Char Siew, or spelled as char siu, cha su or cha siu, is equivalent to ‘siew’ to roast and ‘char’ in a fork. It’s a popular method of barbecue where long fork is used to hold the strips of marinated pork.
Back in the old days, any available meat is cooked the char siew way, wild boar or other gamey meat. Today, pork is mainly used because of its availability.
In Singapore and Malaysia, char siew rice can be found in many food stalls or mostly in many Chinese shāolà (烧腊). It is one of the most loved food experience alongside roast duck and roast pork for visitors. Available in many stalls offering the famous hainanese chicken, char siew may also be served with chicken-flavoured rice and the same dips of chili and soy sauce.
Char siew or caramelized pork is usually served with rice, noodles or even as a filling inside steamed and fried buns.
Char Siew Variations
Char siew can be made with different cuts of a pork, depending on the stalls specialty.
In Singapore, most char siew is made from tenderloin, the most common cut. Others serve what they call ‘wu hua rou’ (five flower pattern pork) or pork belly because of the five layers of meat and fat resulting in a juicier char siew.
For some local butchers, the most prized char siew is from a pig’s armpit. Also known as “bu jian tian” (never sees the sky). It is the part where the meat is very tender and flavourful.
Another part used is the pork shoulder which is adored by mostly the health conscious. Fact is this part has more fats than other parts of the pig, but it depends on the cut to be able to enjoy the leaner meat for the barbecue.
These meats are skewered together with a long fork for roasting. Sometimes combination of cuts are used to alternate the fatty cuts to the lean meat.
Roasting of Char Siew
Traditionally, the meat is barbecued in a smoker for deeper flavour. As most home cooks do not have charcoal smoker, roasting it in an oven also works nicely.
The basic method is to let the meat slow cook at first. When almost done, a good brush of the marinade will create the glaze. Then another trip to the cooker until you get an even light char on the sides.