If you’re French, you can’t imagine someone going to the trouble of making their own croissants. If you’re from the US, you can’t imagine people making their own hamburger buns. And likewise, if you’re from China, you can’t imagine why anyone would possibly want to make char siu.
These things are just so easy to buy in their countries of origin that those that live there take it for granted. I am sorry to say that Chinese croissants are not very good. I am also puzzled by the really bad quality yet oddly expensive hamburger buns that line foreign grocery stores.
And while right now, when I walk to work, I can’t go a hundred yards without the smell of char siu wafting towards me, it won’t always be that way. I won’t always be in China. And I won’t always be able to run down to the corner restaurant or market stall and grab a variety of the most perfect dumplings, hand-pulled longevity noodles, or enticingly red and fragrant char siu.
I’d be remiss if I left China without knowing how to fold my own dumplings. I’d be equally stupid to leave without ever learning how to pull my favorite type of noodle. And this pork, which is essentially just Chinese barbeque? Well I grew up in North Carolina, and seeing as we’re one of the largest pork producers in the world, we know a thing or two about barbecue. We even have two different types, and the people that favor one are fervently opposed to the other. It’s a love hate thing we have with barbecue. And I dearly love char siu.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are many different types of Chinese cooking, and even more dialects. The way I’ve written it here is Cantonese, because it is a Cantonese dish. But as I asked my butcher to cut me a piece of pork butt, and he asked what I was making, the answer was cha shao, or literally translated, fork roast. Though he laughed at the idea of anyone making char siu themselves, I know that when I’ve moved back to the States, and I’m dearly missing proper Chinese food, that I’ll be better off for having experimented with my own Chinese recipes.
Cantonese Char Siu Pork
Adapted from Momofuku for 2
2 pounds pork butt cut into 4 pieces
5 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons sesame oil
full head of garlic, peeled and sliced
1. Combine all the ingredients except the pork in a small sauce pan and simmer on medium heat until the honey is melted and the sauce is slightly thickened. Cool completely.
2. Marinate the pork in about 3/4 of the sauce overnight in the fridge. Give the pork a couple of turns in the sauce to make sure that all sides have marinade on them. Save the remaining sauce in a container in the fridge in a separate container.
3. The next day, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Shake the excess sauce off the pork and roast the pieces on a rack over a roasting dish that you’ve lined with tin foil.
4. The char siu should be cooked after about 45 minutes depending on the size of your meat. The internal temperature of the pork should be 160˚F.
5. To char your char siu, brush the pork with the remaining reserved marinade and turn the oven up to broil. Turn the pieces to char on all sides. Let cool for 5 minutes, before slicing into 1/4 inch thick slices.
We served our char siu with fried rice, with noodles, and inside dumplings for many meals after. It’s like making a turkey at Thanksgiving, the gift that keeps on giving.
In fact, this recipe made so much meat that I had no idea how to eat it all before it spoiled, so I ran it downstairs to share with our neighbors. Shu Shu, who is a fine cook himself, was most impressed that I’d made it! In fact he paid me a very high complement. So though he is not Cantonese, I’d take Shu Shu at his word that this recipe is pretty tasty.