Char Siu or Cha Sao (叉烧) is Chinese Roast Pork or Chinese Barbecued Pork. Char Siu is Cantonese while Cha Sao is in Mandarin Chinese. This is comfort food to me. I love Char Siu in a bowl of Kolo Mee (干捞面) or in Char Siu Pao (steamed pork buns). It can be as simple as serving Char Siu with rice, with cucumbers on the side — it takes me back to eating Cha Sao Fan (叉烧饭) in Singapore at a hawker’s stall on a family vacation when I was a kid. I grew up with Cha Sao that was more savoury than sweet; this recipe has the closest flavour to the kind of char siu I grew up with in Brunei. We don’t use any honey in this Cha Sao recipe.
The first step in choosing Char Siu is picking boneless pork shoulder with a high fat content; put about 3 lbs worth (I used 1.478 kg for this recipe) of pork shoulder meat.
Char Siu – Ingredients
Don’t trim the fat — the fat adds flavour to making delicious char siu. This recipe uses salt, white pepper (black pepper will work if you don’t have white pepper on hand), light soy sauce, wine (I used red wine because that’s what I had on hand; sherry will work just as well), 2 cloves garlic – minced or chopped finely, water and red food colouring.
On Food Colouring
The red food colouring is optional; you don’t need a lot — just about 1/8 tsp if you have the liquid red food colouring. I used to decorate cakes as a hobby (before kids), so I have food colour gels on hand — I find that brushing the colour on prior to broiling helps retain the colour a lot better.
Hoi Sin Sauce?
My mom asked me for my char siu recipe after I talked to her on how I make it; she asked me if I put hoi sin sauce. I don’t. You can add 1 tbsp of hoi sin sauce if you want, but I don’t think it needs it because it’s got enough salt in the recipe. My mom also said she won’t be using red food colouring. So, if you don’t want red food colouring, you can use my recipe and skip the food colouring to make your cha sao sauce or marinade — Lee Kum Kee cha sao sauce will have red food colouring.
This recipe calls for lard, but if you don’t have lard on hand, you can use sesame oil or peanut oil. It’s easy to have lard on hand if you save the fat from frying your bacon though!
If you want to make cha sao, it takes some planning ahead as the marinating time is 6 to 8 hours or overnight. If you started the recipe in the afternoon, it won’t be ready to be cooked until the next day. Make some extra rice prior to the day you plan to cook the pork shoulder, so you can make Char Siu Chao Fan (Fried Char Siu Rice). (Recipe to come this week)
You would need to ensure that the width of your pork shoulder meat is 2 inches wide and the height or thickness is about 1″ thick at most. As you can see from the second photo, the one piece is quite thick. I sliced it lengthwise to have 3 pieces.
Baste, baste, and baste again
Brushing the pork with marinade often is key. Broiling it afterwards creates that barbecued effect — a trick we often use after cooking pork ribs in the Instant Pot. However, I wouldn’t recommend pressure steaming Cha Sao prior to broiling. It could lose the marinade’s flavour if steamed. If you want to barbecue the Char Siu on the grill, cut the pork shoulder into slices and put on a skewer. Keep basting per recipe.
This recipe makes about 3 meals for a family of 4. You can freeze any leftover Cha Sao in a Ziploc bag. I am freezing some to make Kolo Mee and Char Siu Pao on another day. I will upload a recipe for Char Siu Chao Fan (叉烧炒饭) later this week. My mom taught me how to make fried rice and it is very inexpensive to make. It’s one of those recipes I haven’t gotten around to posting…
If you have tried this recipe or plan to try it, please leave a comment below. When you’ve made it, please use #CynfulKitchen on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, so I can see your creations.