Chinese Char Sui – an American approach

As a  young lady, beginning  in my  20s  in New Jersey,  I sometimes ate  at Chinese restaurants with friends.  These restaurants dotted the landscape at strip malls in  small  towns across southwestern New Jersey.  My best friend Helene and I went to one such place in Irvington, a 20 minute drive from my Maplewood home.  I don’t recall if I had moved out of my parents home by then into my own apartment or was I still living with mom and stepdad. Either way, this Chinese restaurant, whose name has vanished, was my introduction to Asian food, specifically  pork.

Because of my Jewish heritage, and that my parents were observant of many dietary restrictions, (mostly until my father died, when I was ten, but still afterwards, my mother never ordered pork from our local butcher.)  Briefly, the law states that observant Jews(mostly conservative or Orthodox) are permitted to eat meat which followed certain guidelines and had cloven hooves and chews its cud. This law connects to  ancient times, where  rabbis of the Talmud (an ancient text, the body of which is the foundation of many Jewish laws, civil and ceremonial from 300-500 a.d.) stated that  observant Jew must follow exact guidelines of butchering the pig.

Now to my journey of eating pork.  At the restaurant with my friend, I usually began my Chinese meals with wonton soup, which often contained, along with the doughy wontons, thin strips of cooked pork, scallions, shredded carrots and sometimes other veggies floating atop. I loved the taste! Each of these Asian restaurants presents their particular version of wonton soup which I usually explore. After the soup, I consumed an order of barbecued pork ribs which I shared with my friend.  Sometimes the pork was saucy, other times slightly burnt and tangy.  Sometimes the ribs were dry, tough to chew as my teeth yanked the meat  off the bones. The meat, perhaps with red dye coloring (?), was a dark reddish color.  Since then, I’ve gotten to enjoy pork, and cook with it often.

When fist married I didn’t know how to cook, or navigate anything around in the kitchen. (A few months after I married I took a general cooking class at  our local community college where I learned simple techniques and recall cooking a few simple dishes.). In our apartment I remember cooking country style ribs which were  quite fatty. Gradually, after much reading and studying meats, more specifically pork, I began buying  ribs, such as St. Louis and baby back.  I also buy pork shoulder, large or small, and cook them many different ways, such as low and slow, roasted and pulled pork. In my readings, I came across several Char Sui recipes which caught my interest, and  finally decided to try a new creative dish. I’ve incorporated some ideas from the different recipes I saw, which made the preparation   fun.

This first recipe turned out delicious! My husband, my major tester, stated this dish was delicious, better than some pork dishes he’d eaten at Chinese restaurants! I felt proud! I too felt it was savory with a nice crisp barbecue flavor, just like you’d eat at a traditional Chinese restaurant.

INGREDIENTS 

Marinade

1/3 cup sugar, light brown or white

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup honey, plus 2-3 more saved for basting

3 Tbsp dry sherry, Chinese rice wine, or wine vinegar

2 tsp garlic, minced

3 scallions, chopped, white and green parts

1 tsp lemon juice, fresh

1/2 tsp ginger, fresh, if possible

1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp or more if desired, of Chinese five-spice

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper, freshly ground

2 Tbsp Chinese fermented black bean sauce, mashed white fermented bean curd. or sesame paste

MEAT

2-3 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat, cut in pieces roughly 1-2 inch squares

PROCESS

1   In a large tight-sealing refrigerator bag, add the sugar, dry sherry, lemon juice, soy sauce, scallions, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sesame paste, garlic, ginger, Chinese rice wine, salt and pepper. Add the meat. Seal it tight, and refrigerate for 4 hours, or over night.  I find it best  to marinate the meat overnight for the most tender meat. Turn the bag a few times.

2   The next day, remove the meat from the bag. Drain the marinade, saving it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the pork pieces, spreading them out on a rack, with a foil-lined tray underneath. Cook  for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting occasionally with the saved marinade. Lower the heat to 275 degrees and baste a few more times  and turn the meat occasionally. Baste a little with the extra honey.  Cook for an additional  45-55 minutes, tasting the meat toward the end to see if it is tender.

TIPS AND TWEAKS

  • Replace the honey with brown sugar.
  • For more tang, add another teaspoon of lemon juice.
  • Use a small shallot or onion in place of the scallions.
  • Add one teaspoon Maggie Seasoning Sauce in the marinade to heighten the overall flavor.
  • This dish tastes great over rice, noodles, grits or mashed potatoes.
  • A cool salad or warm broccoli work well alongside the pork.
  • if you’re a fan of water chestnut, (They would add a nice crunch, plus a bit of white accent.) add a drained can of them, sliced when you’re in the middle of cooking  the additional 45-55 minutes.

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