I published my first char siu recipe (Chinese barbecue pork, 叉烧) a few years ago. Since then, I have improved the recipe to make it as close as possible to one the char siu served in one of the best Cantonese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.
The challenge is not only to carry out a gantlet of tests and figure out the secret combination of the Char Siu sauce, but the limitations to recreate a similar flavor with the small over at home.
Here is a detailed explanation of how do I prepare my Char Siu step by step.
Step 1- Choose the correct cut of the pork
- Cut the shoulder loin into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Remove the skin if it is still attached. It is a good practice to cut the shoulder loin into pieces with equal thickness, as it will be roasted evenly in the oven.
- Clean with water and pad dry before mixing with the marinade to avoid dilution of the flavor by the water.
- It is vital to use the right cut of pork for making Char Siu. The best part should be containing some fats so that it will not dry out during baking. The fat will render during baking to turn the meat soft and tender.
- One of the best cuts is shoulder loin. If you have difficulty to get this cut, you can ask for 梅頭肉/中咀肉/上肉/梅花肉/肩胛肉 from the Chinese butcher. The above Chinese characters all mean the same cut, which is shoulder loin in Chinese. The different characters are the result of varying descriptions used by the Chinese in different regions.
- Besides that, you can also use pork belly for a more fatty version or tenderloin for a lean and healthier barbecue pork. If you use tenderloin, use higher heat and bake for a shorter time as it can turn dry quickly due to lack of fat content. If you do not eat pork, substitute it with chicken breast to make char siu chicken.
Step 2 – Prepare the Char Siu marinade
- Add some hot water to the red yeast rice. Use the back of a metal spoon to break up the rice. Let it steep for 10 minutes to extract the natural red color, then pass through a strainer to remove the rice.
- Mix the rice extract, rice wine, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, ground white pepper, bashed garlic, ginger, maltose, and sugar.
- Bring it a boil to dissolve the sugar, and at the same time to concentrate the sauce.
- When the sauce is thick enough to coat the spoon, remove from heat and let it colls completely.
- Pour the marinade into a Ziploc bag. Throw in the pieces of meat to let the marinade cover the park entirely.
- Marinate the pork in the refrigerator for at least half a day, or overnight.
- The marinade of Char Siu comprises of a list of everyday items that are readily available in most of the Chinese kitchen pantry. The only exception here is the red yeast rice.
- The use of either red yeast rice (or red fermented bean curd 红腐乳 ) is to provide the mahogany hue to the meat, which is the signature color of Char Siu. The red yeast rice does not have any flavor. When it is soaked in water, it will produce a natural red color. The water is then added to the marinade. Alternatively, you can add some red coloring or red fermented bean curd to get the red color. However, I am not in favor of using red fermented bean curd due to its flavor in the Char Siu. Therefore, I prefer to use red yeast rice in the char siu recipe.
- Other ingredients, such as oyster sauce, soy sauce, and wine is quite common. If you do not have Chinese rice wine, sherry is a good substitute.
- Maltose is added to this Char Siu recipe to make the marinade thick and sticky. Some other recipes may use honey instead of maltose.
- A simple but essential step is to be patient. You need to marinate the pork for at least 24 hours or longer to let the flavor of the marinade penetrates deeply into the inner part of the pork. If you only marinate the pork for half a day or less, the flavor of the meat will be insufficient, which has to depend heavily on the dipping sauce. A good Char Siu should taste fabulously without the sauce.
Step 3 – Bake the Char Siu
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F.
- Line a baking tray with either aluminum foil or baking paper to prevent the marinade and oil from dripping on the tray. It is tough to clean the baking tray if you do not line it with aluminum foil or baking paper,
- Remove the Char Siu from the ziplock bag. Arrange the Char Siu on a wire rack. Bake for twenty minutes.
- Mix two parts of maltose with one part of the marinade to form the basting sauce. The quality should be sufficient to baste the Char Siu at least three times.
- After twenty minutes of baking, remove the bbq pork from the oven and baste with the sauce. Turn the pork over for even cooking. Continue baking for another ten minutes.
- After ten minutes, remove the pork to repeat the basting. Repeat once more after another ten minutes.
- Multiple basting is aimed to create a thick coat of caramelized sugar on the surface.
- The actual baking duration depends on the oven you use. The Char Siu is done when the edges are charred due to caramelization. You may need to bake longer until it achieves this effect.
- When it is done, let it cools to near room temperature before cutting so that the juice will not lose.
- Cut the Char Siu diagonally into thin slices, about one third to half cm thick.
- The use of high heat to bake the pork is vital to ensure quick cooking, to avoid drying of the meat as a result of prolonged baking.
To serve the Char Siu (Chinese barbecue pork)
Bring the remaining marinade to a boil.
Arrange the Char Siu on the serving plate and drizzle the marinade on top. You can also use it as char siu dipping sauce. You can keep the excess marinade to mix with noodles, drizzle on chicken, etc., which is very flavorful.
This Chinese barbecue pork is best to serve with rice and noodles. You can also make some extra as the filling of the Chinese barbecue pork bun (Char Siu Pao / 叉烧包). Other serving suggestion includes making char siu fried rice, char siu ramen.
- 400g Shoulder loin
For the marinade (Char Siu sauce):
- 10g (1 tsp) red yeast rice (mixed with 30ml hot water)
- 20ml (4 tsp) rice wine
- 30ml (2 tbsp) light soy sauce
- 45ml (3 tbsp) oyster sauce
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1 clove garlic, bashed
- 1 slice ginger
- 40g (2.5 tbsp) maltose
- 40g (2.5 tbsp) sugar
For the basting liquid:
- 20ml (4 tsp) maltose
- 10ml (2 tsp) of the marinade from above
- Cut the shoulder loin into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide.
- Mix the red yeast rice with hot water. Break up the rice and steep in the liquid for 10 minutes to extract the red color. Discard the broken red yeast rice by passing it through a wire mesh strainer.
- Mix the remaining ingredients of the marinade with the red yeast rice extract.
- Put the pork and marinade into a Ziploc bag. Marinate overnight.
- Line a baking tray with either aluminum foil or baking paper.
- Bake the pork at 200°C/390°F. for twenty minutes.
- Mix two parts of maltose and one part of the marinade to form the basting sauce.
- Baste the pork at 20th min and then at 30th min.
- Bake until the edges are slightly charred.
- Remove. Let it cools, then cut it into slices and serve.
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Serving Size:2 servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 500 Total Fat: 26g Saturated Fat: 4g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 21g Cholesterol: 1mg Sodium: 3218mg Carbohydrates: 45g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 11g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 9g