Cooking With Keras: Char Siu

This is one of my favorite dishes to cook, it’s so addicting! The balance of sweet and savory in the sauce and the fattiness of the pork shoulder makes it irresistible. I make it in small batches in the oven and by the time I cook my second batch I may have already eaten the entire first batch…oops! Char siu is at its simplest, Chinese barbecue pork. It literally means “fork burn/roast” (siu being burn/roast and char being fork, both noun and verb) after the traditional cooking method for the dish: long strips of seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and placed in a covered oven or over a fire.

Char siu can be made with any type of pork cut: loin, tenderloin belly, butt/shoulder, or neck. The fattier cuts prevent it from drying out, so even if you shy away from fatty meat (why?!), you have to do it right and use a pork shoulder or pork belly to get the best flavor.

I buy the biggest pork shoulder I can find so I can eat char siu throughout the week. To prepare the meat, you’ll need to cut it into strips about 2-inches wide so they will cook evenly and quickly without drying out the pork.

Next, we make the sauce! You can buy a premade sauce at your local asian market, and although it tastes good and works in a pinch, since I make a couple pounds of char siu at a time, it’s just not enough to go around. I make my sauce slightly different every time because I’m too lazy to measure and I make adjustments based on taste. I use hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine or plum wine or dry sherry or sake, honey, Chinese five spice powder, brown sugar, oyster sauce, some red food coloring, and sometimes some ketchup or my favorite bbq sauce!

If I don’t have everything on hand, the simplest recipe would just be hoisin, soy, honey, five spice, and wine/sherry. Everything else is optional, but I’ll have a measured recipe at the bottom. Mix up all the ingredients and let the pork soak in the sauce at least overnight, and longer if you have the time. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge.

The following day, or whenever you’re ready to cook, remove the pork from the fridge and remove from the sauce. The leftover sauce needs to be boiled and reduced so we can brush it on the pork during the cooking process. If you don’t boil the sauce, well, you might get sick since the raw meat has been soaking in it for hours and hours.

Turn on the oven to broil and set the top rack about 6 inches below the broiler.

Set up strips of pork on a wired rack in a cooking pan. Either line the pan with tin foil or add some water to catch the drippings, otherwise the sauce will burn onto the hot pan and you’ll have a hard time cleaning up later. Go ahead and brush the pork with some of the reduced sauce.

Cook the pork under the broiler for about 6-7 minutes per side, flip, brush with sauce, and repeat until you’ve cooked both sides twice. Raise the top rack to its highest position and cook each side for about 3 minutes to get a nice char on the pork.

Let rest, slice, and serve. It’s best served over a starch, either steamed buns or some rice. Or by itself! So good!

Makes enough sauce for 1-2 pounds of meat:

Pork shoulder or loin

1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup rice/plum wine or dry sherry
2 tsp five spice powder

Optional:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup or bbq sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp red food coloring or red fermented tofu for coloring

1. Mix together sauce ingredients in a large bowl or ziploc bag

2. Cut pork into uniform strips and add to sauce. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight.

3. Remove pork from sauce and boil and reduce for 5-10 minutes.

4. Turn on oven to broil and set top rack to about 6 inches away from the broiler.

5. Place strips of pork on a wired rack in a roasting pan lined with tin foil or enough water to catch any drippings from the pork.

6. Brush pork with extra sauce and place pan into preheated oven and cook for 6-7 minutes per side. Flip. Repeat. Cook each side twice.

7. Raise oven rack to highest position under broiler. Re-sauce the pork and cook for 3 minutes on both sides to get a nice char.

8. Let rest, slice, and serve!