Ahem. This was incredibly easy to make. The recipe I based this off of comes from Shiokadelicious, a now-defunct food blog written by a woman named Renee. I got my hands on the recipe from Digital Dish, a collection of food blogger recipes compiled and edited by Owen at Tomatilla!. It sounded so simple that I had to try it out, because like many people, I love cha-siew.
Renee reveals that maltose is used in the marinade of virtually all store-bought cha-siew, and gives it that glossy sheen. Honey, corn syrup, and similar don't really make for good substitutions if you want that look and glazed texture. Renee says: "Maltose is rather hard and extremely sticky and gooey. It gives a certain viscosity to the marinade, and more importantly, it imparts a high gloss and shine to the meat, which is also an important part of the appeal of char siew. And unlike honey, when cooked, it has a less sticky feel to it. The sweetness of maltose is also different from that of honey. I personally feel that maltose is quite an integral part of the char siew marinade. However, if it is unavailable, I think honey does make for an acceptable substitution." However, I didn't want to specially find and purchase maltose for this purpose as I don't know what else I would use it in, so I substituted anyway and just accepted from the beginning that it wasn't going to be exactly the same.
I used pork leg meat, but pork shoulder is apparently also fairly common. Other online recipes advocate the use of pork butt or pork tenderloin, but I'd avoid the latter because it's the least flavorful cut. I purchased the leg meat with the skin still on, because it was cheaper, and removed the skin and most of the extra fatty tissue before marinating.
As for food coloring, to give the meat that characteristic 'red' edge, Renee used powdered food coloring. I only had the liquid kind, but the marinade is really dark and even after using 5 drops of coloring it didn't really change, so I just gave up. The raw meat, even after marinating overnight, didn't actually look red. It kind of does after cooking, as you can see in the photos, but I don't know if that's really from the food coloring or just from the soy-sauce based marinade cooking into that color. I'm personally doubtful it was the result of the food coloring. I would think if the coloring were going to stain the meat red, it would have done so on the raw meat as well, but the raw meat showed no redness at all. So if the red color is important to you, you might want to try using powdered food coloring as Renee did. Personally I'm not convinced that adding the coloring at the marinade stage is the way to go... I'm going to have to do some more experimentation.
Now, as to how it tasted. It was incredibly, wonderfully tender. It wasn't like the kind of cha-siew you get at Chinese BBQ places; it did taste more soy sauce-y than sweet (both my cousin and I came to that same conclusion). And while I am going to try this a few more times in order to try and get to a cha-siew that more closely resembles something you'd get at a restaurant (like Sam Woo) -- it probably involves actually buying maltose -- I have to say that this was quite delicious in its own right. And so easy! A simple marinade, wait overnight, then roast for about 40 minutes the next day. The only challenge is not gobbling it all up in one sitting.
Cha-Siew (Chinese BBQ Roasted Pork) (recipe adapted from Shiokadelicious, in Digital Dish)
- 2 lbs pork (leg or shoulder meat preferred)
- 5 tbsp light soy sauce
- 5 tbsp maltose (or honey or corn syrup)
- 4 tbsp white sugar
- 4 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 4 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into 4 pieces and smashed
- red food coloring (optional)
- Wash the pork and remove skin and really large chunks of fat.
- In a medium saucepan, combine all the marinade ingredients except for the food coloring. Heat this only until the sugar (and maltose, if using) dissolves. If it gets too hot, cool it to room temperature. Add food coloring, if using.
- Put the pork in a container that fits it snugly (I just used the plastic bag that it came in from the butcher's), then pour the marinade on top. Let this marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Try to ensure that all the surface areas get some marinade.
- Remove the pork from the fridge about 40 minutes before cooking, to allow it to return to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 410°F.
- Line a roasting pan with foil (for easy clean up). Place a wire rack on top of the foil. Lay the pork on the rack. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Pour the marinade into a medium saucepan, remove the chunks of garlic and ginger, and heat to boiling, then keep simmering at a low heat to reduce the sauce. It's been sitting with raw pork so you want to make sure to kill all the microbes. Dirty foam will float to the top; skim this off and discard.
- After roasting for 15 minutes, baste the pork with the marinade and turn it over. Reduce the heat to 360°F and roast for another 15 minutes. (If you chose to use tenderloin despite my dire warning not to, it might be done now.)
- Baste the pork without turning and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. This next part is optional. What I did is, in the last 4 minutes, I put the pork under the broiler, 2 minutes for each side, basting each time. That gave it a nice, pretty charred look that's characteristic of cha-siew.
- Remove the pork from the oven. By now the foil will be covered with raised black bits and you'll be very glad you used it. Baste both sides of the meat again with the reduced sauce, and let it sit on the wire rack for 10 minutes undisturbed before slicing. Serve with the sauce.