Char Sui (Chinese Barbecue Pork)

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PACKAGED MARINADE VS HOMEMADE MARINADE

A Scientific Experiment that Resulted in Me Eating A Lot of Pork

Whilst looking at wonderful recipes, I came across one for Char Sui, or Chinese BBQ Pork.  It was on a site called culinarychronicles, and was crossposted on another site called mamabatesmotel.

I have one of those brains that can latch on to something like a Border Collie focuses on sheep.  Intense concentration.  Unwavering devotion to a cause, principle, or course of action.  It is in those beautiful moments that everything seems to just…flow in a river of excitement and anticipation.

In the case of trying a new recipe, it’s mouth watering anticipation.

And WOW, did I want to try to make char sui.

And travel to multiple Asian countries to purchase it from market stalls and street vendors.  To use it as filling in puffy steamed buns and on a kebab.  Could I surprise my Chinese friend with a hunk of it just to see what she thought?  Would it do?

Could I make a gluten free version?  Could I get the red color without using food coloring? Could I make a decent version using items I already have in my pantry?

Off I went to the store to pick up organic, pasture raised pork shoulder.  Expensive yes, but besides the taste which is so much better, it has elevated levels of healthy fats that can withstand high cooking temperatures without breaking down.  Not fed antibiotics, not fed GMO corn and soybeans, not fed various waste products.  And of course, raised in a much more humane and ethical manner which is very important.  Especially for an animal lover and former vegetarian like me, who simply has a body that NEEDS animal products, especially the fat.

But I digress.

Once I had the pork shoulder, lo and behold, I came across beet powder for a natural food coloring, and a gluten free hoisin sauce.

Score!

And from there I discovered a seasoning packet with no listed gluten sources AND all natural coloring, no artificial red food dye.  And it was the last packet.

Scoredy Score SCORE!

The seasoning packet directions are simple and take just seconds to prepare.  Open packet, dissolve in water, and pour over meat.  Badabing badabang, done.

Homemade is not too much longer but goes into the minutes range.  I had sake (yes, I know it’s not Chinese but I’m using what I have), molasses and sorghum, amino acids, a red wine vinegar, chili paste, Chinese 5 Spice, garlic, ginger, clam juice.  Close enough.

How would it work out?  Here are the two versions side by side as they are starting to marinate.  As you can see, the packaged version on the left has a much brighter red color.  Maybe because it contains carmine – a natural dye that is made from bugs.

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Here is a taste test after three hours of marinating.  The top is the packaged, and the bottom is the homemade.  It’s cooked at 450 F for 20 minutes in the oven, and then broiled for about a minute or so total.  They weren’t glazed before broiling.  I would like to say that the only reason I cooked it after three hours was in the interest of science.  Because the seasoning packet had 2-3 hours of marinating in the directions.  But that’s an excuse.  I just couldn’t wait to try it.

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I would say that there wasn’t a HUGE amount of difference between the 2 versions at this point.  There was a faint…oh…metallic aftertaste to the packaged version, but it was very mild and hardly noticeable.

Back they went into the fridge to finish up properly.

And the results of the experiment?  Besides eating a lot of charred hunks of pork?

  1. neither version had that appealing red ring of color that you see in pictures, but the packaged version had an overall brighter reddish hue, whereas the homemade was a deeper red.
  2. the packaged version STILL had a slightly metallic taste, but the flavor was good
  3. the homemade version tasted much better when  eaten side by side. After the full day of marinating you could tell the difference.
  4. I would recommend taking some of the marinating mixture, adding some hoisin and honey, and reducing it on the stove.  You can brush the hot mixture on the top of the meat right when it comes out from under the broiler.  I didn’t do this, but will next time.  That way it will have a nice, shiny, sticky glaze.

This was fun to make and eat!  I served an Asian cabbage slaw with it, and that recipe will be shared in a few days.  It’s a recipe familiar to most Americans (except that I use Miso) but almost non existent in Europe, which is a pity because it is SO GOOD, and cabbage is perfect for digesting pork.

Sauce

For 2 – 2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder cut into 1 1/2 wide strips

4 T gluten free Hoisin

4 T Bragg’s Amino Acids (tastes like soy sauce)

4 T Sake

2 T Molasses

2 T Sorghum

2 t gluten free chili paste

2 t Chinese 5 Spice

2 t clam juice (gluten free, because it says so on the jar)

2 t beetroot powder

2 t minced ginger

2 t minced garlic

2 T red wine vinegar (or use the vinegar you have)

2 T water

Whisk together sauce ingredients and pour over meat.  Marinate overnight or 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 450F

Line a pan with aluminum foil to catch drippings and put an oven safe rack on top of the foil.  Place pork strips on the rack – and cook for 20 minutes total, flipping after 10.

Remove from oven and turn broiler to high.

Remove pork from cooking rack and place directly on the pan.  Brush well with the marinade juices.

Broil for about 30 – 45 seconds, remove from oven and quickly flip, then return for another 30 seconds or so.  Do NOT leave the oven unattended. 30 seconds only seems like a long time when you’re waiting for water to boil.  When you’re broiling meat in the oven it goes extremely fast and your meat could burn.

Remove from oven and let sit for a little bit to let the juices redistribute before serving.

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3 thoughts on “Char Sui (Chinese Barbecue Pork)”

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