The cheat: char siu

Author: Alice Storey
Photography: John-Paul Urizar

Lacquered in finger-licking glaze, Cantonese pork picked up from your local barbecue shop makes light work of fast flavour-packed meals.

Hanging glistening in the windows of Chinese barbecue shops next to the mahogany-lacquered ducks is this delicious sticky meat - char siu pork.

Char siu falls into the Cantonese category of siu mei, roast meat, and translates to "fork burn roast", after the traditional cooking method.

Char siu is a versatile meat and pops up in other Asian cuisines, whether it's Japanese ramen or Thai stir-fries. Add it to a salad with plenty of herbs, crunchy cabbage and a sweet, sour and salty dressing or, for a take on Peking duck, load pancakes with hoisin or char siu sauce, crisp cucumber, spring onions and plenty of sliced pork - a perfect party entrée.

Char siu is best eaten warm or at room temperature; if you want to reheat it, ask for extra sauce to baste it with when warming it in a hot oven, or add it to soups, stir-fries or fried rice. It also makes a mean sandwich.

Char siu banh-mi style
Makes 4
Stir 100ml rice wine vinegar, 50gm caster sugar and 100ml water in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, set aside to cool, then add 1 julienned carrot and refrigerate to pickle (20-30 minutes). Split 4 long white rolls horizontally, spread each with chicken liver pâté, top with pickled carrot, spring onion batons, and about 70gm thinly sliced char siu. Top with coriander and a squeeze of Sriracha.

Snow pea and char siu stir-fry with peanuts and chilli
Serves 4
Heat 2 tsp sesame oil in a large wok over high heat, add 1 tbsp julienned ginger, 2 crushed garlic cloves and stir-fry until fragrant (30 seconds). Add 100gm each snow peas and sugar snap peas and 4 thinly sliced Swiss brown mushrooms and stir-fry until tender (1-2 minutes). Add 300gm thinly sliced char sui and stir-fry until warmed through (1 minute). Add 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine and stir-fry to combine. Serve with steamed Jasmine rice and scattered with chilli flakes and crushed roasted peanuts.

Choy sum and char siu soup
Serves 4
Bring 1.5 litres chicken stock to boil over medium-high heat, add 2 bruised garlic cloves, 1 star anise and 2cm ginger thinly sliced and kernels of 2 corncobs and cook until bright yellow (2-3 minutes). Add 200gm fresh egg noodles and 100gm chopped choy sum and cook until noodles are just tender and choy sum is bright green (1-2 minutes). Divide among 4 bowls and top with sliced char siu (about 350gm in total) and serve hot with spring onion and thinly sliced red chilli.

Char siu omelette (pictured)
Serves 1-2
Whisk 3 eggs and a couple of drops of sesame oil in a bowl and season to taste. Heat 1 tsp sesame oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add eggs and cook, stirring initially, until cooked through (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat, spread with 1½ tbsp hoisin sauce, top with ¼ cup each Thai basil and coriander, ½ cucumber sliced into ribbons, ¼ cup bean sprouts and 80gm sliced char siu. Gently fold omelette over and serve scattered with sesame seeds, thinly sliced spring onion and extra hoisin.

Hot tips
+ Char siu is best eaten on the day you buy it, but if you have some left over, coarsely chop it and use it as a filling for char siu bao or in fried rice.
+ Don't skip the sauce offered at many stores - it has a great barbecue flavour.

Related link: make your own char siu pork.







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