I am a char siu addict. But I am also a char siu snob. I absolutely hate artificially colored, dried out, flavorless char siu. It’s like eating cardboard that someone’s poured syrup and food coloring on. Yech. But good char siu, char siu made from wonderfully fatty cuts of pork, char siu that has been marinated properly and for the right amount of time, and char siu that has a wonderful crisp char while still remaining moist inside… that’s pork heaven.
But I am also getting old. So while pork belly char siu is all the rage — and I admit I do love it when done well — I can’t actually eat too much of it. When I make char siu at home these days, I tend to use pork neck (ideally Kurobuta).
Six years ago, I posted a char siu recipe that I still swear by. But these days, I tend not to roast the pork in the oven for the full cook, but instead cook it sous-vide and then only finish it off in a hot oven. This lets me do two things. Firstly, it means I can prep a huge amount of char siu, each portion individually packaged in a vacuum sealed bag. Once cooked, I freeze these beautiful pieces of pork. This then gives me then the ability to defrost a portion when I need it and have char siu pretty much whenever I want. Secondly, it helps me ensure that the pork stays super moist and tender. It locks in flavour and the result is a pretty spectacular piece of meat.
Finishing off the pork is easy. Use either a super hot oven or a blowtorch. You will need to coat the already cooked pork with a combination of hoisin sauce and honey. This then ensures a nice sweet, savory flavour on the char.
I love having slabs of pre-cooked char siu in the freezer. It makes coming up with a simple but satisfying meal super-easy. For example, the rice bowl pictured above was something I made for my wife and myself for lunch recently. All I had to do was cook a few eggs sous-vide, defrost the pork and finish it off, and serve that with pickles (which is another thing I usually have in the fridge) and voila, easy-peasy.
Sous-Vide Char Siu
1kg Berkshire or Kurobuta pork neck (as usual, we encourage Singaporean readers to buy their meat at Huber’s Butchery)
6 scallions, sliced into 2 inch lengths and smashed
8 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 tablespoons regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
3 tablespoons sugar
2.5 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rich chicken stock
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Mix all the marinade ingredients together well.
Cut the pork lengthwise into strips around 2.5-3 inches wide and 2 inches or so thick. Cut strips crosswise, if needed, into pieces 6-8 inches long. Place in a large baking dish that can accomodate all the pork in one layer. Pour the marinade over the pork. Seal the dish with clingwrap overnight, at least 12 hours and up to 36 hours. Turn the pork a few times during the marinating process. Keep in the fridge.
Prepare a water bath, using an immersion circulator, and bring the water to 58 degrees Celsius.
Place each piece of pork, with some marinade, into a vacuum-sealable bag and seal at high pressure.
Drop the bags into the water bath and cook for 24 hours. Once done, prepare an ice water bath and plunge the bags of pork directly into the ice water. Once cool, dry off the bags and either freeze or put in the fridge. Or open the bags, liberate your pork, and move to the final step of finishing off the pork.
Finishing Sauce (enough for two strips)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons honey
Mix the above together and taste. It should be salty-sweet.
Preheat your oven to the highest temperature it can go. Pour some water into a roasting pan. Over the pan, place a large wire rack that fits over the top of the pan.
Brush as much of the finishing sauce onto the strips of pork. You want it thick. Lay the pork on the wire rack (and over the water in the roasting pan). Pop this in the oven for 10 minutes or until the surface of the char siu is nicely charred.
Alternatively, instead of using the oven blowtorch the pork until charred.