This is the second time we have tried to make char siu at home. The last recipe came from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen. It called for pork shoulder, but I was too lazy to deal with pork shoulder, so we used pork tenderloin instead. The flavor was great, but the texture wasn't quite right because the pork tenderloin is so lean compared to the pork shoulder that you don't get the slightly fatty texture of real char siu. So this time I decided to just bite the bullet and use actual pork shoulder for our char siu. It would have been a whole lot easier if any of the grocery stores nearby sold boneless pork shoulder, but I was sadly out of luck. The pork shoulder that Alex ended up coming home with had both bone and skin still on. So Alex got to spend some quality hours with our Shun boning knife trying to get the skin off and the bone out without completely wrecking the tenderloin. Did I mention the pork shoulder he bought was also 9 1/2 whopping pounds of meat? So we have another 4+ pounds of pork shoulder now sitting in the freezer for some future use.
After having this char siu I will never make it any other way. I literally think it was perfect. There is nothing that I can think of to improve upon it. And it was better than some of the char siu that I have had in Chinatown. I'm totally not kidding about that either. The last plate of char siu I had in Chinatown a few weeks ago was absolutely and utterly disappointing - overly fatty and dry. This char siu was moist and really flavorful. The glaze was perfectly sticky sweet, with a hint of star anise and five-spice. And you didn't even have to add red food coloring for the glaze to develop that nice reddish color. Don't skip the step of reducing the marinade down to drizzle it over the pork and rice. That glaze is crazy good. I was actually inclined to just skip that step because I was being lazy, but it was totally worth the extra effort because I think that extra glaze really made the dish. You also have to just suck it up and go for marinating the pork as long as you can. We marinated it overnight in the fridge and the flavors of the marinade really permeated the pork. We served the pork with rice and some version 1 of the Smacked Cucumbers that we first made back in February. I think that I slightly preferred version 2 of the cucumbers, but I don't know for sure since it has been some time since I made that version. Alex's complaint about these cucumbers was that he didn't get enough sesame oil flavor. I just preferred the homemade chili oil to the chopped salted chilis. Even though I preferred the other version of the Smacked Cucumbers to the one we made with the char siu, it was still a fabulous meal. I will definitely be adding the char siu to my permanent homemade dim sum rotation.
Recipes after the jump!
Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)
Adapted from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens
By Patricia Tanumihardja
2 1/2-3 lbs boneless pork shoulder (if you can't find boneless pork shoulder, get a 3-4 lb half shoulder and de-bone it)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 scallions, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver
2 cilantro stems (preferably with their roots attached), smashed with the flat part of a cleaver
2 star anise
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice
Cut pork into 8 strips roughly 1 1/2 inches wide and 7-8 inches long. Place pork strips in a dish large enough to hold all of the pieces in one layer, or throw pork into a resealable plastic bag.
In a small bowl, mix together sugar, soy, scallions, cilantro, star anise, rice wine, sesame oil and five spice. Pour marinade over the pork. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or preferably a day and a half (we let ours marinate for 24 hours and we flipped the meat over after 14 hours to marinate the other side since the pieces weren't fully submerged).
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Remove pork from marinade, reserving marinade. Place pork on a broiler pan (with a foil-lined bottom tray), or on a cooling rack placed on top of a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast until pork starts caramelizing and is just beginning to char, about 40-45 minutes, flipping meat halfway and basting at least once on each side with reserved marinade.
Simmer marinade in a small saucepan for 10-15 minutes over medium heat, until it reduces somewhat. Periodically skim off the crud that floats on top of the simmering marinade and throw it away.
Transfer pork to a cutting board and allow to rest about 10 minutes. Slice crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Serve with rice and reduced marinade. We drizzled the reduced marinade over the pork itself, as well as over the rice.
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province
By Fuchsia Dunlop
1 English cucumber (about 13 oz)
2 tsp chopped salted chilis
2 tsp garlic, very finely chopped
3 tbsp clear rice vinegar
a couple pinches sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
Version 2 (we made this version):
2 tsp garlic, very finely chopped
2 tbsp clear rice vinegar
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp dried chili flakes
Place cucumber on a chopping board and whack hard, several times, with the flat of a cleaver blade, so he vegetable splinters and opens up with jagged cracks. Chop into bite size pieces. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, and leave for about 30 minutes. Drain off water in the water in the bowl.
To make Version 1, add chopped salted chilis, garlic, vinegar, suar and salt to taste. Mix well and leave for a few minutes to let the flavors blend. Just before serving, add sesame oil and chili oil to taste, toss, and serve.
To make Version 2, add the garlic and vinegar with more salt to taste. Mix well and leave for a few minutes to let the flavors blend. Heat oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Scatter chili flakes over the cucumber, then sprinkle the hot oil over, which will sizzle. Mix well before serving.