I used to be so intimidated by the thought of making Char Siu at home. After all, the recipe has a reputation of being a closely guarded secret.
Char Siu is Cantonese-style barbecue pork. The flavour and aroma of Char Siu is very distinct and different from the barbecue meats in western cuisine. Its flavour includes sweet-and-salty notes, plus spices that give Char Siu its own unique taste.
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If done right, Char Siu is deliciously tender with its heady, sweet-yet-salty pork flavour.
A few ingredients are key to creating that Char Siu flavour. They include five-spice powder, white pepper, fermented bean curd, oyster sauce, a thick, sweet dark soy sauce and corn syrup. The first five ingredients give Char Siu its distinctive flavour while the corn syrup gives it that characteristic shiny glaze.
Five-spice powder, with its heady aroma, consists of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel, and can be purchased from Asian supermarkets.
Another key ingredient, fermented bean curd, is also available in Asian supermarkets. Either red or white fermented bean curd may be used in this recipe. Oyster sauce is a thick sauce made from oysters. It has a sweet-and-briny taste and lends a delicious umami flavour to the meat.
Although Char Siu may be made with various cuts of pork, it’s best made with a fattier cut like pork shoulder or pork butt. It’s highly recommended that the pork be marinated for 24 hours, or at least overnight, so that it has a chance to fully absorb all of the delicious flavours.
Char Siu is best served with rice or noodles, in steamed Bao, or even wrapped in summer rolls.
Also, don’t throw out the marinade. It’s extremely flavourful and delicious. Cook it over low heat until bubbly and thickened. It could be used to glaze the pork as it’s roasting or, if thinned with water, turned into “chaap”, Cantonese for sauce, which then can be used to drizzle over homemade Char Siu Faan — that’s Cantonese for steamed rice topped with sliced Char Siu. Delicious.
2 lbs (1 kg) pork shoulder or pork butt
100 g (1/2 cup) brown sugar
8 cloves garlic
3 cubes fermented bean curd, mashed
1 tbsp (15 mL) Kecap Manis
1 tbsp (15mL) Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp (15 mL) light soy sauce
1 tbsp (15mL) oyster sauce
1 tbsp (15mL) corn syrup
1 tsp (5 mL) five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) white pepper
Slice pork shoulder into long strips measuring about three-inches thick and set aside. Don’t remove any of the extra fat from the pork shoulder as it adds flavour and will render itself while roasting.
In a large freezer resealable bag, add all of the ingredients with the exception of the pork shoulder, seal and flip the bag to mix the ingredients well. Unseal bag, add the strips of pork shoulder, reseal the bag and turn the bag a few times to coat the meat. Place the bag on a large plate and place in the refrigerator to marinade for up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Set oven rack to middle position.
Line a roasting pan, fitted with a roasting rack, with foil for easy cleanup. Trust me, you’ll thank me. Remove the strips of pork shoulder from the bag and place them on the roasting rack. Don’t discard the marinade.
Add the marinade to a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Once the marinade has thickened slightly, set aside.
Roast the pork shoulder for 12 to 15 minutes, then remove it from the oven. Brush the partly roasted pork with the thickened marinade before turning it over and roasting the other side for an additional 12 to 15 minutes. Pork is ready to be broiled once the internal temperature measures 145 F.
Set oven to broil and broil each side of the pork until it’s bubbly and slightly charred, about 2 minutes each side. Burnt bits on Char Siu is part of its trademark.
Remove the pork from the oven, let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then slice and serve.
To make the sauce for Char Siu Faan, thin out the marinade with 3/4 to 1 cup of water, bring it to a boil and set aside. Serve roasted Char Siu over hot steamed rice and drizzle with the sauce.
Karen Gordon is as food blogger from North Vancouver who shares her latest recipe creations on Instagram at @karen.t.ology and online at Karentology.com.