Asian Comfort Food – Char Siu

A Simple Plate of Deliciousness

Been a little while since my last post, but not all my chosen fault.  About the beginning of the month, I had cataract surgery, but admittedly, these days, that’s not much of an excuse – my Doc tells me it’s now the most common surgery done, and truthfully, it’s no more serious that a visit to the dentist – in fact, I’d rather have cataract surgery than go to the dentist!  So, yeah, it ain’t much of an excuse.

But then I read an article on computer security, and one thing led to another, and eventually I was in over my head.  You see, I’ve got this thing about not calling tech support -doesn’t matter whose – and frankly, for the past ten years or so, I’ve never had to do so – I just do a lot of researching online, spend a good deal of time on a few favorite tech sites, and try a lot of ‘things’ with my own machines until at last I solve whatever problem I initially had.  However, this time the issue was changing the security settings in my present router, and if any of you have had the experience, it can get a little hairy – not so much with the router settings themselves, but once the router settings are changed, you must go back and change many, many settings on the devices that communicate with the router – and that’s where things can break down.

In the middle of everything, I spent a few days without internet connection, and that’s always very discouraging – but I persevered.  I’ve worked with Windows from way back in the days of ‘Windows 3.1’ (1992), and it’s just amazing to see how much more intuitive it is today than it was back then – but we’re also asking it to do things now, that we weren’t back then, so there are still lots of times when our computer has no idea what we’re trying to do – and then it’s up to us, sadly!

Whatever, that’s where I’ve been, excuse or no excuse – but I’ll not leave this subject without sharing with you the fact that many of us are still not well protected as far as a home wi-fi network security should be.  If you have a home network, and use a router, please check your router settings to see if you have WEP selected as your current level of firewall security – and if you do, please know that you are not very secure.  WEP was an early wi-fi security protocol, but there are newer alternatives which if available will provide a far better level of security for your network.  Unfortunately, even current routers are shipped with WEP as the default security because it lends itself to an extremely simple installation and setup – and it also lends itself to an extremely simple way for any local hackers in your neighborhood -or mobile hackers who prowl up and down residential streets – to steal any wi-fi signal they pick up.  WEP is really no protection at all.

If you find your router is set to WEP security, do a little research to change it to something more secure – (start here) – a better choice would be WPA, or even better, WPA-2.  And if you find that your current router will only provide WEP security, I’d suggest you get a new router – it’s time!

OK, on to better things.

I’ve been talking about making bao for some time now – and since bao are steamed, they fit well into my current obsession with steam.  However, as you know if you’ve ever had bao from an Asian grocery or bakery, they are simply light fluffy breading around a savory filling – some bao are made with sweet bean paste, but in truth, Asian baked goods don’t seem big on sweet buns like us westerners – that’s probably why Asians tend to be more healthy too.  But that may not keep me from making some sweet bao with almond paste – hey, that sounds really good.

One of my favorites is BBQ Pork Bao, which is made with that wonderful looking stuff you see hanging in the window of the Chinese grocery – often it goes by the name of Char Siu.  The literal translation of Char Siu is ‘fork roast’, supposedly because it is skewered onto metal rods (forks) and hung from the interior of ovens to roast – there is no relation to our use of ‘char’, even if the meat is often ‘charred’ – just semantic coincidence.

So, let’s make some Char Siu, so we than can use it to make BBQ Pork Bao.

There is a mystique that’s grown up around Char Siu, and maybe 10,000 ways to make it – maybe more!  I’m drawn to the Hawaiian versions, just ’cause I think they are some of the best I’ve tasted.  The one I share today has come from a Hawaiian restaurant named Golden Dragon (RIP), and has a small cult following.  Some Char Siu purists claim that soy sauce is never used in making Char Siu (as is true with Golden Dragon’s version) and other purists swear against the use of 5 Spice Powder – but I personally love 5 Spice Powder, and I choose this recipe because it DID use it.

This particular recipe also uses Wet Red Bean Curd, which is a form of fermented (lactic acid), preserved tofu – it gets its red coloring from being fermented with red fermented rice.  Apparently, the red coloring of the Wet Red Bean Curd is strong enough to give the Char Siu its red coloring – so if you do find some of this stuff (I did not), you need not worry about using red coloring.  Actually, both the Wet Red Bean Curd AND the red coloring are optional – red coloring just makes the meat look better.  You can look for this in an Asian grocery – it comes in glass jars or crockery containers – and although I’m not familiar with it, and didn’t use it, the chef at Golden Dragon swears it’s the secret to making really good Char Siu.  But one final word of warning – fermented bean curd comes in many forms, some of which are strong in flavor (think Natto), so try before using – or ask a lot of questions before buying.

So here is the Golden Dragon’s version of the extremely popular, Char Siu.

It's OK, I'm Not the Pan Washer!

Don't Spare the Glaze

Damn, This Stuff is Good!

Char Siu Pork – Golden Dragon

5 pounds pork butt, fat trimmed  (You may of course use less meat)
» Marinade:
1 cup sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 ounce (about 1 cube) wet red bean curd (available in Asian groceries) OR
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons brandy

  • Cut pork lengthwise into 1-inch thick slices, about 2 inches wide.
  • Cover in water and soak 1 hour to draw out blood.
  • Combine marinade ingredients, breaking up bean curd and stirring until well-combined.
  • Drain pork well and dry with a towel.
  • Cover with marinade and mix well with hands a few minutes, so meat is well-coated and to work in flavor.
  • Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place pork on a rack over a roasting pan.
  • Roast 45 minutes.
  • Reduce oven heat to 300, turn meat, baste and roast 20 minutes longer. Serves 12.

