"Maple Syrup Char Siew": Cooking Char Siew using ingredients in Toronto

Saturday, April 05, 2014



Cooking and teaching in Toronto has been an eye opener for me. It has helped me to be more aware of how the recipes on my blog are being read. As some ingredients are different, it can be difficult to achieve a similar outcome.

I will blog here a Char Siew recipe which I used in a recent cooking cum teaching session. Believe it or not, some of the people who were there have not heard of Char Siew. I suppose Char Siew awareness is not on the same universal scale as burgers.

Char Siew is a popular Cantonese dish, and not to be confused with Roast Pork or "Siu Yoke" which comes with the crispy skin (see photo below of Roast Pork).

CS is mostly roasted, grilled and sometimes braised. It is sweet, unlike the savoury Siew Yoke. The ingredients are simple. From the home kitchen, as I learnt from my late Mum, the wok or pan can be used to make CS conveniently and easily.

The best wok to use is the not "non-stick" type (case of a double negative phrase which is not quite correct either when you use a positive), i.e. iron-cast, steel etc. The surface is hardier and can withstand some serious scrubbing when cleaning up which you will need to if you want to sear (or "char") your pork.

As for the right pork cut, I chose the shoulder or butt, which is nicely marbled. Canadian pork has more fat and I don't like to use the pork belly here for this.

Here was the recipe I used:

1 kilo of shoulder pork

For the marinade:
1T oyster sauce
2T Light soy sauce
2T sugar
1t salt
1t sesame oil
3T maple syrup
1T hard liquor (Whiskey, VSOP etc)

Other ingredients
4T of cooking oil
Additional maple syrup
200 ml water
1t corn starch
  1. Cut the pork into strips of about 1 inch in diameter. 
  2. Add the ingredients for the marinade and set aside for half an hour.
  3. Heat up the wok with some oil in it.
  4. Add the pork strips.  
  5. After about 5 minutes, add the rest of the marinade. Add the water. When it is hot enough, lower the fire and simmer for 40 minutes. Cover the wok for the first 20 minutes. 
  6. When the pork is cooked (it will be softer when pressed or slice a piece to taste), remove the meat and reduce the sauce. Add the corn starch to thicken the sauce. 
  7. Pour out the sauce. There is no need to clean the wok and ok to have some sauce still in the pan.
  8. Increase the fire to medium strength. Sear the pork strips till some parts are burnt. The purpose of doing this is to create the Mallard reaction, where complex delicious flavours are created when protein with sugar is cooked in high heat. This is akin to pan-searing your steaks. You can google "Mallard Reaction" to find out more. Don't over-char your pork or else it will leave a bitter after-taste. 
  9. Remove the pork into a container. Coat it with the sauce which you have earlier thickened and set aside. 
  10. Leave to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serve.
Note again: When you sear the CS, it is the Mallard reactions which adds delicious flavour to the pork, not the black burned bits. In fact, the black bits can add a bitter aftertaste and so, it should not be overdone. If you skip the charring or searing phase, your CS will just taste like braised pork.

I will add some photos here with timing to guide you:

Added the marinade to the pork strips in the bowl
After 5 minutes in the wok
After 15 minutes
After 45 minutes
After 60 mins. Done. Remove pork. Reduce and thicken sauce.
Remove sauce and go to "charring" phase. 
"Charring" phase
After charring.
Sliced and glazed with sauce on the dining table 

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