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Perfect Char Siu Pork

by Dennis Seid, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

Pork is an essential meat in Chinese cooking, and one of the most popular and recognized pork dishes is Chinese barbecued pork, commonly called char siu (in Cantonese, pronounced “CHA soo”). Literally char siu means “fork roasted” and could apply to any meat, but it’s the pork dish that most people are most familiar with – slices of sweet and savory red-roasted pork. Char siu is served hot or cold as an appetizer and can be used in a variety of dishes from fried rice to noodles to vegetables.  


closeup of char siu pork on a white plate

You’ll want to use pork with a good fat content such as Boston butt or pork shoulder. If you can get it boneless, that’s great because you’ll want to slice the meat in 1” thick hunks before marinating. (Get the butcher to slice it at the store if you don’t want to slice it yourself.) 

You can buy char siu sauce at an Asian grocery store to marinate the meat; two jars for a 2-3 lb. Boston Butt works out well. Or you can make your own marinade (see below). This recipe is based on one by YouTube’s Made With Lau, a Cantonese chef who cooked for many years in a restaurant. I’ve tweaked it a bit to my taste. His recipe calls for baking the meat in the oven, which is most convenient and is the cooking method included here. However, when possible, I cook the meat on a grill over charcoal for the added flavor. 

Ingredients with an (*) indicate they are available at any Asian grocery store, or possibly at Kroger or Walmart.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lb. Boston butt/pork shoulder

  • 1 Tablespoon of garlic salt

  • 4 Tablespoons of brown sugar

  • 2 Tablespoons of oyster sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons of light soy sauce*

  • 1 Tablespoon of hoisin sauce*

  • 1 Tablespoon of Shaoxing wine*

  • 1 cube of red fermented bean curd (optional)*

  • 1 teaspoon of five-spice powder

  • 3 Tablespoons of honey

  • 3 teaspoons of water

Method:

  1. Make the marinade: in a bowl, add the brown sugar, garlic salt, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, hoisin sauce, Shaoxing, five-spice powder and the red fermented bean curd. (Note that the bean curd is quite a powerful punch and isn’t for everybody but adds that much talked about umami flavor.)

  2. In another small bowl, mix honey and water together.

  3. Marinate meat for at least 8 hours (I prefer overnight). I put the strips in gallon-sized Ziploc bags and cover with the marinade, pressing the marinade firmly into the meat and pressing all air out of the bags.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400° F.

  5. Place the pork on a baking rack on a large baking tray lined with foil to catch the juices. (There’s quite a bit of dripping from the meat.)

  6. Add 2 Tablespoons of water to the bottom of the pan to help keep the pork moist while you’re cooking, and to help prevent the drippings from burning. Add small amounts of water as needed.

  7. Cook for 15 minutes and baste both sides with leftover pork marinade. Flip the meat and repeat, cooking for another 15 minutes.

  8. Generously spread both sides with the honey water and cook for 10 minutes.

  9. Turn up heat to 425° F, baste with remaining honey, and bake another 10 minutes. (Total cooking time is about 50 minutes in the oven.)

  10. Remove from oven and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

  11. Serve with steamed white rice or use in other Chinese dishes as suggested.

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