Hot and Steamy From the Oven

My Notes:  If you’d like to add some char to these (looks nice!), add five minutes of roasting time, turn heat up to 500 and baste with a mixture of 1 Tbs of honey, 1 Tbs of barley malt syrup, and 1 Tbs of boiling water – turn and baste each minute of the five – watch carefully and end roasting whenever the char is sufficient.

The original recipe rightly calls for pork shoulder (yeah, on a pig the ‘butt’ is his shoulder – go figure), because it contains the right amount of fat to stay nice and moist – I used what I had; pork sirloin – it’s not as good as using shoulder – but whatever you do, do not use pork tenderloin – it has far better uses, it’s too expensive, and your roasted pork will be very dry.  Yeah, I know lots of Char Siu recipes call for it – but it just ain’t right.

Char Siu is fantastic as the protein in hundreds of Asian dishes – but our interest is in using it to make BBQ Pork Bao, which I’ll cover shortly in an upcoming post.


About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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14 Responses to Asian Comfort Food – Char Siu

  1. Now that is interesting, Doc. I’ve never seen a char siu recipe that uses red bean curd before! Look forward to seeing how you make the buns – I’ve never been game to approach the “Hong Kong flour” that most Chinese recipes specify for them!

    Hope your eyes are well and truly mended!

    • drfugawe says:

      Celia, I forgot to to wish you a happy blog anniversary this morning – so … there! Don’t know if the red bean curd is a Hawaiian thing, or done elsewhere – wait … I think I remember the Wikipedia article talking about it, so it must be somewhat common. My recipe for bao doesn’t call for Hong Kong flour, whatever that is – so I won’t worry about that.

      They’re still going to give my left eye another poke on 3/2, when they try to fix the macular hole again – Fingers crossed – but at least I’ll have another round of my beloved propofol, or whatever they’re using now.

      • Thanks Doc! Look forward to seeing what you use – the Chinese traditionally use a very bleached soft white flour in their buns. It’s so white it nearly glows! 🙂 Having said that, it’s never been enough of a disincentive to stop me eating squillions of char siu pow, which I absolutely adore.

        Hope your other eye mends well, glad they’re giving you your drug of choice! 🙂

  2. Routers – ah – a quick burst of paranoia – ah –
    yes I’m WEP 128 bit whatever that means, is it time to buy a new airport extreme, maybe maybe maybe….new mac, new phone… or maybe just pull the plug …. ok thanks for that prompt to research stuff that passeth all understanding of my pea-sized brain

    but much more importantly! Hope you’re doing OK with the eye surgery and glad to see you’re eating well in the meantime! That pork looks delicious – one of the things I miss about living in London is there is nowhere here where you can wallk past windows full of lurid red meats glistening and waving, ‘come in Joanna,’ they used to cry, ‘char siu here, crispy duck, soft shell crab’…

    • drfugawe says:

      Before you spring for a new router, why not check to see if your old one can do WPA2? It’s been around for awhile – I wish you luck with it, I’m still having issues with all my other devices.

      I know the feeling about the scarcity of Asian groceries – my nearest is 3 hours away! But, hey, you can make your own lurid, red glistening meats, right there in your kitchen while Zeb stares in lust.

  3. Mary Smiley says:

    Hey again Doc…this pork looks amazing. I may just have to try this one. I made pork bao’s a long time ago and they came out pretty well. I did the baked kind not steamed.

    I’m glad your surgery went well. Cataract surgery is a breeze. I have a long way to go to get the other one done but I did have one after my eye injury created a cataract. I also had a Yag procedure done to reduce flare issues. Now my eye is doing pretty darn well considering I could have lost it altogether or my vision in that eye.

    Your post is making me hungry but I think a home made wild mushroom pizza may be in order for tonight. In fact I’d better go make the dough now! ciao…

    • drfugawe says:

      Sorry I missed your comment, Mary (I did that before too, didn’t I!). Hey, wild mushroom pizza sounds mighty good to me – but even better with some slices of this stuff scatter across the top.

  4. Lovely glaze..they look really good. I’m going to try your choice of recipe.

    Interesting to read how you like the Hawaiian version of it.

    Glad to read you had your eyes sorted out

  5. psst… what cut is pork butt? My butcher gave me an old fashioned look when I asked after this the other day…

    • drfugawe says:

      It’s a poorly named piece of pork, since the butt is actually part of the shoulder – I suspect that butchers have a dozen different names they can apply to the shoulder of a pig, depending on how they cut it up – seems to me that US pork butt is always boneless, although I’m not positive of that. Wikipedia says the butt is the upper shoulder, and the bottom part is called the picnic (where the hell do you suppose that name came from?).

      Of course, you guys can have a completely different set of cutesy names for it too. What are you making with it?

      • pork shoulder – got it now – thanks!

        – I wanted to have a go at this of course Doc 🙂 …. but having said that we went out for dim sum yesterday lunchtime and so I sated my desire for char siu with an instant fix on the spot, but I will get round to this very soon. I like a challenge!

  6. Oh one my favourite things to eat! Yummy! I don’t eat much meat but I can never turn dow na char siu pau!!!! Giving me a craving now!

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