Chinese Char Sui, an American point of view

As a  young lady, beginning  in my early 20s back in New Jersey, nearly 50 years ago, I sometimes ate meals out at Chinese restaurants with friends.  These restaurants dotted the landscape at various intersections in  small urban towns across southwestern New Jersey.  The main one Helene and I went to was in Irvington, just a 20 minute drive from my Maplewood, New Jersey 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 and 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.) I never ate pork at home. Briefly, the law states that observant Jews(mostly conservative or Orthodox) are permitted to eat meat only from an animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud. In ancient times, 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.) expanded on these laws even requiring the observant Jew to follow strict laws about how the animal was to be slaughtered.

Now to pork.  I usually began my Chinese meals with wonton soup, which often had, along with the wontons, thin strips of cooked pork, scallions, shredded carrots and sometimes other veggies floating atop. I loved the taste! Each restaurant has their version of wonton soup which varies with ingredients. After the soup, I usually ate, or shared barbecued pork ribs with my friend.  Sometimes the pork was saucy, other times slightly burnt and barbecued.  Sometimes the ribs were dry, tough to chew as my teeth yanked the meat  off the bones. Often times  the meat was a dark reddish color.  Over all these years, I’ve gotten to enjoy pork, and soon began to cook with it once I married..

In my early days in the kitchen I didn’t know how to cook (I finally took a general cooking class.) and only prepared country style ribs which were and still are quite fatty. But, overtime I progressed after much reading and studying, and now eat pork often, buying varies ribs, such as St. Louis and baby back  ribs.  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 peaked my interest, and  finally decided to try one. I’ve incorporated some ideas from the different recipes I saw, which made the preparation  creative and fun.

This first recipe turned out delicious! My husband, my major tester, stated this recipe 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 taste, just like you’re eating at a restaurant.



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



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



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.



  • 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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