Sunday, April 07, 2013

Chinese Char Siu Barbecue

After studying a number of recipes for the barbecued pork dish Char Siu (my preferred spelling), I decided to try to make some. 

So, welcome to my politically correct, Chinese Cultural Revolution approved recipe.

My first thought was that recipes (in English) call for pork shoulder. The pork shoulder was too much a westernized idea. The Chinese would use firmer meat for this dish and that meant using pork belly. For some strange reason, here in the States, when a recipe (usually old ones) calls for pork belly they use either: uncured bacon or green bacon to signify raw pork belly. Whether those two expressions are "of commerce" or whether they were the only way the cookbook authors could think to describe pork belly that is uncured, un-smoked and raw is not within the scope of this article. Both always and confusingly using the word 'bacon', where 'pork belly' is more effectively descriptive. (e.g., scallions versus green onions versus spring onions)

I also saw a recipe that called for Moutai liquor as one of the ingredients. I must back track a little here. My favorite place in Chinatown is Sam Woo Barbecue. While shopping yesterday, I saw a San Woo Barbecue - not the same. Sam Woo's is pretty well known, and while I don't like a lot on their menu, the barbecued pork is delightful. And I'm certain they use the Moutai in their bbq, but I cannot prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. They also have lop cheung . . .  a story for another day. 

I had to find the Moutai and guessed that the Wing Hop Fung supermarket would be my source for this stuff. They are at least 12 Chinese aunties working at any one time there and none speak English. So, when I incorrectly asked for Mai Tai, I was told they had none, Then, speaking with the only English speaking woman in the place, I asked for rose liquor. She pointed to the shelf where all the liquors are and corrected my pronounciation. I walked over to find that the words were all in Chinese. Another auntie walked by and I asked (this time pronouncing it correctly) MOW (rhymes with wow) TOY. She showed me a bottle. And at only $130 (US dollars) it looked like a bargain . . . no, I'm still woozy from the sip of the stuff yesterday when I got home to try it. Fortunately, they had a $10 and a $15 dollar bottle of it and that's more appropriate for cooking. Mind you, this is for a 375 mL bottle (half a fifth).

Like WOW!
So with all the ingredients in hand I made up the sauce-marinade.  Divided the sauce and kept half for dipping or using on the rice.


¾ lb pork belly
6 cloves garlic as mush
3 tablespoons cooked oil (see below for explanation)

Char Siu Sauce:

4 ½ tablespoons maltose
4 ½ tablespoons honey
4 ½ tablespoons hoisin sauce
4 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoon Moutai (贵州茅台酒)
9 dashes white pepper
9 drops red food coloring (Optional)
1 ½ teaspoon five-spice powder
1 ½ teaspoon sesame oil
[ Added November 23, 2015  In continued research into this Chinese specialty dish, I have read another recipe that add the following:
1 tbs yellow bean paste
1 tbs red fermented tofu (hot or not, your choice)
1 tbs oyster sauce
the foregoing three ingredients are for 1 1/2 pounds of pork, adjust accordingly, please.]

I have never been able to buy pork belly in 16 ounce pieces. Almost without exception the slab I can buy in the markets is between 1 3/4 and 2 1/4 pounds. So I had to adjust the recipe accordingly. Also, my pal does not like to eat rice without a sauce and as many people like extra sauce for their pork and rice, I decided to triple the quantity. So the above list is how I made it. After adding the sauce ingredients and boiling them up three times, I removed the sauce pan from the heat. After a few minutes, the entire kitchen became fragrant with the Moutai. At 52% alcohol (or 104 proof) the stuff packs a wallop. It would have packed a wallop in my wallet if I'ld had any while in Chinatown. The $130 bottle of Moutai is about 80 years old. The minimum age is 15 years. The red food coloring, while optional is a real help and culturally, red is the symbol of good luck (lunch?) in Chinese.

I cut the belly into four pieces, trying to make the pieces as evenly shaped as possible. In the photograph, you can see that two slices are much bigger. That is how the belly comes. Thicker at one end.

Above, pork having marinated overnight.

While the sauce was cooling I mushed the garlic, sliced the pork and rubbed the garlic onto the fatty side of the meat. After the sauce cools, add it to the meat. I used a stainless steel bowl. After adding the sauce I added the cooked oil. The cooked oil is a trick I learned about many years ago. When deep frying, allow the hot oil to cool (overnight?), and strain it into a jar or bottle. Cap tightly. The cooked oil has a delicious flavor. It may not be good for cooking again, but as part of the marinade it matters and I'm not throwing food out.

When ready, cook your rice. Even though I often add chicken bouillon powder to the boiling water, this time I left it plain.

Preheat your barbecue grill for 10 to 15 minutes and wipe the excess sauce/marinade off the meat into your bowl as you will baste the meat with the leftover sauce the meat sat in. Cook the meat for 7 ½ minutes on each side, flipping the meat once. Start with the fatty side up. As the heat warms it, the fat will melt and bath the meat to help keep it moist.

After the 15 minute total cooking time, cover the cooked meat and allow it to rest 10 minutes. Whence cut it into bit size cubes and serve over white rice. Extra sauce optional.

Cook's Note: some recipes cut the pork into mouthfuls before cooking. This is done by threading the meat cubes on skewers. It would cook the meat a little faster and is certainly more of a traditional way of serving this dish, the skewers being placed on top a mound of rice. I would like my bbq as bites to see on top of the rice. Minced scallions on top. There is no wrong way.