CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Steve Chiang of the Golden Dragon restaurant pours brandy over strips of pork to make char siu, then massages the marinade into the meat. CLICK FOR LARGE
At home with char siu
Roast up something special to welcome the Year of the Boar
» Give char siu time to develop flavor
ON SUNDAY we enter the Year of the Boar. Boar equals pig. Pig equals pork. Pork equals dinner. The new year, a time of fresh starts, is a fitting occasion to learn something new, perhaps to make something you've always bought ready-made because you never knew any better.
Enter: char siu and chef Steve Chiang of the Golden Dragon restaurant, whose crew makes more than 25 pounds of this Cantonese staple every day. He's pretty much got the technique embedded in his finger tips.
Char siu is often called Chinese barbecued pork, although it isn't barbecued in the sense of being grilled over coals or wood, but rather roasted in an oven. The name means "fork roasted," for the technique of suspending the meat on prongs while cooking -- Chiang uses metal hooks to hang the strips of pork in a long oven.
Good char siu is slightly sweet with a deep, smoky flavor and a light red glaze. It's not greasy. Bad char siu is fatty, overly sweet and sticky. Make it yourself and you can eliminate the negatives.
Chiang, originally from Taiwan, says char siu-making came early in his training because the dish is so versatile. It is typically found on appetizer plates (at Golden Dragon, next to eggrolls and shrimp), mixed with noodles and fried rice, tucked into bao (manapua) and used as a garnish.
The key to the dish: "Patience is very important," Chiang says.
Allow enough time to fully marinate the meat. Four hours is OK, but overnight is better. "Overnight, flavor is 100 percent. Four hours, maybe only 75 percent."
And take the time to really massage the marinade into the meat, so the flavor goes deep, Chiang says. Get your hands in there and knead. "Think about massaging your wife."
A nice Valentine's Day thought.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Steve Chiang of the Golden Dragon hangs strips of char siu in the restaurant's Chinese oven. Doing so allows the fat and excess marinade to drip off the sides of the meat. CLICK FOR LARGE
Give char siu time to develop flavor
THE GREATEST obstacle to making traditional char siu is going to be your oven.
Normally, strips of pork are hung in ovens that are longer than what you've got in your kitchen. This way, fat and excess marinade drip off the meat, which glazes evenly all around.
Steve Chiang, chef at the Golden Dragon in the Hilton Hawaiian Village, says you can do this at home by arranging your two oven racks in the highest and lowest positions, then using hooks to hang the meat from the top rack (try S-hooks from a hardware store, or Chiang suggests, modified metal coat hangers). You'll also need to cut the meat in much shorter strips than what you'll find hanging in the windows of Chinatown markets.
Or, use a roasting pan. Many Chinese cookbooks abandon the hanging-meat idea as impractical for home cooking and call instead for laying the meat on a rack over a roasting pan. This seems a more practical option, so I've modified Chiang's recipe to take this approach. Some recipes further call for filling the pan partway with water to keep the meat moist as it cooks.
IF YOU WANT to try the hanging method, lower one oven rack to its lowest position and place a sheet pan on the rack. Remove the other rack. Pierce your strips of pork with metal hooks and hang the hooks from the second oven rack. Carefully slide the rack into the highest position in the oven, so any drips fall onto the sheet pan.
The simplest recipes incorporate sweetness (sugar or honey) with salt, and something soy-beany, normally hoisin sauce, for that distinctive flavor.
Chiang's recipe also calls for wet bean curd -- cubes of tofu preserved in wine and salt. He calls it "Chinese cheese," and says it's often eaten straight out the jar, with rice and fresh cucumbers, for breakfast.
Wet bean curd is common in Chinese roast duck, chicken and spare ribs. It's easy to find in Chinatown groceries.
His other ingredients: five-spice powder, typically Chinese; and ketchup, not so much.
Also important, Chiang says, is to soak the pork in water for an hour before marinating. This draws out the blood. Skip this step, he says, and "sometimes the flavor is a little bit stinky."
Golden Dragon Pork Char Siu
5 pounds pork butt, fat trimmed
1 cup sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 ounce (about 1 cube) wet bean curd (see note)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons brandy
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
Cut pork lengthwise into 1-inch thick slices, about 2 inches wide. Trim length so strips will fit when hanging in oven. Cover in water and soak 1 hour to draw out blood.
Combine marinade ingredients, breaking up bean curd and stirring until well-combined.
Drain pork well.
Cover with marinade and mix well with hands a few minutes, so meat is well-coated and to work in flavor. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place pork on a rack over a roasting pan. Roast 45 minutes.
Reduce oven heat to 300, turn meat and roast 20 minutes longer. Serves 12.
Note: Wet bean curd is sold in 16-ounce jars for about $2 in most Chinatown groceries.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 380 calories, 13 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,500 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 18 g sugar, 40 g protein.
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. Send queries to "By Request," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org