Header image: char siu from Good BBQ

Cantonese siu mei (roasted meat) shops are instantly recognisable by window displays adorned with hanging whole roasted birds and large cuts of barbecued meats. Behind them, you will usually find an aproned chef, wielding a cleaver to perform skilful subdivision of the various cuts of dripping BBQ.

Hong Kong’s siu mei is quite famous. Roast goose (siu ngo 燒鵝) and its slightly less formal variation, roast duck (siu ngaap 燒鴨), are usually served with a sweet plum sauce to complement their slightly gamy flavour.

Served with mustard and salt, roast pork (siu yuk 燒肉) should be tender meat with a bubbled, crackly skin. Whole roasted suckling pig (siu zyu 燒豬 or maybe yu chu 乳猪 ) may be commonly found at celebratory openings in order to usher in wealth, prosperity and good health.

But arguably the most famous of all is char siu (叉燒) – which needs no English name. The distinctly coloured pork should always be juicy on the inside and covered in a caramelised, sweet sauce. The key is to use a fatty cut of pork – too lean and it will be dry. Marinate the pork overnight and regularly baste it during cooking for some home-cooked char siu.

Recipe: Char siu 叉燒

Serves: 3–4

Prep time: 5 minutes + overnight marinade

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1kg pork shoulder (or another fatty cut)
  • 2 tbsp honey, diluted with 2 tsp water

Marinade/glaze ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • a few drops of red food colouring (optional)

Method:

  1. Cut the pork shoulder into long, even strips, roughly 4cm wide. Poke each side a few times with a fork to help the marinade along.
  2. Mix the marinade ingredients. Reserve and refrigerate 3 tbsp for glazing. Pour the remainder into a ziplock bag with the pork. Marinate overnight in the fridge but bring to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil or baking paper (the syrup will caramelise and become very sticky and hard to clean). Add a little water to the baking tray to help to keep the oven moist and prevent the drippings from burning. Place the pork on a baking rack over the tray and baste well with the marinade.
  4. As a guide, cook the pork for 45 minutes in total whilst basting regularly (when the pork is fully cooked, the internal temperature should read 63°C). Baste the pork with the marinade at the start of cooking and finish with the honey–water mixture:
    • Cook for 15 minute, baste both sides with the marinade
    • Cook for 10 minutes, baste both sides with the marinade again
    • Cook for 10 minutes, baste with the honey–water mixture
    • Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes at an increased heat of 230°C
  5. After cooking, baste both sides one last time with honey and let cool for 10 minutes before chopping dramatically with a meat cleaver and serving.

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