For those of us who don’t live in our hometown or home country, there are times when we crave our hometown comfort food but can’t just go out and buy it. Recreating that hometown taste is the only way to satisfy our cravings. A bowl of Char Siu with rice (叉燒飯) warms my heart and soul, and of course my belly too.
What is Char Siu 叉燒?
Char Siu is a style of barbecued pork from Hong Kong. It’s my favorite member in the Siu Mei (燒味) family — Hong Kong style roasted meats:
- 叉燒 Char Siu — barbecued pork
- 燒肉 Siu Yuk — roasted pork with crispy skin
- 燒鵝 Siu Ngo — roasted whole goose
- 燒鴨 Siu App — roasted whole duck
- 白切雞 White Cut Chicken — poached whole chicken
- 豉油雞 Soy Sauce Chicken — whole chicken cooked in soy sauce
Notice the last 2 members in the Siu Mei family are not even roasted meats? That’s because they are often sold with other roasted meats at Hong Kong BBQ restaurants, so they are considered members of the roasted meats family.
Each type of meat is hung on a large hook on display right in front of the window of the Siu Mei restaurant to entice you. When the meats are freshly cooked, they are steaming hot and their juices are slowing dripping down the meats onto a drip tray. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water… The following picture was taken by my mom at a Hong Kong local diner.
The term Char Siu 叉燒 literally means fork (Char 叉) and burn/roast/grill (Siu 燒). Traditionally Char Siu is cooked to perfection by skewering the marinated pork and grilling over an open fire. Don’t worry, this is not the method I’m going to demonstrate in this post.
Over the years I have cooked Char Siu many different ways to try to come as close to my hometown taste as possible. After many attempts, I have finally achieved a Char Siu with the perfect combination of moist and juicy interior + a smoky and charred exterior. The key is to cook the pork first in a pressure cooker (I use instant pot) and then char the exterior quickly with a torch! Don’t worry, if you don’t want to use a torch, you can still create this beautiful Char Siu by broiling the pork in the oven at the end.
This “pressure cooker + torch” method is similar to the “reverse sear” method used in cooking steaks. This 2-step method first ensures that the meat is thoroughly cooked (focusing on the internal temperature of the meat) and then browning it (focusing on developing a crust on the outside of the meat). Cooking the pork in a pressure cooker first makes sure that the pork is cooked thoroughly while keeping the meat moist and tender. The browning process then gives the pork that irresistible charred color and smoky flavor of Char Siu.
Use this Char Siu as your main protein, place it over some rice (grain), and then add some green vegetables (in the picture below: homegrown baby Bok Choy from my AeroGarden) to make an absolutely delicious and balanced meal! This was my favorite take-out meal in Hong Kong. Now it’s one of my family’s favorite homemade meals.
叉燒 Char Siu — Hong Kong BBQ pork [Pressure cooker + torch]
- Pork butt/ pork shoulder roast (boneless):
- At least 2 lbs. (I made 7.5 lbs in the pictures for this post)
- I always make more than we need for a meal because the leftovers can be used (or frozen) for future meals, like fried rice, soup noodles, and Char Siu buns.
Marinade (for every 2 lbs. of meat, which means if you use 8 lbs. of pork, you will need to multiply the amount of each ingredient by 4):
- Granulated sugar: ¼ cup
- Soy sauce: 2 Tbsp.
- Dark soy sauce: 2 Tbsp.
- Chinese cooking wine: 2 Tbsp.
- Hoisin sauce: 2 Tbsp.
- Chili bean paste (or black bean paste): 1 tsp.
- White pepper: ¼ tsp.
- Sesame oil: 1 Tbsp.
- Not part of the marinade.
- For brushing the Char Siu after it’s cooked, but before charring.
- Get a large bowl (or a large Ziploc bag) that will fit all the meat and marinade.
2. Add all the marinade ingredients in the large bowl: granulated sugar, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, Hoisin sauce, chili bean paste, white pepper, and sesame oil. Mix well.
3. Trim off any excess fat from the pork butt. Then cut the pork butt into long strips, approximately 1 lb. each.
4. Coat the pork strips in the marinade and let them marinade covered in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours, preferably overnight. Rotate the meat at least once in between the marinating period to ensure even coating of the marinade.
Marinade the pork in a large bowl OR in a large Ziploc bag
5. Take the meat out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter top for 30 minutes before cooking. This step will bring the meat closer to room temperature before cooking.
6. Put all your meat and the marinade in the pressure cooker (I use instant pot). Use high pressure manual setting, set for 18-22 minutes depending on how much meat you have. I set mine for 22 minutes for 7.5 lbs of meat.
7. Let the pressure come down naturally for at least 15 minutes before releasing the rest of the pressure with the valve. The meat should be very tender. Take it out gently with a pair of tongs or a strainer because some pork strips may have fallen apart. Reserve the sauce (See Final notes for further uses). Continue on to 8(a) if you will use a blow torch to char the meat, OR 8(b) if you will use the oven to brown the meat.
8(a). Blow torch method:
- Make sure you do this in a well ventilated area, taking care to remove all flammable items from the surrounding area. You will need a fire-resistant surface lined with heavy duty aluminum foil to prevent damage and minimize cleaning. You should also have a fire extinguisher close by just in case.
- Place the pork pieces a few inches away from each other so you will be able to char all around them.
- Brush honey all around each piece of pork.
- Use the torch to char the pork evenly. Then turn each piece of pork upside down and repeat the honey+torch process.
8(b). Oven method:
- Move a rack to the middle of the oven. Then turn on the broiler function (high) on your oven.
- Cover a sheet pan with aluminium foil before placing a wire rack inside for easy cleaning.
- Place the pork pieces a few inches from each other. Brush honey onto each piece of pork.
- Broil it in the oven for about 5-8 minutes or until the pork pieces are charred (this will depend on the strength of your broiler). Keep an eye on them (I squat right in front of the oven and watch them like a hawk!) because the pork can turn from perfectly charred to completely burned in a few seconds.
- Remove the sheet pan from the oven and turn the pieces of pork upside down and repeat the honey+broil process until the other side of the pork are charred.
9. Slice the Char Siu and put them over rice, with some side vegetables. Drizzle a little bit soy sauce over the Char Siu and the vegetables. Here is your delicious and balanced meal in a bowl!
- Reserve the sauce:
- I like to refrigerate the sauce overnight before using it so that I can remove the fat from the sauce. You can also strain the sauce to remove all the meat bits before refrigerating.
- If I don’t use the sauce within the next day or two, I freeze it in an ice cube tray. That way I can just use a few ice cube of the sauce as needed.
- You can use the sauce to make soy sauce soft-boiled eggs (similar to ramen eggs), which goes very well with Char Siu noodle soup.
- You can also use it as a sauce for fried rice or fried noodles.
- Torch vs. oven methods:
- If you don’t have a torch, the oven method will do the browning job just fine. But if you have a torch, then that’s the way to go!
- It’s harder to get an even char with the oven method because the heat is only coming from the top. Using the torch gives you the ability to torch all around the pork pieces because you have better control over the angle and strength of the flame!
- Special thanks to my husband who does all the torching for my Char Siu! Fire brings people together — my kids and I like to gather around and watch how the fire transforms a piece of pork to Char Siu!
Do you like your Char Siu with rice or noodles, or simply by itself?