Ladies and gentlemen, meet China’s answer to barbecue: Char siu.
You probably have seen glimpses of it, as chopped up bits in fried rice, or those spare ribs many cheapy Chinese takeout places sell. That’s char siu, but it ain’t good char siu. That is to real Chinese BBQ what the McRib is to real barbecue.
Char siu is sweet, smoky silky and spicy — both in the heat sense of the word and because you can definitely detect the Chinese five spice powder in here. You can buy the sauce in stores, and in fact I did. I tried it, and, well, meh. Gloppy, overly sweet, no real heat. Back to the drawing board.
Turns out you can make your own char siu. So I did, and here it is.
Obviously a piece of fatty pork is best here, like shoulder or “country ribs” or belly. If you’re hunting pigs, look for the same cuts. You can also use bear here, if you happen to be a bear hunter.
I also have a recipe for char siu duck legs you might like.
With the exception of the Shaoxing wine and the black vinegar, all of these ingredients are easily available in most supermarkets, or online. Dry sherry and malt vinegar are decent substitutes for the wine and vinegar.
This is classic Chinese barbecue, and it is damn good. This char siu sauce works well with any fatty meat. The spices, the heat and the sweetness really cry out for a rich meat to work with, so pork belly, shoulder or duck legs are ideal. My advice? Make a double batch of the sauce, and store it in the fridge. You will want to put it on everything.
- 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, preferably dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 4 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon Chinese chile bean paste
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- 2-3 pounds pork shoulder or belly
- 1-2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or malt vinegar (optional)
- 1-2 sliced fresh chiles, for garnish (optional)
Make the char siu sauce by mixing all the ingredients except for the wild boar in a blender and pureeing for 1 minute. Pour into a bowl. Put the pork or boar into a plastic container that will just about fit it, and coat with a little of the char siu sauce. Leave at least 1/2 of the sauce for basting later. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 days.
Get your grill going, leaving some space for indirect heat. If you are using a gas grill, turn off all but one burner. If you are using charcoal, leave an open space on one side of the grill. If you are using a smoker, set it to 225°F. Make a drip pan out of aluminum foil and set that under where the pork will be. You are looking for slow, steady heat here, never hotter than 300°F. Alternately, you can cook the pork or boar in the oven at 225°F
Set the boar on the grill over the drip pan and away from the direct heat. Cover the grill and cook until it's tender, which will take between 2 and 4 hours, depending on how large a piece of pork you started with and whether it's wild or farmed. Baste the boar with the char siu sauce every 45 minutes or so. Turn the pork every hour.
To serve, cut the boar into bite-size pieces and toss with the remaining char siu sauce. A splash of Chinese black vinegar or malt vinegar right at the end is a nice touch. Garnish with sliced fresh chiles and serve with white steamed rice, some pickles or fermented mustard greens and lots of cold beer.