Auntie Ruby's Char SiewMonday, March 07, 2011
This food blog has been a long time in coming. I have always wanted to write one in memory of my late Mum, or Auntie Ruby, as she was affectionately known to many. Many have asked me to share this Char Siew recipe. I thought I might as well begin with this Cantonese dish as I have one nice photo of her with hers. I have since posted the recipe with a pictorial format here.
Woking the Char Siew Out
In Cantonese, "char" refers to the skewered pork (or fork) and "siew" is to roast them. And that is how Char Siew is traditionally and commercially done: strips of pork skewered and stuck into a vertical oven to roast them.
My mum always used the wok, whether at home or in her commercial kitchen. I have never seen her grill them in an oven. Some find it hard to believe that the wok can "char" the pork. Think honey, sugar or maltose, and as the marinade dries, the fat burns and caramelization does it's work.
After all, haven't you burned food in the wok before?
Seeing is believing and you may want to take closer look at the photo below. I have oven-cooked before but I have settled for the wok because it is a whole lot easier. I do not need to break my back bending, risk burning my hand in trying to baste the meat or fog my glasses as the heat hits it when the door opens. And yes, having to worry about making the sauce from the drippings as they dry up pretty quickly.
The wok? I dump all the meats along with the marinade, cook on a small-medium flame, turn the meats once in a while, and when the meat is done, it is moist and leaves behind this glorious sauce. Of course my poor wife has to clean the sticky wok after that!
|Auntie Ruby with her Pork Belly CS. She is beautiful, eh?|
(Note: I have blogged an updated recipe and simplify the method for CS here. You can also download a printable recipe here )
2 cucumbers: Peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon - sesame oil
1 teaspoon - dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon - pepper
2 tablespoon - honey
2 tablespoon - sugar
2 tablespoon - Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon - Shiao Shing or Chinese wine
1 tsp: 5-spice powder
1tsp soda bicarbonate (optional)
To cook add:
2 tablespoon - oil
1 soup bowl of water
This 'tsp' thing is killing me. I prefer "aggaration." Why? Because my salt may be saltier than yours, and different brands of sauces produce different results. Just use the above as a rough guide. And remember one rule of good cooking - TASTE the marinade as you prepare and mix it beforehand in a bowl. Adjust to your preference. Actually for this dish, about the only indispensable ingredients are the sweet (sugar, honey etc) and salty. The rest are pretty optional, e.g. garlic, ginger. etc You can even replace oyster sauce with hoisin. Or add some salted soy beans (tau cheong). It will have a different taste but, most definitely, char siew. Experiment. Of course if you are mad enough to add tomato ketchup, you would have invented a new dish.
So how long should you marinade it for? 24 hours? 2 hours? 20 minutes? Marinating for a few hours will help to tenderise the meat and also help to flavour the meat. In any case, even if you don't marinate beforehand, your meat will be braising in the heated swirl of sauce in the wok and that should set the flavors in.
|CS being woked out...|
Next, heat up the wok and add in some oil (yeah, ok, 5 tsp...). How do you know the oil is hot enough? Don't dip your finger into it. A painless way is to place your palm a few inches above the oil and feel the heat. Or, lookout for the shimmering. After 47 secs (since you asked), add in the meats and seal them. After about 179.5 secs, pour in the rest of the marinade or sauce to be. Add a small bowl of water. Simmer in small to medium flame for about 30-40 minutes.
Turn the strips of pork every once in a while. Grab a pair of cooking scissors (indispensable for me) and snip off some parts and enjoy along the way till you think it is tender enough. As for the sauce, the end result should be a thick sticky sauce. So if you find the meat is still tough but your sauce has arrived, add some water. What you definitely want is the caramelization towards the end, the burnt bits appearing. This will not work if there is too much water in the sauce. Alternatively, you can remove some of the sauce and burn the CS further. If you are using belly, the oil would have oozed out after 40 mins or so and you are almost frying your meat.
Now, if you still want to char it further (esp if you are using shoulder), you can use a tool which my mum would never have thought of : a blow torch. It will set you back by about 50 dollars but worth the investment if you are also thinking of steaks and crème brûlée. I borrowed mine from my bro-in-law who loves to char everything he eats.
I should add that the wok alone can do an adequate job of charring the meat. You can also finish the job in an oven.
Coming back to the sauce, adjust the taste, i.e. too salty, add sugar, too sweet, add some salt. Sieve the sauce into a bowl for a smooth finish. If you are using belly, you are likely to end up with a top layer of oil. Scoop it off. You should end up with a bowl of velvety caramelised sauce. Good sauce is an essential part of this dish.
CS is best eaten at room temperature. Not even warm. So let the meat rest for a good 30 mins or more. This is one dish which you can prepare hours before dinner time. Then slice and serve. As sliced meat will dry up faster, only slice what you want to serve and the rest can be kept till later.
Goes well with cut cold cucumber or plain fried green veg like Choy Sum. A steaming bowl of rice or wanton noodles.
Take a photo.