A Sous Vide Diary: Pork Belly Char Siew

Tuesday, April 23, 2013



I have written a few posts on making Char Siew the wok way.

It's helpful to note that there are many ways to cook your CS and if you experiment enough and know where you want to go, you can use the technique that works for you.

A good slice of Char Siew basically has these qualities:
  1. Good Flavours: This comes from the marinade/brine, the meat itself (including fat content) caramelization & charring from the cooking process. 
  2. Good bite: Properly cooked, the meat should have a good bite (Cantonese: "Song hou") and you are not looking for "pulled meat" or a "melt in your mouth" experience
  3. Succulent: The meat should not be dry but moist and juicy 
You can test whether CS has a good bite by eating it "whole", i.e. before you slice it in pieces. You should be able to enjoy eating it that way too. I know this for as a child, that was how my Mum used to reward me after I helped her out at her restaurant.

"Nah, Ah Choong."And she cut off a chunk of CS for her boy to enjoy. 

It was magical, I can tell you. As a child, I have always had a sense of wonder about food. Some call that "greedy" but hey, just ignore the Philistines. Some folks just do not know how to appreciate their food.

I have been experimenting with using Sous Vide. This technique has its own advantages such as better control over the cooking process and it is really useful when you are cooking a huge quantity.

Theoretically, the SV method should work:

Step 1: Carefully cook the meat in its brine (marinade) at a "just right" temperature zone to avoid drying out the meat.
Step 2: Blast the meat in the oven for 10 minutes to caramelise and char the exterior 

If you experiment enough (temperature and time) and standardise other factors i.e. type of meat, thickness of the cuts, you should be able to consistently produce the same results. You can easily do it for a huge quantity of meat and since the SV method is "click and forget," it spares you attention time.

In fact, you can go to sleep as you poach-SV the meat. 

As SV is about cooking in a vacuum pack, I am not sure this can be technically called a SV CS method. I don't know what else to call it and I will take some liberty here with the term. 

I will give you the quantities to make 2 kilos of Char Siew. There will still be variables ie. the type of salt and soy sauce you use will be different - and even the meat -  but I will do my best to help you approximate the same results.  

For 2 kilos of Pork Belly, cut into strips, about 1.5-2 inch in diameter

Marinate/Brine Ingredients:
1 litre of water
2t salt
4T sugar
1t 5-spice powder
1t white pepper powder
1t dark sauce
2t Hoisin Sauce (or Oyster Sauce - I prefer Hoisin)
2t Sesame Oil
3T Chinese Wine (Hua Tiao or use 1T of brandy)
Some ginger juice (optional)

Making the marinate or brine 

I am using the Sous Vide Magic (SVM) to control my rice cooker. 
  1. Heat up the water in the cooker till it is about the set temperature (65C). The SVM's temperature sensor is food-safe. Just put it in the water (you can weigh it down with a small fork)
  2. Add in all the ingredients. Stir. Adjust taste if you have to. At this stage, I imagine the brine to taste like how I want the sauce to turn out. Yes, some of the water will evaporate but the meat will absorb some of the flavours and it will even out. 
  3. When you are satisfied with the taste, add the pork strips. With a suitable size rice -cooker, the water should cover the meat. Add a bit more water if you have to. 
  4. Cook for 7 hours at 68ºC. You can lower the temperature if you want it to go for longer hours (i.e. for it to cook overnight and whole day till you come back from work). 63C for 18 hours will work well and I will do that if I am cooking in advance involving a big lot of CS. I am still experimenting with the temp and time. Note that the thickness of the pork strips will affect the timing.
Cut off some bits of the meat and taste. It should have a good bite and since it is poached in the brine, the flavours should be good (Note: meat absorb flavours better in a watery marinate or brine). Leave the meat in the pot till you are ready to char it in the over.

Charring the Meat
  1. Set the oven to 220C. Prep the oven first so that it is hot when the meat goes in
  2. Make the basting liquid - equal portions of honey, brine liquid and oil
  3. Remove the meat strips from the cooker. Coat it with the basting liquid. 
  4. Blast the meat for 10 minutes or longer on a grill  till you the meat is charred in parts. Bast again at mid-point if you like. Remember to collect the fat oils by using a bottom tray. 
  5. Remove from oven and let it cool before you cut it. 
Making the Sauce
  1. Remove the SVM and heat up your rice cooker till the brine liquid boils. 
  2. The scum (fat solids) will gather. Strain the sauce. 
  3. Add some of the fat oils from the oven bottom tray (this step is optional but the pork oil will improve the sauce - great mouth feel!).
  4. Adjust the taste with honey (sweet) or salt - only if necessary and according to your taste.
  5. Thicken the sauce (use corn or potato flour, mix some in water first and then add to the sauce).
Slice your CS the way you like. Spread some sauce over the meat. Serve the plate of CS along with the sauce. As you already know, CS is best eaten with steamed rice and garnished with spring onions, coriander leaves. Fresh cucumber is also good.

I personally like this version of SV CS. The meat is succulent and I like it even when I had it for dinner the next day. Keeping the temperature low and cooking it in the brine will produce this type of CS.

Understand the basic and experiment. Some may prefer to use tau cheong (tau chu) for the marinate. You may prefer leaner cuts of pork. Experiment and adjust. As for the charring, the oven will be less effective than the charcoal roaster but it does a pretty good job. I also see no reason why you cannot char it in the wok if you prefer. Remember not to over-char to avoid having CS with a bitter after taste. 

This is one more reason to use the Sous Vide Magic. Check out the post here on how I set up my SV. and the website which sells SVM. This may sound like a sponsored post but it is not. And I have already give you many reasons to consider SV cooking.

The idea of a great Char Siew might just inspire you.

Poaching the Pork strips in the Rice Cooker
After 7 hours at 65C
This is how it looked after SV, before oven-charring
After the Oven-Charring


Another lot, after oven-charring

Perfect
Plated

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9 comments

  1. You make me really wanna buy myself a Sous Vide machine! :(

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  2. I have better use for it than making CS actually...my SVM has paid back many times over. The best appliance (if it can be called as such) I have used in recent years. Indispensable, I will say. It is up to you though...:)

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  3. Minor note on nomenclature: this is not cooking "sous vide", as there was no use of vacuum. This is simply cooking with a digitally-controlled temperature, which is certainly a cool technique in and of itself!

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  4. Yes, you are right and am aware. Not sure what tern to use if I do not use "Sous Vide" - need to coin a new term maybe!

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  5. Since you are cooking at 65c does the marinade reduce or need the evaporation component? I ask because it seems like this is a good candidate for a true sous vide recipe. Slow cooked in a bag at *low* temperature and then you have the char in the oven to add the malliard process.

    Are you looking for the broil from the oven or would a light char from a bbq grill be sufficient? I keep my sous vide outside so i don'thear the house and the bbq is a convenient way to add a final sear that you don't get in the sous vide

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  6. Hi Solar - the marinade hardly reduce over the few hours. Can close the rice cooker lid.

    As for the charring, oven grill, pan-sear, bbq grill all should work

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  7. Hi..Thanks for sharing the recipe. We were so happy with the results that thd kids opt for char xiu as one of the meal in our coming reunion dinner.

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  8. I just did some sous vide char siu. Different recipe but the technique has great merit. It was so moist in comparison to most takeout places. Made some yummy cabbage fried rice with it.

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