Mostly you make this with pork belly, but any fatty cut will work; shoulder is my other favorite here. And while there are many renditions of red cooked foods, this particular one requires something fatty and luscious.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil the whole slab of belly for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and set on a cutting board to cool. Save the cooking water if you are not using stock later for this recipe. Cut the meat into largish cubes of about 2 inches across.
Mix the sugar with 3 tablespoons water until the sugar has dissolved. In a wok, heat the syrup over medium heat until begins to turn yellow, about 5 minutes or so. Add the par-cooked pork belly and turn to coat with the syrup mixture. Stir-fry until nicely browned.
Pour in the Shaoxing wine, soy and enough stock or cooking water to cover the meat, and add the star anise, ginger, and chiles. Cover and simmer gently over medium-to-low heat. How long? Until the meat is tender. Typically about 90 minutes, but for a wild hog or bear this could take up to 3 hours. Check after 90 minutes. Taste the stock and if it is getting too strong, remove some of the spices.
If you are adding the garlic to this dish, fry the garlic cloves in lard or peanut oil until they are nicely golden, then remove and set aside.
Once the meat is getting tender – but not quite ready – add a little sugar if you want. The stock should be a bit sweet. Re-cover and cook until the pork is practically falling apart. Remove the meat and set aside. Turn the heat up on the sauce to reduce it. When the stock has reduced to a sauce consistency, return the meat to the pot and add the garlic, if using.
Add the scallions and cilantro and serve at once. I prefer to eat this with simple steamed jasmine rice.