What is char siu?
The Chinese dish, char siu is marinated, roasted or barbecued pork and has its origins in Cantonese cuisine. Char siu literally means “fork roasted” and refers to the traditional cooking of the meat: long strips of meat are skewered on a fork and roasted.
A good char siu is nice and tender and has a balanced salty and sweet taste. The meat often has a red-brown to red colour, which comes from the marinade made from fermented red bean curd, soy sauce and/or hoisin sauce, among other things. However, that striking red colour can also be attributed to a few drops of red food colouring!
Char siu is eaten everywhere, including outside of China, and is one of the fifty most popular dishes in the world.
East vs. west
The parts of the pig that are used to make char siu depends on local preferences. In Asia, people prefer a fatty piece of meat, such as pork belly or neck. The ideal fat percentage for the Chinese chef is around thirty per cent. Although pork belly is becoming increasingly popular in other countries, European palates often prefer the lean parts of the pig, such as pork tenderloin or fillet, even if it results in a drier char siu.
Did you know?
Char siu is served in fast food restaurants and regular restaurants in China. If you order it as fast food, it will always be served with some form of carbohydrate: bread (char siu bao), noodles (cha siu mein) or rice (char siu fan).
How to make char siu
Marinate long strips of pork, preferably nicely marbled with fat, for up to one night, but at least an hour. The marinade varies from chef to chef, but typically contains a sweet element, such as honey and/or hoisin sauce, fermented red bean curd, sugar and salt. Sometimes sesame paste or oil is used, and Chinese five-spice powder.
The marinated meat is roasted in the oven or over a barbecue. The higher the starting temperature, the faster the surface of the meat sears. This allows the flavours and juices to stay in the meat, instead of dripping out into the oven. The meat is hung on hooks or placed on a grill. For an extra glossy red-brown crust, the meat is sometimes brushed after roasting with a brown sugar glaze. It is served sliced.
How to eat
Char siu can be eaten as a main dish with rice and steamed oriental vegetables, and can also be used to fill sandwiches, for example, as a filling in a bapao sandwich, or served on top of noodle soup.
Are you a fan of barbecued pork? Order a Vietnamese bun cha and you’ll get grilled pieces of pork with rice noodles and a sauce.