Planning notes for CNY 2019: Wok Cooked Char Siew

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Char Siew from UK pork belly
We will be going back to Petaling Jaya this year to celebrate Chinese New Year.

The planning is already in progress as we plan to recreate some of my Mum's specialities or family favourite dishes that we grew up with. As much as possible, we want to keep to "tradition."

This means there will be dishes like Chai Choy (Vegetarian), Roast Pork, Steamed Chicken, Wok-Cooked Char Siew, Curry Chicken, Beef Rendang, Har Loke (River Prawns), Hakka Char Yoke, Chai Buay, Braised Pork Knuckle, Assam Prawns and so on. If you click on each of the dish, you will notice that I have blogged most of the recipes.     

Being the year of the pig, the pork dishes will receive some special attention. No surprises here.

Let me start with the usual favourite: Wok-Cooked Char Siew. I have blogged the recipes here ad nauseam. 

I cooked it again recently when I was in London.

I had to use whatever ingredients there was in my daughter's small apartment in London. Char Siew is a funny dish: I may have cooked it countless times but I sometimes have doubts myself as I have to manage variables such as the type of pork, pan, fire, thickness of the pork strips, type of cuts etc. The advantage I have is that I am not stuck to a recipe.

For example, timing. Should it be 45 minutes or 60 minutes? There is no answer to it. You have to cook the Char Siew until it is cooked. How do I know it is cooked? When it looks like cooked Char Siew! It can be hard to describe but you can tell from the softness of the meat, how "limp" the strip is when you move it around etc. It is similar to how we test the doneness of the steak, whether by tapping or just looking at the meat.

The ingredient list included sesame oil, honey, dark soy sauce, salt and cinnamon powder. I won't recommend this list but it was all I could find in the larder. The dark soy sauce is not of the thick Malaysian type. Why cinnamon powder? I vaguely remembers that it was one of the spice used in 5-spice powder, which was not available in that apartment.

But all I need essentially is : sweet, salty and sticky for Char Siew.

I mix the ingredients first and satisfied that it tasted good enough as Char Siew sauce, I proceeded with the cooking. In a simple pan and using an induction hob, I laid out the pork belly pieces (about 1 kilo) and poured in the sauce. I added some water and got it braising, turning the pieces around ever so often.

The distribution of the heat on this pan using a induction hob was unpredictable and something I am not familiar with.

After about 60 minutes, I increased the heat and the thickening and caramelisation of the sauce being to happen. This is the "magic phase" of a wok-cooked Char Siew. The result was version of Char Siew which the diners found satisfying. I can't say it is the best wok-cooked Char siew there is, but we were very happy with it. 

This I think should be the aim of home cooks. It lies less in learning more recipes, but in mastering the recipes you already know through learning to adapt to whatever ingredients and tools you have.

Having succeeded in cooking it again in this London apartment, I am looking forward to th eversion I can cook in PJ. I will be using Malaysian pork: my favourite choice as it has the right sweetness, texture (never too hard and dry) and taste. Maybe one should say it is simply the version I grew up with. The rest of the ingredients will be a no brainer including the ubiquitous thick dark sauce. I will also be using my favourite iron work.

Yes, a good plate of freshly made Char Siew done my Mum's way will be great on our CNY table.

Stay tuned for my CNY 2019 planning notes for other Wong Family recipes.

P.s. I do hope to do a cooking demo soon on Wok-Cooked Char Siew. If you are inserted, do indicate on my Facebook post here

This batch uses UK pork belly strips, skin off. 

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