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~ The China Syndrome: An Easier Chinese Char Siu ~

IMG_1729During December and January, like clockwork, without notice, and, for reasons unknown, I crave Chinese food.  It happens every year.  Sometimes I order take-out or delivery from my favorite two places, and, other times I take the time to make it.  In either case, in my kitchen, I feed my inner-Chinese about once a week.  I affectionately and chucklingly refer to my condition as: The China Syndrome.  All snickers aside, note that a great percentage of my Chinese recipes get posted during the months of December and January.  December of 2017 is no exception.

IMG_1719Char = fork (noun & verb).  Siu = to burn or roast.

IMG_1712If a Chinese restaurant has char siu on their menu, I'm ordering it.  It refers to the Cantonese way to flavor and prepare various cuts of boneless barbecued pork -- loin, shoulder, belly, etc. "Char" means "fork", both noun and verb, and, "siu" (pronounced "sue"), means "to burn or roast".

CharsiuTraditionally long strips of marinated and seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and cooked over an open fire or roasted in a closed oven.  I've experienced real-deal char sui, and, in Hong Kong, siu mei restaurants (establishments that specialize in meat or poultry), display what they offer by hanging it in their windows. 

Everything from its signature reddish-brown-glazed, sweet, sticky, subtle five-spice-and-garlic-flavored, slightly-chewy exterior to its moist, succulent interior is irresistibly addictive.  Once cooked, it is typically sliced and served over rice, drizzled with more of the bright red sauce and/or some soy sauce, or; sliced into matchstick-shaped chards and served in noodle soup, or; minced up to make pork buns (char sui bro). (These two photos courtesy of:  

Red-coloring-for-webThe preparation starts by making the marinade, which imparts most of the flavor to the meat.  It's made from a base of hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, dark and light soy sauces, five-spice powder, rice wine, and, white or brown sugar.  Additional ingredients can include minced garlic, ginger, green onions and a bit of honey or sesame oil.  That's the easy part -- inexpensive, easy-to-locate ingredients.  To achieve the signature red color, red fermented tofu paste, red yeast powder and red yeast rice are added.  To give it a lacquered sheen, malt sugar is brushed over the surface during the last moments of cooking.  That's the hard part -- unless one lives in an area with a large Chinese-American population, or, cooks a lot of char sui on a regular basis, searching for the last four ingredients might not be worth your while.  Here's my easier alternative:

IMG_1566Ah-So is a line of Asian sauces and marinades from Allied Old English, Inc., in Port Reading, New Jersey. The Original Ah-So sauce (sold in glass jars and plastic squeeze bottles) is a sweet, sticky, bright, Christmas-bulb-red marinade/glaze used to make pork and poultry.  It contains corn syrup, corn starch, miso, garlic powder and red food coloring*.  Popular here in the Northeastern United States, it falls into the category of Chinese-American cookery, with its aim being to replicate the signature reddish smoke ring found around the boneless spareribs found on the menus of most Chinese restaurants.

Interestingly enough,  the words "ah-so" come from the Japanese saying, "ah-so desu-ka" ("Oh is that so?) -- Ah-so is a mock-Chinese all-American invented expression.  

On its own, I find Ah-So sauce to be overly sweet (even though the sugar content is unavoidable to achieve the mandatory sheen and slight charring found on char sui).  I find it to be remarkably under seasoned too.  My answer is to use just enough of this sauce to guarantee all of the signature red color and glossy sheen a char sui fan could want, and, add enough of flavorful ingredients to it, to season it to restaurant-quality perfection, meaning:  I doctor the sauce up.

IMG_1595For the pork:

2  1-1 1/2-pound pork tenderloins

For my all-purpose char-siu marinade (Note:  It's great for pork spareribs, cubes or strips of pork loin or pork shoulder, chicken breasts, chicken tenderloins, and chicken wings too.)

1  tablespoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons ginger paste

4  tablespoons Ah-So sauce

2  tablespoons hoisin sauce

1  tablespoon oyster sauce

1  tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine

3  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

2  tablespoon honey

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1/2  teaspoon Chinese five-Spice powder

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

*Note:  It's not unusual to find a few drops (4-6) of red food coloring added to modern-day char sui recipes.  It will provide the bright red color, but not the sugar content.  Inexpensive, store-bought Ah-So sauce does both, which imparts of the signature sheen and slight charring too. 

IMG_1576 IMG_1576 IMG_1576~ Step 1.  To make 1-cup of my all-purpose char siu marinade, in a 1-cup measuring container, place and stir together all ingredients as listed (garlic paste, ginger paste, Ah-so sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese rice wine, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, Chinese five-spice powder and ground cinnamon). Taste and adjust the seasonings to suit yourself, but, I'll be shocked if you want to -- it's delish.

IMG_1599 IMG_1599 IMG_1599 IMG_1553~Step 2.  Place tenderloins in a 1-gallon food-storage bag, add marinade and seal bag. Using your fingertips, squish bag around a bit, until entire surface of the tenderloins are coated. Marinate in refrigerator 24-48 hours.  Remove marinated tenderloins from refrigerator.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil, then, line bottom with a sheet of parchment.

IMG_1612 IMG_1614 IMG_1614 IMG_1614~Step 3.  Remove tenderloins from marinade, allowing the excess to drizzle and drip back into the bag (reserve the excess marinade) and place on prepared baking pan.  Allow tenderloins to return to room temperature and dry off, 1-1 1/2 hours.  Transfer marinade to a 1-quart saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring marinade to a steady simmer.  Stirring constantly, simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into a 1-cup measuring container and set aside. You will have 3/4 sauce for glazing pork (as directed below), plus enough leftover for drizzling atop sliced pork.

IMG_1635 IMG_1635 IMG_1635~ Step 4.  Roast tenderloins on center rack of 350° oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and reprogram oven to broil, with oven rack positioned 5 1/2"-6" under heat.  Using a pastry brush, paint a light coating of glaze on the surface of both tenderloins.  Place under broiler for 3 minutes.  Remove from oven, paint with glaze and broil a second time, for 3 minutes.  Repeat the painting/broiling process a third time and remove from oven -- glaze will be bubbling and showing signs of light caramelization (browning) on the surface.  Allow tenderloins to rest 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.

Glaze will be bubbling  & lightly caramelized:

IMG_1648Rest tenderloins 15-20 minutes prior to slicing...   

IMG_1706... or dicing or mincing to prepare ...

IMG_1733... any number of your favorite Chinese dishes:

IMG_1815The China Syndrome: An Easier Chinese Char Siu:  Recipe yields 1-cup all-purpose char sui marinade/2, 1-1 1/4-pound pork tenderloins/3-4 servings per tenderloin/6-8 total servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon; 1-gallon food storage bag; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment; plastic wrap; pastry brush; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b019b033bb2d9970c 6a0120a8551282970b019b0329627a970cCook's Note: In February of 2010, I had the pleasure of welcoming Chef Martin Yan into my kitchen (to assist him with a cooking demonstration in front of a studio audience of 150 at WPSU-TV).  It was my job to prepare a tasting of the dishes he was demonstrating -- for 150 guests.  Lot's of work?  You betcha.  Lot's of fun?  Absolutely.

These walnut cookies were on the menu, and, as Chef Yan writes in his book Feast:  "These are the flaky short-dough cookies found in Chinese bakeries all over the world.  My version replaces the traditional lard with a combination of butter and shortening, producing a crispier, more tender cookie."  Click here for the recipe ~ Martin Yan's Wonderful Walnut Cookies a la Mel ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


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