I have lost count on how many times I have cooked my Mum's Char Siew since I first posted the recipe. (Check the series of posts on Char Siew here. Go here for a pictorial post of this recipe)
I have experimented with different method and ingredients.
I have had it pressure-cooked, "su-vied" and oven-ed.
I have added other ingredients, hoping to improve on the recipe.
I could not believe that it did not need garlic or ginger.
I have wondered what oyster sauce is doing in there.
I had doubts on the amount of oil she started with.
But it's as if my Mum had a last word on it.
I have come away with a deeper appreciation of my Mum's tested and tried recipe. The next time I make this again, I will just follow her recipe to the tee. I won't claim this is the best CS around. I will say with certainty that if you follow her recipe, you can make a good satisfying home-made CS.
My Mum's recipe is that simple because that is what she has arrived at after all the years of making it. You don't need more than this for a good CS.
1st lesson: Keep your recipe simple. A recipe with a long list is not necessary a better recipe. More is sometimes less. In trying out and developing a recipe, learn to pick out the essentials. Often a few good ingredients is all that is needed. Add something else, and it is either redundant or worse, alter the taste in the wrong direction.
Have you tried digging your nose by putting your hand behind your head and come from the other way round? Don't try it: you may sprain your hand or poke your eye. That was how I felt after I tried the Sous Vide process. I will not bother with the oven either.
This leads me to the 2nd lesson: The latest tools are not necessarily the best. You may be aware of the current rage on "modernist" cooking. There is a lot of good - and science - in this and as with every other curious cook, I am open to it and learning. Some techniques and ideas are great and I have been using them. But no, it does not improve on CS made my Mum's way.
There are also many recipes recommending brining, some for days. When it comes to CS, I don't see why this needs to be done. The wok does a pretty good job at braising the meats in its sauces (technically, "boiling"). Marinating it for a few hours does tenderise the meat further and make it more moist, and I will recommend this. But if you did not make earlier preparations and need to make CS on the spot, even without any pre-marinating, the CS will turn out well.
So, 3rd lesson: Sometimes you do better if you trust the traditions handed down to you than some fanciful theories developed elsewhere. Think about this, our Chinese recipes have been passed down through the generations. There is an accumulated wisdom. You only have yourself to blame if you think some smart cook or food scientist elsewhere from another culture can help you make a better dish than your Mum's or grandma's. I wish more Chinese home cooks will document their recipes carefully with detailed steps. I have a collection of Tham Yew Kai recipes from the 70's but obviously, not enough work has been done on some aspects of our cuisine.
- Keep it simple
- Use the right tool
- Trust tradition
You do not need to do a few somersaults. Or dig your nose the other way round.
Auntie Ruby's Char Siew Recipe
Downloadabe recipe here
Oil (Corn or vegetable/palm)
1. Add to a heated wok
Pork belly Strips
Dark (Thick) Chinese soy sauce
White Pepper powder
Maltose or Honey
1 soup bowl
2. Add pork and after 5 minutes, add all ingredients into the wok and simmer for 40 minutes or till the pork is tender enough.
3. Remove most of the sauce.
4. Caremelise the meat in medium heat. Add some honey. About a minute or two per side.
5. After the Char Siew is done, coat lightly with some honey
- If you are using leaner cuts, i.e. shoulder pork, use a bit more oil
- During the "charring or searing phase", if you are cooking larger quantities (i.e. 3-5 kilos), char the pork strips in batches. It's easier and you will avoid over-grilling the meat. Control the fire. It will char well under medium fire too. Don't overdo the charring. Don't add honey as it will turn bitter if burned.
- When serving, slice the Char Siew diagonally. Apart from presentation, it will be more tender to the bite.
|Pork Belly CS|