27 February 2012

Hanging out with my pal Char Siu

Everyone who knows Char Siu knows that there's no fooling around when it comes to barbecue. Steve Raichlen doesn't hold a candle to char siu (sorry, Mr. Raichlen).

Char siu, or Chinese barbecue pork 叉燒 (literally "fork roast" but can also mean "stabbing burn"*) is scientifically proven to be everyone's second favourite meat, and is eaten year-round, in steamed buns (bao ), in sandwiches, topped on ramen, or stand-alone (not only at Chinese New Year).

Contrary to tradition, the beautiful roast red colour on char siu is often a result of red food colouring, the CHEATERS way of getting that awesome colour. Cheaters, as we know, get turned into pillars of shame, and end up on Jerry Springer with illegitimate twins.

The REAL way of getting the red is using red fermented bean curd which lends to the flavour and the red colour without artificial colours. You can also be a lazy doof and buy the jar of char siu marinade which doesn't taste as good. Up to you if you want to be a doof.

[This is how I roll. The medium-fatty pork loin version of char siu.]

As is customary for enterprising Asian food mart merchants, CNY foodstuffs prices are jacked up prior to the holiday. I wasn't about to pay $10/lb for a sliver of delicious barbecued pork, so I made my own from pork loins. The loins were, IMO, not fatty enough for my taste but plenty good on flavour. Opting for more of an authentic roast, I hung the char siu to roast in the oven, just like the big boys do!

[Suspended animation: char siu roasting on makeshift hooks in my convection oven. Looks weird, but so do bodybuilders.]

Chow's Char siu 
Marinade (for ~3 lbs pork)
1 Tb (15ml) light soy sauce
3 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic
1 Tb (15ml) chopped ginger
2 stalks green onions
1.5 Tbs (22ml) five-spice powder
3 Tb (45ml) honey, corn syrup, or maltose
2 cubes red bean curd
1 Tb (15ml) rice wine

1 Tb (15ml) honey
  1. Salt your meats and let it sit at least 30 min. This is always important
  2. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for the marinade.
  3. Score your meats (optional) by making very shallow slits perpendicular to the grain of the meat, as so.
    [I was told that scoring cross-grain on one side of the loin would keep it from curling. Who cares about it curling when it all goes into your stomach!]
  4. Marinade your meats in the marinade (minimum 4 hours, recommended overnight in fridge, while letting warm up to almost room temperature prior to cooking).
  5. If roasting in a tray and rack, first cover the rack in aluminium foil, pierce a few holes in the foil, and then lay down a few chopsticks at intervals on the foiled rack. Lay the meat over the chopsticks so that it is basically propped over the foiled rack.
    If you roast them hanging, make sure you place a tray at the bottom of your oven to catch the delicious char siu drippings which will be lost to you forever because it's no longer edible.   
  6. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes in total for a 3lb roast, testing at 20 minutes for doneness. When near done, paint the honey glaze all over the meat (flip if required). 
  7. When done, remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice thinly and eat while your gluttonous family members are still watching television
* When I was subjected to Rorschach tests, I always saw demon dophins.