With fast Asian a rapidly rising dining option, there are likely few carnivores out there who don’t know and love Char Siu pork, the ubiquitous ‘Chinese Barbecued Pork.’ Served with nose-searing Chinese mustard and toasted sesame seeds, it’s not only a killer snack, it’s fabulous in fried rice, or with fresh apple slices and sharp cheddar cheese. To know Char Siu is to love it, but perhaps not so much the price – an 8 ounce package of the stuff from anybody good can set you back $8 to $12, or a whopping $16 to $24 a pound. Any time prices get that stratospheric, it’s time to get sensible and make your own at home. There are subtle variations, but the essence of the dish is known, reproducible, and easy to make.
The Char Siu we know and love has its roots in Cantonese cooking, that which comes by way of Guangdong province, and its capital city, Guangzhou. Good Cantonese cooks are revered throughout China and the world. The hallmarks of the style are fresh, local ingredients, well balanced dishes, and preparations that compliment, but never overpower, the star of the show. Unlike many other Chinese cuisines, Cantonese cooking doesn’t use a lot of fresh herbs, relying instead on a litany of dried and prepared spices and sauces. Many of these are so mainstream that they are widely considered ‘Chinese’ by neophytes – everything from Hoisin, Oyster, and Plum sauces, to sweet and sour, black bean sauce, and shrimp paste. The master sauces from which a wealth of dishes spring is reminiscent of classic French cooking, right down to Master Stock, used for braising and poaching meats and fish.
Char Siu is, in fact, one of those master sauces, used for pork, chicken, and wildfowl. The combination of sweet, savory, and exotic is the fuel that makes the barbecued pork so damn good. There are a few things you must put into a Char Siu marinade in order to faithfully reproduce what’s in your minds eye, and a few others you can use if you wish – As with many dishes and cuisines, there really is no one right way – If you like it, make it that way, it’s all good. Traditionally, Char Siu is cooked over charcoal, and that is also for my mind, a must do when you make it at home. The meat isn’t smoked, per se, but it does get, (and need), that certain je nais sais quoi that only cooking over coals can provide. What’s often perceived as a smoke ring with this meat, a la American pit barbecue, is actually all brought on by the marinade – There are a lot of commercial makers who add some kind of red food coloring to the mix to enhance that effect – Naturally, we’re gonna pass on that option.
Here then is our spin on Char Siu. We recommend using pork tenderloin for the meat. It has the perfect size, fat to lean ratio, and relatively quick cooking time for this dish.
Char Siu Pork
1 1/2 to 2 pounds Pork Tenderloin.
2 Tablespoons dark Soy Sauce
1 1/2 Tablespoons Honey
1 1/2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1 Tablespoon Red Fermented Bean Curd
1 Tablespoon Peanut Oil
2 teaspoons Rice Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Oyster Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
1/2 teaspoon sweet, smoked Paprika
1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
Combine all marinade ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
As soon as the sauce starts to simmer, remove it from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature – The cooking help homogenize the sauce, and the cool down allows flavors to further marry.
Place the pork and marinade in a ziplock bag and expel as much air as possible, (and if you’ve a vacuum sealer, so much the better.)
Gently massage the marinade onto the pork, coating evenly and thoroughly.
Refrigerate for at least 12 hours, and for my mind, 48 hours is best – The longer you go, the more pronounced the effect of the marinade on the pork.
Light a lump charcoal fire in a grill and allow the coals to become white hot.
Set up a two zone grill, with the coals all on one side, and a drip pan only under the other side – This is indirect grilling, and makes not only perfectly roasted meats, but almost eliminates the possibility of burning expensive flesh – Kinda like a convection oven, only way cheaper…
Open the bottom vents on the grill about half way.
Place the marinated tenderloins over the drip pan on the cool side of the grill.
Give them a baste with a little more of the marinade.
Place your lid on the grill, with the top vents over the meat, on the cool side.
Open the top vents about half way.
You do not need to turn the meat; check on it, and baste a bit, about every 10 to 15 minutes.
Use all the remaining marinade to baste.
When the internal temperature of the tenderloin reaches 155° F, remove it from the grill and set it aside to rest for 15 minutes – DO NOT cut into the meat until it rested!
Cut the tenderloin on a bias, at about a 45° angle, and serve with rice and steamed veggies.