On the Menu: Chinese BBQ Pork
a closer look at iconic restaurant, diner, and eatery dishes
This is a dish that seems to grace the menu of every American Chinese restaurant. And for good reason, I suppose. It’s tasty and BBQ as a concept and foodstuff is something we are familiar with in the US.
Fork Roasted Pork, Literally
Like so many dishes, time, locale, and tastes have influenced adaptations of original cooking methods and ingredients. And this BBQ Pork is a good example
What we in the US order at an American Chinese restaurant as BBQ Pork is a descendant of siu mei, which means roast-flavored. Siu mei is an open-flame style of Cantonese cooking that originated in the province of Guangdong in southern China. Historians speculate that siu mei dishes were developed using ingredients introduced to the province as Arabian and Indian traders traveled the Silk Road.
Char siu, meaning fork roasted a nod to the traditional Cantonese method of skewering meats on a long fork and cooking over fire, is a pork dish marinated in a sweet and salty sauce that employs a varied list of spices including star anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, and peppers. These spices make up the popular spice blend, Chinese 5 Spice. A name that represents the five elements of earth, fire, water, wood, metal, and the five traditional Chinese flavors of salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter rather than the number of spices in the blend.
Emigration has introduced the siu mei style of cooking and char siu to cultures across the globe.
It's been adapted to the taste preferences and ingredients in each of the locations in which it landed. In Thailand and Vietnam it’s served with cucumbers, and white rice and drizzled with dark soy sauce. In Indonesia it is called char sio. In the Philippines it’s called Chinese asado and eaten with cold cuts. In Hawaii various meats including chicken are cooked char siu style. There’s even a vegetarian “char siu” made from wheat gluten.
Here in the states, we call it Chinese BBQ Pork. And although in most restaurant and commercial applications, the traditional sauce has been replaced with a red-dye concoction, we have joyfully adopted it into our food lexicon and dip it with wild abandon into the hot mustard sauce, ketchup, and sesame seeds served alongside this sweet and savory pork dish.
Just in case you’re looking for a recipe that has a more traditional bent that you can make at home, I’ve got you covered. Most of the ingredients are available in standard grocery stores. You may need to go to an Asian market for the red bean curd. If you aren’t able to find the red bean curd, you can find it here. Or eliminate it from the recipe.
Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)
Serves: (6) • Prep: (15 minutes + marinating time) • Cook Time: (2 hours)
Traditionally prepared over fire, this oven roasted variation of Chinese BBQ Pork or char siu is fairly simple to put together making it easy to enjoy at home.
3 lbs. pork shoulder/butt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine or dry sherry
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup hoisin
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 cube red fermented bean curd (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red food color, if you really must
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon water
green onions for garnish
hot mustard for serving
sesame seeds for serving
Prepare the pork by cutting the roast in half lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise again. Make sure that you are cutting with the grain and not against the grain.
Using a fork, pierce each piece of pork several times the length of the meat on both sides. This will help the marinade to penetrate the meat.
Place the pork into a large resealable plastic bag.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, soy sauce, wine or sherry, ketchup, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, bean curd, garlic, salt, five spice powder, and pepper. Heat over medium-high heat to boiling mashing the bean curd into the mixture. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Once cooled, stir in the red food coloring if using. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixture.
Pour mixture over the pork in the plastic resealable bag, massaging for about 3 minutes. Seal, place in the refrigerator and marinate for 4 - 12 hours. Eight hours is ideal, but don’t marinate any longer than 24 hours or the meat will become tough.
Remove the marinated pork from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
Combine the honey with the 2 tablespoons of reserved marinade and 1 tablespoon water.
Preheat the oven to 325˚F.
Line a sheet pan with tin foil and place a metal rack inside. Remove the pork from the marinade and place in a single layer on the rack. Pour 1/4 cup of water into the lined sheet pan. This will keep the pork moist while cooking as well has help to keep the sauce from burning during the cook time.
Cook for 25 minutes, brush both side of the meat with the honey mixture. Continue cooking, basting every 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reads between 145˚F - 160˚F (medium-rare to medium). About 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours.
Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes. Slice, garnish with sliced green onions and serve with sesame seeds and hot mustard for dipping.
NOTE: IF you have any leftovers, use them in a stir fry or for a really special treat Chinese BBQ Pork Bao Buns.
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