Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Char Siu

Char siu is quite possibly the most famous Cantonese dish of all. Literally meaning "fork roasted," char siu is pork that is marinated in a sweet and thick blend of sauces and then roasted until it becomes crisp and almost candy-like on the outside. Traditionally, char siu is made over a charcoal fire, but my recipe here was simply done in an oven (although I think I may try it in the grill come warmer weather!). To be honest, I was quite impressed with myself for making this - it was my first try and it came out delicious (not to mention gorgeous to look at)! For those that have only had char siu prepared at a restaurant or at a Chinese deli, I think you'll be impressed by how tasty and relatively simple it is when made at home.

Marinade (for 2.5-3 lbs. boneless pork):
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp ginger, minced
- 5 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp black bean sauce (or hoisin sauce)
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 4 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine (or other cooking wine)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp 5-spice powder

Mix all the ingredient together, whisking to dissolve sugar and honey. Many Chinese recipes use maltose syrup (this give the meat sheen and stickiness), but the combination of sugar and honey here should accomplish the same thing.

In terms of the correct meat to use, I have seen many possibilities. You can find recipes for using pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, or pork belly. I think that pork shoulder is the traditional one to use, and it is perfect for this recipe, as it tends to be more moist than tenderloin and the extra fat in belly isn't needed for char siu. Unless you are a more proficient butcher than me, I would recommend getting a boneless shoulder to avoid having to de-bone the meat. Starting with the shoulder, trim any excess fat and skin, and cut the meat into strips of roughly equal size (1/4" in thickness):

Put all of the meat and about 2/3 of the marinade in a large plastic bag. Mix well so all the meat is covered, remove all the air from the bag before sealing, and then put in the fridge. 2 hours of marination is sufficient given the thickness of the strips, but overnight is perfect. Some recipes call for as long as 36 hours of marination, but I don't really think that is necessary. 

Prior to roasting, take the meat out of the fridge and let it warm up (still sealed) for at least 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a roasting rack on top of a foil lined baking sheet to put the meat on.  For me, Tricia's cooling racks (for cooling cookies out of the oven) worked perfectly. This will allow the meat drippings to collect in the pan below, and it will help to give the pork that crisp candy-like quality I mentioned earlier. 

Roast the meat for 20 minutes, and then flip each piece of pork. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes, or until the edges of the meat are just starting to blacken (you'll notice that my char siu is not red - this is because I didn't add food coloring in the marinade like most restaurants do!). As soon as your meat is flipped, heat your remaining marinade in a saucepan over medium, stirring occasionally. Once it comes to a simmer, reduce it to your desired consistency (I like it very thick and sticky).

Serve the hot char siu over rice or noodles. Pour some of the reduced sauce over the meat and the starch. Now enjoy!

As an additional tip - char siu is best right out of the oven. I would only roast as much as you plan to eat, and leave the rest in marinade for the next meal. If you do still end up with leftover char siu, dice it and add it to fried rice!


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