Char Siu – Chinese BBQ Pork

This Char Siu Pork is a labour of love. So I have dedicated a whole weekend to bring you this gorgeous recipe. The good news is though, that most of the time is simply spent marinating, rather than actually doing anything.

Sticky char siu pork is delicious stuffed into fluffy steamed bao buns with a light pickle or kimchi.Char siu pork bao steamed buns

It’s also lovely served with plain jasmine rice and some stir fried Asian greens or an Asian slaw. It’s equally at home in a steaming bowl of ramen noodle broth Wagamama style. Another recipe coming soon!

Char Siu pork ramenMind you, it’s perfect for just picking from the fridge with your fingers every time you happen to be passing by…

You can cook the pork in the oven, under a grill, on the BBQ or sous vide in a water bath. I’m providing instructions for all these methods, so the choice is yours. The pork in the pictures was cooked long and slow in a sous vide water bath and then seared off with the final glaze on a hot cast iron griddle.

To help you get things right, here’s a few pointers, regardless of the cooking method you choose:

The meat: You need a fatty cut of pork such as shoulder, butt, neck or belly for this. You could use tenderloin, but be prepared to accept that your char siu wont be quite as moist and succulent. If using pork belly, I suggest a longer slower roast. Please be sure to adjust the cooking time and temperatures depending on the cut you are using, and the size of the individual pieces. And keep a close eye once the glaze is on, as there is such a thing as too much char!

Red fermented bean curdThe colour: Many commercial Char Siu use red food colouring. Avoid. Use red fermented bean curd instead if you can get hold of it, as it doesn’t just add a hint of red, but also a deep umami flavour. Replace it with extra hoisin or soy sauce if you can’t find it.  Either way,  your homemade version will never look as bright red as commercial Char Siu unless you add food colouring. Especially if you use black treacle as I did. But it completely makes up for that in sheer deliciousness.

The sweetness: Use light molasses (not blackstrap), golden syrup, black treacle, maltose, muscovado sugar or honey. Adjust the quantity depending on the sweetener chosen. I also like to use coconut palm sugar in the sweet brine, but palm sugar or a brown sugar such as muscovado will work equally well. I’d refrain from sugar substitutes here, as stevia and Erythritol and such likes will not deliver the trademark burnt caramel stickiness that defines a good char siu.

The salt: The red fermented bean curd adds saltiness, but so does the soy. Adjust the quantity depending on your chosen soy. I like to use Ketjap Manis, the Indonesian sweet soy sauce, which I know is completely non-traditional. But it works great for that extra sweet and salty edge. You could use dark or light soy sauce or tamari instead.

Marinating time: Don’t overdo it. Go for 12 hrs minimum, but best no longer than 24 hrs max, else the salty marinade will start to overpower and overcure the meat.

THE RECIPE

Char Siu Pork (serves 4  – DF LC RSF)

Chinese BBQ Pork

I like a little background spice to counterbalance the sticky sweetness of the marinade, so I’ve added Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru). It adds an extra hint of red too. Don’t confuse this with red chili flakes, which are  too hot and fiery for this. If you can’t find the Korean ones, just leave them out and add a healthy pinch of white pepper instead.

Ingredients

800-900 gr pork shoulder or butt, cut into thick 5-7 cm wide strips along the grain

For the sweet brine;

3-4 tbsp muscovado sugar or coconut palm sugar

3-4 tbsp Chinese Shaoxing  rice wine or ideally Chinese rose wine if you can get hold of it. Use dry sherry or a neutral Chinese cooking wine as a last resort

a tiny dash of rose water if not using rose wine (optional)

For the marinade:

2 tbsp black treacle, golden syrup or muscovado sugar

1 piece red bean curd (fermented tofu) and 2 tbsp of the sauce from the tin or jar

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp ketjap manis or more light soy sauce

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped

a good thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp Chinese five spice powder

2 tbsp Korean red pepper flakes (optional)

1-2 star anise

For the glaze:

The reserved marinade

3-4 tbsp honey

char siu Chinese BBQ pork

Method

Rub the pork on all sides with the sugar for the sweet brine. Mix the brine wine with the rose water (if using) and rub that in all over too. Set aside in the fridge for 2-3 hours

Mix together the marinade ingredients except the star anise in a pestle and mortar, blender or mini food processor. Add to the pork and massage it in allover. Add the star anise. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours in the fridge.

Drain the marinade from the pork. Sieve it and add to a small sauce pan. Add the honey and reduce for 10-15 mins or so over medium heat on the hob until thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Note it will thicken more as it cools.

Sous vide method: Seal the pork strips in individual bags. Only vacuum if not too wet or if you have a vacuum chamber that can cope with liquids. Heat the water bath to 63 C. Cook the pork for 8-10 hrs. You can plunge them in iced water and chill or freeze until needed at this point. Reheat at 60 C for 30 mins before searing if so. Remove from the bag and drain. Preheat a grill or cast iron griddle to medium-high heat. Baste the meat with the glaze on all sides and grill the pork strips for 3-5 mins, turning them midway to colour both sides evenly.

Roasting method: Preheat the oven to 180 C. Add the pork strips to a grill tray and turn the oven down to 160 C. Roast for 15-20 mins. Take the pork out of the oven, baste with the glaze on all sides and continue to roast for a further 10-15 mins or so on the other side. Take the pork out of the oven and crank the heat up to 210 C. Baste the pork with more glaze. Return to the oven and roast for a further 5-8 mins, turning midway until you have a nice sticky char happening.

Tip: place a tray with water underneath the meat in the oven, it helps to keep the pork extra moist. In fact, you could cover the pork with foil for a full steam-roast effect as suggested by Leslie

Grill or BBQ method: Heat the grill or BBQ to medium. Grill the pork for 10-12 mins, turning once or twice to ensure even cooking. To finish, baste with the glaze and grill for a further 5-8 mins, turning the strips  and adding more glaze as needed.

Serve the remaining glaze as a dipping sauce with the thinly sliced pork. This can be served warm or at room temperature, so perfect for picnics and easy summer entertaining too.

The pork freezes well, either in its marinade, or after cooking but before glazing. The sauce will keep for at least 5 days in a screw top jar in the fridge.

char siu Chinese BBQ pork

char siu Chinese BBQ pork

char siu Chinese BBQ pork

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