Char siu (Cantonese barbecue pork)

This simple recipe results in  char siu as authentic as the ones you'll find in the best Cantonese restaurants.
This simple recipe results in char siu as authentic as the ones you'll find in the best Cantonese restaurants. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Char siu has a certain deliciousness that's forever locked in my food memories. I can still recall eating it with all its charry, smoky goodness dripping with sticky honey as a kid in my family's restaurant in Malaysia. Although pork shoulder is traditionally used in char siu, Australian pork is much leaner than Chinese pork. So I've been using pork belly lately to replicate the lean-fat ratio that makes Hong Kong's char siu so succulent and delectable.

Ingredients

500g pork belly, skin and top layer of fat removed

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

spring onions, thinly sliced to serve

Marinade

1 tbsp light soy

1½ tsp dark soy

½ tsp white pepper

1 tbsp hoisin sauce

2 cubes red fermented bean curd, mashed (see note)

½ tsp five spice powder

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp Mei Kuei Lu Chiew liquor (see note)

Method

1. Cut the pork lengthwise into strips 5cm wide and 2.5cm thick.

2. Heat all marinade ingredients over low flame and stir until blended. Leave to cool. Stir in chopped garlic and massage the marinade into the pork. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 5-6 hours or overnight.

3. Before roasting, bring the pork back to room temperature. Preheat oven to 240C (220C fan-forced). Drain off excess marinade into a bowl. Place the pork on a roasting rack (leaving as much space as possible) in the middle of the oven and put a roasting pan containing a cupful of hot water underneath on the bottom rack. Roast the meat for 20 minutes, basting it with the marinade every 6-7 minutes. Flip the pork and reduce to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional) and cook for another 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 74C.

4. By now, it will be beautifully caramelised and crisp. Remove and leave the pork to cool briefly before slicing it into bite-sized pieces. Garnish with spring onions and serve as an appetiser or with steamed rice.

Note: Red fermented bean curd (nam yue in Cantonese) is a funky ingredient sold in jars. Mei Kuei Lu Chiew liquor is made with sorghum and rose petals and adds a delicate fragrance to the marinade. Find more of my Asian supermarket shopping tips here.