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Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork): A Flavorful Delight

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Char Siu, also known as Chinese BBQ Pork, is a beloved dish in Chinese cuisine characterized by its sweet and savory flavors, tender texture, and vibrant red color. This dish has roots in Cantonese cuisine but has become popular throughout China and in Chinese communities worldwide. Traditionally cooked over open flames or in specialized ovens, Char Siu is often enjoyed sliced and served as a main dish, in noodles, fried rice, or as a filling in buns (Char Siu Bao). Its distinctive flavor comes from a marinade that typically includes ingredients like soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, and Chinese five-spice powder, creating a delightful balance of flavors that is sure to please your palate.

Origins and Cultural Significance

Char Siu has a long history dating back to ancient China, where methods of preserving meat with sweet and savory sauces were developed. Over time, the technique evolved into what is now known as Char Siu, which translates to “fork-roast” in Cantonese, referring to the traditional method of skewering the meat for roasting.

Ingredients

To prepare delicious Char Siu at home, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Pork Shoulder or Pork Belly: 1 lb, thinly sliced or cut into strips

Marinade:

  • Soy Sauce: 1/4 cup
  • Hoisin Sauce: 2 tbsp
  • Honey: 2 tbsp
  • Chinese Rice Wine (or Dry Sherry): 2 tbsp
  • Brown Sugar: 2 tbsp
  • Chinese Five-Spice Powder: 1 tsp
  • Garlic: 3 cloves, minced
  • Red Fermented Bean Curd (optional): 1 piece, mashed (adds depth of flavor and red color)
  • Red Food Coloring (optional): a few drops (for vibrant red color)

Cooking Instructions

  1. Prepare the Marinade:
    • In a bowl, combine soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, Chinese rice wine, brown sugar, Chinese five-spice powder, minced garlic, mashed red fermented bean curd (if using), and red food coloring (if using). Mix well until the sugar is dissolved and the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  2. Marinate the Pork:
    • Place the pork slices or strips in a large resealable plastic bag or a shallow dish. Pour the marinade over the pork, making sure it is evenly coated. Seal the bag or cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to meld and the pork to absorb the marinade.
  3. Preheat the Oven:
    • Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top.
  4. Roast the Char Siu:
    • Remove the marinated pork from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Arrange the pork slices or strips on the wire rack, leaving space between each piece to ensure even cooking.
  5. Bake in the Oven:
    • Bake the Char Siu in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once halfway through, until the pork is caramelized and cooked through. If desired, you can broil the Char Siu for an additional 1-2 minutes at the end to achieve a slightly charred exterior.
  6. Rest and Slice:
    • Remove the Char Siu from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. This helps retain the juices and ensures tender slices.
  7. Serve and Enjoy:
    • Arrange the sliced Char Siu on a serving platter. Garnish with chopped green onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired. Serve hot as a main dish or as part of a larger Chinese meal.

Tips for Perfect Char Siu

  • Cut of Pork: Pork shoulder or pork belly are commonly used for Char Siu due to their balance of lean meat and fat, which contributes to the dish’s flavor and tenderness.
  • Marinating Time: For best results, marinate the pork for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to fully develop.
  • Broiling: If you prefer a slightly charred exterior, broil the Char Siu for the last 1-2 minutes of baking.

Serving Suggestions

Char Siu is traditionally served with steamed white rice and stir-fried vegetables. It can also be enjoyed in various dishes such as fried rice, noodle soups, or as a filling in steamed buns (Char Siu Bao), showcasing its versatility in Chinese cuisine.

Conclusion

Char Siu, with its rich marinade and tender texture, exemplifies the depth and diversity of Chinese culinary traditions. Whether enjoyed at home or in a restaurant, this dish offers a delightful balance of sweet and savory flavors that is sure to satisfy. By following this simple recipe, you can recreate the authentic taste of Char Siu and delight your family and friends with a homemade Chinese BBQ Pork that rivals any restaurant’s version.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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