(Note: scroll straight to the bottom of the post for recipe details.)
Your butcher is your friend. If you start with a crappy piece of lifeless meat lodged to a piece of styrofoam ‘wet aging’ (i.e. rotting in its own juices on a Cryovac absorbent pad in the discount aisle of the supermarket) nothing you do will mask the flavour of chemicals. Conversely, a good piece of meat will make your meal sing, and will have your guests groaning and drooling with carnal bliss. Pork is the most flavourful and juicy meat. Pork belly is the fattiest, juiciest and thus most flavourful cut of a hog. There’s a reason why a panful of bacon can still make a seasoned gourmand weak in the knees, and a vegan questions their faith in ascetic principles. Your friends and family will appreciate a few incredible slices of this Char Siu (“fork roasted”) barbecue, which elevates the best qualities of pork, highlighting the flavours of the cut and rendering the fat into succulent meat. Serve smaller portions of better quality food, if you have to skimp, with more rice and greens.
This famous dish goes by many names, but it is instantly recognizable, when you see the tantalizing strips of glossy, copper-hued barbecue hanging in the windows of Cantonese restaurants around the world. It’s a type of siu mei (燒味), roasted meat, rotisserie or barbecue, from the Pearl River Delta: Hong Kong, Macao, and Guangzhou. Because of the time it takes to prepare, this popular dish is usually a take-out meal served with white rice and a side of simple greens. This char siu recipe stays true to traditional ingredients, using real red wine lees and red bean curd for the trademark colour instead of food colouring or ketchup, but plays with a few Western cooking techniques to produce a crunchier, caramelized bark on the meat, similar to an American-style barbecue char.
Char Siu Pork Belly Recipe – 叉燒 Cantonese Yale: Chāsīu
Prep time: 2 to 3 days
Cook time: 60 minutes
Makes 8 to 12 strips of ‘char siu’ barbecue, serves 6 to 12 people
FYI I have tried to find links to all the hard to find, or regionally specific ingredients on Amazon, or included substitutes where applicable.
- 1.5 Kilos of pork belly, sliced into 2 cm slabs
- 2 cubes of red bean curd, in their sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, chopped and pureed
- 30 ml red wine lees (…sorry, I couldn’t find a link on Amazon? double bean curd, if you can’t find the red wine lees)
- 30 ml oyster sauce
- 30 ml of grated ginger with its juices
- 15 ml quality Chinese soy sauce (Don’t sub Japanese soy, it tastes different)
- 15 ml Shoaxing rice wine
- 15 ml maltose (Do sub: dark honey or molasses)
- 10 ml black rice vinegar
Finishing ‘Wing’ Sauce
- Marinade, set aside remainder after removing meat
- 15 ml maltose (molasses)
- 15 ml honey
- Slice the pork belly into slabs as thick as a finger (roughly 2 cm). You want them to have a maximum amount of surface area to absorb marinade and create the crunchy bark, while maintaining enough volume to produce a juicy interior meat.
- Mix all marinade ingredients, then toss the slabs of pork to thoroughly coat. Refrigerate in a sealed, air tight bag for 48 to 72 hours.
- Remove slabs from marinade, let excess marinade drip off, and lay on a rack elevated from a baking sheet, leaving space for hot air to circulate around each strip.
- Place the baking sheet of ribs in the cold and oven and heat (100C/215F). This will allow the meat to sweat and open to the flavours. Once the oven is heated, turn up to 125C/250F for 20 minutes, rendering much of the fat at low heat. Turn up to 175C/350F for 20 minutes.
- Finish under the broiler for 10 minutes, flipping continually. Beware, the fat may spit and/or smoke under a gas broiler, and you must maintain eye contact with the meat throughout broiling. The pork belly strips are finished when they form a dark, caramelized, crunchy bark. Remove to a large mixing bowl.
- Remove the skin from the top of pork belly slab and score with a crosshatch pattern.
- Mix all marinade ingredients, then thoroughly coat the pork belly meat. Refrigerate in a sealed, air tight bag for 48 to 72 hours.
- Smoke for 4-5 hours with applewood and/or hickory at 100C/215F. Allow to cool completely. The smoking process can be done 2 to 3 days before your meal.
- Slice pork belly against the grain into 2 cm slab portions with a very sharp knife. Brown slabs on the grill, for a few minutes on each side.
Serve & Plate:
- For the finishing ‘wing’ style sauce, boil down leftover marinade with maltose and honey, stirring constantly, until it thickens and sticks to the back of a spoon.
- Pour the hot sauce over the cooling pork belly strips and toss in mixing bowl. The sauce should be thick enough that it binds to the meat and does not drip off. Return strips to rack and cool slightly before serving, which will allow the sauce to candy and harden to crunchy perfection.
- Optional: You can slice leftover strips crosswise into bite-sized ‘burnt ends’ and serve as an amazing snack, appetizer, or fancy plating option. The interior of the pork belly strips will cut into 3 different bands of colour, and the red marinade will mimic the beautiful red ‘smoke ring’ of American barbecue.