Whole glazed and roasted ducks in a dark brown shade. Greasy pork belly steaks with crispy skin. Chicken marinated in salt and steamed with ginger. And char siu pork – traditionally tenderloin, marinated in sugar, salt, tofu and various sauces and pastas, then roasted or barbecued, browned to a deep red and deliciously sticky.
At Xu, the acclaimed Taiwanese restaurant on Rupert Street, chef and co-owner Erchen Chang prefers to use pork neck, rather than the much leaner tenderloin, “because the fat tastes so good.” “We use Iberian pork, which is tender, with dark meat and a lot of marbling. The marinade is high in salt and sugar, so it partially cures the meat and adds flavor to it.
Char siu literally means roast with a fork, referring to the traditional technique of roasting strips of marinated meat on long forks over a fire, but it is a term that almost exclusively refers to cuts of pork. and which is popular throughout the Far East and in Chinatowns around the world. “In Taiwan, char siu is quite traditional, mainly using net, but the younger generation prefers fatter cuts,” says Chang. Hanging the meat for a day or two after cooking allows it to absorb more marinade, making the outside even stickier. Its dark red color usually comes from red food coloring; Chang prefers the more natural beetroot powder.
There are of course as many char siu recipes as there are cooks. Some marinades contain ginger, others use star anise or five-spice powder, while hoi sin or oyster sauce are also common additions. Chang’s recipe came from a friend in Hong Kong.
“So it’s a Cantonese recipe. You can find all the ingredients for the marinade in Chinatown or online. To achieve real complexity of flavor, we use three kinds of fermented soybeans and tofu: white miso, which gives a light fragrance; white or red tofu, for mid tones; and yellow bean paste, which has a rich, deep flavor.
Chang talks about flavor rather like a painter might talk about color – rightly so, since she studied fine art at Slade School in London. There, she met another student Shing Tat Chung, who is now her husband and business partner both in Bao, their very popular street food restaurants, and in Xu, one year old (along with her older sister, Wai Ting, and the JKS restaurant of Karam Sethi grouper).
After being marinated, pork can be cooked in several ways: barbecue, in the oven or on a hot plate. Chang uses the Josper in his kitchen at Xu. “It’s at a much higher temperature, so there is a lot of stuff to get the meat in and out of the oven, to check if the meat is done well. The charcoal flavor definitely adds depth to this dish.
The sweet and richly fragrant char siu is traditionally offset by plain rice and greens – pak choi, perhaps, or gai lan (Chinese broccoli) – while Chang serves it with cucumber, seared on a grill until almost black, then sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with a dressing of Szechuan chili oil and black rice vinegar.
“I love how the tender and fatty char siu pork neck pairs so well with the juicy cucumber and a little spice of the chili oil,” she says.
If you have leftovers, char siu pork is extremely versatile. “In Taiwan,” Chang says, “we often have cold meat as a starter: sliced chicken, goose, and char siu, maybe. Or you can put a few slices on a bowl of noodles.
As a co-owner of Bao, she has another suggestion. “You can definitely put it in a bun!” “
Char siu pork with seared cucumber
Makes twelve 160g servings
For the marinade
30g onion, peeled and roughly chopped
30g garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
15 g shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
175 g caster sugar
30 ml Mei Kuei Lu Chiew (Chinese rose liqueur: look for the Golden Star brand)
15g Chinese sesame paste
15g white miso paste
15g yellow bean paste
15g fermented white or red tofu
15g light soy sauce
15g black soy sauce
50g beetroot powder
2 kg boneless pork neck, trimmed
8 tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
8 tablespoons of Sichuan chili oil
4 tablespoons of black rice vinegar
1. Blend the onion, garlic and shallot together until smooth, then mix well with the rest of the ingredients except the beetroot powder.
2. Cut the pork neck across the grain into steaks 1.5 cm thick. In a non-reactive bowl or zip-lock bag, toss the pork steaks in the marinade, refrigerate and let stand for at least 12 hours.
3. Heat an oven (250 ° C), charcoal grill or drip pan until very hot. Remove the steaks, then whisk the beetroot powder into the marinade. Brush the pork steaks with more marinade.
4. Cook the pork steaks until they begin to char on the outside and are cooked through (internal temperature 65 ° C), brushing with more marinade once or twice during the process. Cooking. Remove the steaks from the heat, then paint with more marinade and let sit.
5. While the pork is resting, peel the cucumber and cut it into rectangles about 5 cm long and 1 cm thick. Sear them on both sides on a very hot grill or in a non-stick frying pan, until dark brown and juicy. Remove from the grill.
6. To serve, arrange four pieces of pan-seared cucumber on each plate. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of Szechuan chili oil and 1 teaspoon of black rice vinegar. Place a grilled pork steak on top and serve with rice.