Red-Cooked Fresh Ham

Locale: China []

Source: Irene Kuo, The Key to Chinese Cooking [p. 324]

Serves: 8


  • fresh ham, shank end, about 7.5 lbs.
  • 2 tbs oil
  • 6 quarter-sized slices ginger
  • 4 scallions, cut in half


  • 1 c dark soy sauce
  • 0.75 c Chinese wine
  • 5 c boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4-5 tbs crushed rock sugar
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken in two


  1. Heat large heavy pot until hot. Add oil, swirl to cover bottom and sides of pot, and heat for 30 seconds. Toss in ginger and scallions, press into oil, then add ham and sear it, turning, until surface has whitened.

  2. Add dark soy sauce and 1/4 c dry sherry. Turn ham from side to side to color it all over. Add boiling water, then scatter in salt, 4 tbs rock sugar, star anise, and cinnamon sticks. Stir until liquid boils again, cover, and adjust heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Simmer 5 hours, turning and basting meat every hour.

  3. Add another 1/2 c sherry, and 1 tbs rock sugar (or to taste). Cover and simmer 30 minutes more, by which time the ham should be glistening and ready to fall apart. Raise heat to bring the sauce to a gentle bubble, and baste meat continuously for 5 minutes to deepen the color of the meat and thicken the sauce.

  4. Carefully lift meat from pot onto serving dish. Skim fat from sauce, bring to a boil, then pour it over the meat, discarding ginger, scallions, star anise and cinnamon sticks. Serve remaining sauce on side.


  1. Fresh ham is hard to find. First time I tried this was with a store-bought cooked ham. My father complimented me on the best ham he'd ever tasted, but I found it bitter around the edges. The second time was with a small (2.5 lb.) fresh ham from a Vietnamese grocery store. I cooked it about 3 hours, and got pretty much the result that I expected, except that the meat tasted more like pork loin than ham -- i.e., no smoke taste, white rather than pink flesh (no sodium nitrite preservative). Third time was another small fresh boneless ham. I halved the recipe (except I may have overloaded the sugar and spices), but this time cooked it the full time. Delicious.

  2. I've substituted brown sugar for rock sugar, with a little palm sugar thrown in for good measure. Results were superb. I suspect you can use any kind of sugar, with brown sugar a second (or maybe first) choice.

  3. I also suspect you can use any large chunk of pork. Kuo has almost the same recipe for Red-Cooked Cubes of Pork -- cut the meat into 1.5 inch cubes, reduce the cooking time to 1.5 hours, add some bamboo shoots.


  1. 2008-11-21: