Thursday, September 16, 2010

Homemade Honey Char Siew (蜜汁叉烧) - Experimenting with 2 Recipes

I was running low on my chinese cooking supplies recently. No more rice wine (绍兴酒), no more chinese sausages (腊肠), no more dried shrimps (虾米),  no more dried shiitake mushrooms (香菇). I thought of making fried rice but I had none of the above ingredients in store. In order to replenish those supplies, I would have to make a trip down to Antwerp Chinatown and it is so troublesome to find parking space there. Not to mention that area is generally not safe and full of shady characters especially after nightfall, not the chinese businessmen who earn a decent living there nor decent shoppers like me, but some strange marginalized people who roam the streets and bum around doing nothing.

Anyway, yesterday my FIL said he would be going to Makro in Wijnegem, the biggest supermarket in the region (but still considered small by Singapore standards), so I quickly jumped at the chance and asked him to get me some dried shiitake mushrooms and some streaky pork, or what they called varken buikspek here. I wanted ongezouten buikspek (unsalted fatty pork stomach). My requirements were quite specific, it had to be unsmoked and unsalted for making char siew (叉烧). Armed with the newly bought shitake mushrooms, though still lacking in dried shrimps, I thought I could whip up some fried rice with some homemade char siew tomorrow. Sounded like a good plan.

So I set about cleaning the streaky pork. 0.79kg for 4.3 euro. Not a bad deal. Considering a plate of plain fried rice without char siew costs 10 euro here. So a plate of char siew rice would have set me back by 12-15 euro or so. Talk about daylight robbery! Imagine a plate of char siew rice here costs at least 5 times as much as that in Singapore! And I have to specially drive to Antwerp to enjoy it. What the heck. Here is 4 euro worth of fatty pork and I can replicate a dish of homemade char siew for 3 persons. No actually, I only intended to use half of it for making the char siew and the other half would be reserved for making tau you bah (braised pork with soya sauce) later this week. So my homemade char siew effectively cost only 2 euro for 3 persons. Hahaha, I smiled to myself for being such a shrewd housewife. :)

I looked around my stack of recipes and I happened to have 2 different char siew recipes on hand. Why not make an experiment of it, it would be quite fun, I thought. So I divided the fatty pork into 2 portions and marinated them using the 2 recipes. Kill 2 birds with one stone. Or rather kill 2 "pigs" with 1 stone?

Here are the ingredients and steps on how to make char siew (or char siu/roast pork) at home.

Recipe 1
(Adapted from Violet Fenying's recipe which has ceased to exist since Mar 10)

Ingredients A
500g pork (cut into long strips)
1 tbsp red wine residue - I didnt use any

Ingredients B (chopped)
2 slices ginger
3 shallots
3 cloves garlic

Ingredients C (seasoning sauce)
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp hua tiao jiu (chinese rice wine)
3 tbsp char siew sauce or hoisin sauce

Ingredients D
3 tbsp honey

1. Wash pork and prick some holes with a fork.
2. Spread pork evenly with red wine residue (I skipped this step).
3. Add Ingredients B, mix well.
4. Add Ingredients C, mix well.
5. Place it in fridge, marinate for 3-4 hours.
6. Place pork on the rack, bake in a pre-heated oven at 210°C for 15 min
7. Turn pork over, bake for another 10 min.
8. Remove pork, spread evenly with honey, and GRILL (turn oven temp to highest or set to grill mode) for another 5 min.

To reduce cleaning up, I would recommend that the pork be placed on a small wire rack which is placed on top of a rectangular pan lined with aluminium foil. This pan is then placed on the rack in the oven during baking. I think it is easier to take in and out of the oven using this setup and it is also much easier to clean.

Varken Buikspek or fatty pork from the stomach
Marinated pork from recipe 1 on the left and recipe 2 on the right.

Recipe 2 
(Adapted from Lily Ng's recipe)

500g pork - cut into strips

2½ tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp soya sauce
1/4 -1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp Mui Kai Lo or chinese rice wine
1/2 tsp 5-spice powder
1/4 tsp salt
dash of pepper

(For simplicity, I use the same steps in recipe 1 to grill the pork in recipe 2, as there is not much difference in the steps).

Homemade char siew fresh from the oven
So what was the verdict? After cutting the 2 batches of char siew, I accidently mixed them all up when I tried to arrange them together on the same plate. Luckily I realised it just in time before I got them totally mixed up, and managed to take a bite of 1 piece of char siew from each batch.

So what was my conclusion? I thought that recipe 1 from Fenying was saltier whereas recipe 2 from Lily Ng was sweeter. Once they were served on the dining table however, you could hardly tell the taste of one from another. They looked the same in terms of colour and there was just a miniscule difference in terms of sweetness and saltiness. In terms of presentation, my homemade char siew didn't really look like the ones served back home in Singapore although the taste was authentic enough. I blamed it on the cut of the meat I had, the thickness of the fatty pork was too thin, and there was nothing I could do about it. In fact I couldn't slice along the cross-section of the char siew, I had to cut them along the strip at every 1 inch interval. That explained why my char siew looked a bit different from the norm. :P

All in all, this was a good experiment for my honey char siew (蜜汁叉烧). The 400g of char siew were quickly gobbled up between me and my hubby. Even His Majesty (my baby son) nodded approvingly and even requested for more when I asked him if it was good. 好吃! Lekker! :)

Updated on 30/09/11 - my succesful attempt on homemade char siew 
- 再战蜜汁叉烧 Homemade Honey Char Siew (once again)


  1. It must be difficult to try to replicate the food we have here. Food and ingredients that we take for granted, became something so rare or even unheard of in a foreign country. My sis lives in the States, there are many Asian people living at her area, so she is able to get ingredients easily, but she still has to cook her own cha kway tiao, bak kut teh, curry chicken, etc.
    You are doing a great job!

  2. Hi HHB

    yah, its pretty difficult to get certain ingredients especially if u dunno the name in the local language. When I miss certain SG food, I will try my best to source for the ingredients or improvise on the spot. Now come to think of it, I should have used pork shoulder to make char siew :)

  3. Hi,
    I was going to suggest pork shoulder for char siu rather than belly pork. Although I have done the same when the supermarket doesn't have the right cut of meat. These days, I find spare rib chops really good for char siu - not too fatty like the belly, not too lean like pork chop. It's in thick steaks instead of long char siu strips though & I cheat by using a "Roast Red Pork" seasoning powder from a Thai company. It makes life easy for me and is tasty. Well, if hubbs likes it and says "Well done dear!" that's what makes me happy! :0)

  4. Brilliant recipe and I had a great success making this for my big buffalo kids who missed Char Siew :)

    1. Hi Gill,
      Thanks for leaving your feedback on my blog, I really appreciate it. It shows my recipe is tried-and-tested, and NOT rubbish according to that fellow raymondyong (who left a terrible comment in Feb 2014). :)


Thank you for dropping by my blog and taking the time to comment. All feedback and comments are greatly appreciated. Please leave your name (real or nick) if you would like me to answer a recipe question, otherwise all. anonymous questions and comments will be strictly ignored. Anonymity is one of my pet peeves. And any spam or links to adverts will be deleted. Thank you and have a nice day!

Print Button


Related Posts with Thumbnails