Char Siu: Roast Pork in the Style of Canton

September 8, 2018 – Writing this blog for the past few years has been an education for me.  I have repeatedly noted here that I’m not a chef, nor am I an expert on the foods of the diverse countries and cultures about which I write.  Well, I do know a little about Louisiana cooking and am a fair hand at preparing Alaska salmon and king crab.  But other than the foods of my two home states, it’s strictly a never-ending learning process.

What I do is research and experiment.  I have always been fascinated about how the dishes we know and love were developed.  I have learned that most of the comfort foods we enjoy in our various home countries also appear among the dishes favored in most other parts of the world.  Certainly there are differences, but I can’t think of a culture that doesn’t have mom’s chicken soup or meat wrapped in some form of bread to create a fast food sandwich.

And that preamble brings us to Char Siu, roast pork in the style of Canton.

Canton, or more properly Guangzhou, is in southern China about 70 miles northwest of Hong Kong.  The roast pork to which Canton has given its name is known for its red color and deep penetration of flavor as a result of marinating the meat.

Char Siu, I learned, means fork roasted, the original method of preparing the pork over an open fire.  These days it’s more often simply oven roasted, though sometimes it is finished on a grill to give it a little bit of char.

It’s no surprise that I found several variations on the marinade ingredients.  All, however, included hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and five spice powder.  The traditional red color is usually achieved with either food coloring or red bean paste.

I don’t like to use food coloring and didn’t have red bean paste in the pantry.  Fortunately, I found more than one recipe that achieved the same result with ketchup.  That’s not heresy when we consider that ketchup originated in China.  It reached North America by way of Malaysia.  It was in that southeast Asian nation that ketchup was refined to something closely resembling the tomato based sauce with which we in America are prone to slather our French fries.  And by the way, ketchup is the word closest to the original Chinese name for the sauce.

This is the kind of dish Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson would love.  Stop by to see what they’re up to.  Their next adventure will be out soon!

Here’s my version of char siu, which I served over rice.

Char Siu

Char Siu, Cantonese Style Barbequed Pork Served Over Rice

1 pork shoulder (about 2 pounds)

1 roasted red pepper, chopped

4 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon five spice powder

Slice the pork into thin, bite size pieces.

Make the marinade by combining all the other ingredients.  Pour the mixture over the pork strips and marinate for at least three hours.  The longer the meat marinates, the better the char siu.  Overnight in the refrigerator makes it truly great.

Spread the pork with the marinade in a roasting pan.  Cook in an oven pre-heated to 350 for about 35 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Excellent served over rice.

Bon temps!