Char Siu brings back many fond memories and pivotal moments in my life.
My mom is a typical homemaker who prepared nearly every meal for me. When I was young, I had breakfast before going to school, brought along the lunch box with rice, stir-fried vegetables and pork chops. At home, we will have dinner at home with lentil soup, egg custards, and minced meat, This is the typical three meals I had for my six years studying in the primary school in Ipoh, a small town located in the northern Peninsular Malaysia.
Char Siu was not on the menu since my mother did not know how to make it. The day I had my first bite of Char Siu eventually arrived when my teacher took us for lunch after we won an inter-school table tennis competition. It did not sound like a huge reward, but it finally unfolded the mysterious flavor Char Siu that has been bothering me for a very long time.
The meat was succulent and tender; the gravy was a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and some other ingredients I did not know when I was young. What I can remember was the taste was heavenly, and eating the plain rice with a massive amount of sauce as the topping.
My college years and beyond
Fast forward to my colleague years away from home in Penang. I began to appreciate different types of food as we lived in a multiracial campus with friends from all races. My diverted palate stretching from the healthy Japanese cuisine to the fiery and spicy Indian curry, and occasionally sampled the traditional Nyonya kuih and pungent tofu from Taiwan.
Despite the varieties of food, Char Siu remains the most regular food on my food list, simply because there is a nostalgic emotion involved, that it is the first Chinese street food that I ever tasted.
What makes Char Siu such an incredible delicacy?
Char Siu is the Chinese barbecue pork famous among the region of Guangdong and Hong Kong. This unadorned dish can is available in every corner of the street, and each restaurant boasted to have the best secret recipe for the barbecue pork.
A good Char Siu should have a glossy surface with the trademark dark mahogany color. The meat is tender and moist inside with the slightly charred and caramelized on the outside. When you take a bite to a piece of Char Siu, you will first taste the sweetness of the maltose, followed by the aroma of the slightly charred flavor, and finally, succumb to the juicy and succulent meat marinated for hours.
It is hard to explain why I like Char Siu so much. The ingredients for the seasoning are simple- soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and the like. I assume it results from the right amount of ingredients coupled with marinating and the grilling. The greatest secret, however, is the flashback of the childhood memory tightly interweaved into multiple layers of flavor, like the food critic Anton Ego overwhelmed with emotion enjoying Ratatouille in the movie.
How to make the mouth-watering Char Siu at home
The authentic Char Siu recipe requires to hook up the pork and cooked over charcoals. However, this might not be feasible for most home cooks. We need a method suitable for most households with a result tastes just light the store bought Char Siu.
Is that possible?
Various methods are suggested
I found two methods to make Char Siu at home that is as yummy as in any Chinese restaurants.
The first method is to marinate the pork for a day air two, then stewing the pork in a wok along with the marinade under it is tender. Then remove the excess marinade as the sauce when served. The pork without the marinate Japan-fried until it is dry, fragrant and slightly charred.
The second method is to grill it in an oven over high heat, and basting the meat with honey or maltose repeatedly. This approach is closer to the traditional way, and I find that the result is better than the first one.
Naturally, this recipe is written base on the second method.
Video: The step-by-step guide to making Char Siu at home. (2.38 minutes)
- 600 g pork belly
- Cut the pork across the grain into 5cm long strips.
- Soak the red yeast rice for half an hour or until soft with the wine and light soy sauce.
- Break the rice grains with the back of a spoon to release the color. Filter.
- Add the filtered mixture to oyster sauce, honey and five spice powder.
- Keep the pork, the sauce, ginger, and garlic in a zip bag or a bowl. Marinate for one day in the refrigerator.
- Put the pork on the metal rack. Place an aluminum foil on the drip pan.
- Brush the pork with the basting sauce, Roast at 220°C / 428°F for ten minutes. Remove the pork and apply the basting sauce again. Overturned the pork and grill for another ten minutes.
- Move the pork closer to the top heating element for another ten minutes.
- Remove from the oven.
- Set aside until it is no longer hot, Slice and serve.
12 Tips to make the best Char Siu at home
- The purpose of red yeast rice is to provide the signature mahogany color of Char Siu. You can omit it, but the color of the Char Siu will not be so intense. However, it will not affect much of the final result.
- You can use different cuts of pork to make Char Siu, and you will find Char Siu pork belly, Char Siu pork tenderloin, and even Char Siu Chicken should you want something different. However, the most common part of the pork is the pork shoulder. You can use pork belly if you like the fatty taste as in this recipe, or the juicy tenderloin with marbled texture.
- The Char Siu sauce in this recipe is a very basic one. I prefer a simple sauce that will not overshadow the flavor of the barbecue pork. There is a famous sauce called Lee Kum Kee Char Siu sauce that is available internationally. You can use it to simplify your cooking.
- Rosoliorosoglio 玫瑰露酒 is the most common type of wine for barbecue in China. You can substitute it with rice wine, sherry or Shaoxing wine. ( I use Shaoxing wine in this recipe.
- Marinate the Char Siu for at least one to two days before barbecued for the best result.
- The meat will become dry if you roast it at low temperature for an extended cooking time. The dryness is especially significant if you used lean pork. That is why pork with some fat like pork belly and sirloin is the best for Char Siu.
- Maltose is very viscous, and it looks like thick honey. It helps to let the marinade stick to the pork and caramelized quickly to impart the color. However, I prefer to use honey as it is more flavorful and easier to handle.
- The time to cook the meat should not be too long. Therefore, you should set the temperature at 200°C-220°C. Brush the pork with the basting sauce encourage the sugar on the surface caramelized quickly.
- Check the internal temperature of the pork. It should reach 70°C / 160°F to ensure the pork is fully cooked.
- The length of roasting as stated in the recipe is only for general reference. The actual duration varies according to the position of the heating element, the distance of the pork from the heating element and the size of the oven.
- When the pork is nearly cooked, baste the pork again with the basting sauce. Move it near to the top heating element to broil it. This method is the key to making it to for the thick and shining glaze.
- Rest the Char Siu for at least ten minutes before slicing, just like cuffing the turkey.
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