pork.