Chinese BBQ pork – char siu
Char siu, or char siew (fork roast: 叉燒), is sometimes referred to as BBQ or roast pork. It’s a Cantonese dish, and is probably a familiar sight, as the red meat hanging along side the duck in the window of Chinese restaurants. It’s savory, slightly spiced, and slightly sweet. Because it’s so easy to buy good char siu, you might not want to bother making your own, to use in noodle soup, or char siu bao (steamed buns) — or just to eat with hoisin sauce. But it turns out, it’s easy to make, and the char siu you make at home can be more delicious than the restaurant version. And you can control the sweetness — and red food colouring — to suit yourself! We recently made this, for a big char siu bao making party. It was amazing.
The basic method for making char siu couldn’t be easier: marinate overnight, stick it in the oven for 40 minutes, and quickly glaze it. The only thing about the recipe that might be difficult, is sourcing some of the ingredients. But this isn’t a problem if you have access to one of the thirty 99 Ranch Markets, or to Shun Fat. Two ingredients in particular were new to us. Red fermented tofu is evidently the original source of the red color. This turns out to be pretty much the same as the chili-fermented bean curd (i.e. like delicious cheese). To use the tofu, mash it together with the bright red (mostly bacteria) sauce it’s floating in.
The rose-scented sorghum baiju, mei kuei lu chiew, was also new. Distilled sorghum liquor, it’s disgusting to drink straight. It’s like nail polish remover. But it leaves a surprisingly sweet and delicate scent on food when cooked. You could probably leave these out of the marinade, but they definitely add to the flavour.
The third ingredient that I’ll comment on is the hoisin sauce. Commercial varieties are not much more than starch, sugar, and soy sauce with a little bit of five spice. I’d suggest making homemade hoisin sauce, or just adding those ingredients to the marinade. Black beans make everything better.
Finally, use a fatty cut of meat. Pork butt or shoulder are perfect, or, if you want to be decadent, use belly. Do not use loin. Unless you are very quick, it will almost certainly overcook and be dry.
This recipe was modified from the recipe at Yi Reservation (and then tripled).
– 4lb (1.5kg) pork butt
– 4 tbsp (60ml) soy sauce
– 2 tbsp (30ml) dark soy sauce
– 3 tbsp (45ml) ground bean sauce
– 3 tbsp (45ml) red fermented tofu (mashed)
– 3 tbsp (45ml) oyster sauce
– 4 tbsp (60ml) hoisin sauce
– 1/2 cup (120ml) rice wine, or rose-scented baiju
– 2 tbsp (30ml) sugar
– 2 tsp (10 ml) five spice powder
– 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, or mashed
– 4 tbsp (30ml) honey
– 2 tbsp (15ml) brown sugar
– 2 tbsp (15ml) water
Take the pork, and slice it across the grain into 2-inch thick (5cm) slabs. This ensures that the marinade will penetrate and flavour the meat. Try to keep the thickness relatively uniform. Note, the nice mix of fat, connective tissue, and meat. This is ideal for roasting, and will be tender — not dry.
Take all the marinade ingredients, and mix them together. You can puree them if you like — it will save the effort of mashing the pastes, and chopping the garlic. Taste. It will almost certainly be salty. It should taste a little saltier than is completely pleasant (after all, it needs to soak into the meat). If not, add a couple of teaspoons of salt.
Throw the meat into a ziploc bag, or a bowl, with the marinade. Make sure all the meat has been coated. Put it in the fridge to marinate overnight (or leave it to sit out for at least a few hours before cooking).
You can do this on a barbecue, or in the oven. If in the oven, preheat to 350F (175C). Place the pork on a grill over a tray (you don’t want the meat sitting right on the tray. If you’re smart, you’ll line the tray with foil to avoid having to chisel sugary black carbon off it, later.
Cook the meat for about 20 minutes on one side, flip it, and do it for another 20 minutes. If the meat isn’t done (stick a knife in a thick part, and see if the juice runs clear, not red) leave it in for another 5 minutes, and test again. At this point, don’t let the tips and edges of the meat get black.
Mix the glaze ingredients together and microwave them for a minute, or two, to dissolve the sugar (it should be a nice syrup). You can do this on the stove — but why would you? Brush the meat with the glaze, on both sides. Put the meat back in the oven, and let it get slightly charred.
Mix any leftover marinade with the leftover glaze, and heat it up together. Let it simmer for a minute. This is the sauce to serve with the pork. You could do this in the microwave, but it’s probably safer, and less messy, on the stove. Microwaved food often doesn’t get hot enough for long enough to kill bacteria — so any sauces in contact with raw meat should be done on the stove.