Char siu 叉燒 Chinese Barbecue Pork: One Pork Shoulder, Many Meals

By Charleen - June 06, 2020

It is easy to make your own char siu 叉燒 or Chinese barbecue pork. It's fabulous fresh from the oven or grill, served simply with rice and a green vegetable. And leftovers serve as a great starting point for a variety of delicious and flexible dishes. In the early days of the pandemic lockdown, when grocery store shelves were running empty, I managed to get a whole pork shoulder, cut in half, from Goodness Grows Farms. I used one of these 5-pound halves to create 6 delicious Asian dishes (so far), stretching the meat budget and keeping my family happy.

If you live in a big city with a Chinatown such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York or Boston, it was relatively easy to get char siu 叉燒 pork or a whole roasted chicken or tea-smoked duck. But even there, with the COVID-19 related shutdowns, it is unclear how many of these small businesses will survive. Fortunately, you can make your own char siu pork using this easy recipe from Grace Young to re-create the complex, succulent charred flavor of Chinese bbq pork at home.
Four dishes from one batch of Chinese barbecue pork. Jump to the descriptions.

While I am willing to take extra steps if it noticeably affects the outcome of the dish, caramelizing vegetable toppings for pizza, for example, I am all for simplicity. That is one great feature to Grace's recipe -- the ingredients in the marinade are all measured as 2 Tablespoons, except the sesame oil, which is 2 teaspoons. This means it is easy to remember, and there are fewer measuring spoons to wash afterwards. Since I skip the sugar rub step in the beginning, I use 2 Tbs for the sugar, same as all of the other sauce ingredients except the sesame oil and white pepper. I have also found that this marinade amount can easily support double the amount of meat, perfect for a 4-5 pound shoulder, plus generate enough sauce to serve with it.

For even cooking, I cut approximately 1-1.5 inch thick slabs of meat from the pork shoulder, and place it all in a glass pyrex pan to marinade. You can simply spoon the sauce ingredients into the same pan as the meat and then mix, no extra bowl needed. Although overnight is recommended, I have had good results with a 4-5 hour marinade. 
Mix pork slices into marinade in single layer.

After 4-5 hours, the meat has taken on a beautiful color

And be sure to pop the bone, with any meat that is still attached, into the freezer! If you had to trim thick regions of fat or skin from the meat, you can render out the lard and freeze for future pastries, or simply throw larger chunks of fat/skin into the freezer along with the bone. These "scraps," which are commonly discarded, form the starting point for a fantastic pork chashu ramen and its crackling garnish (no need to separately cook any fussy pork belly)! 
Add fat to a pan with a bit of water to cover. Slowly cook until water is evaporated, fat is rendered and cracklings are crispy and light brown. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and enjoy!

Decant rendered lard into a jar using a metal funnel. After it cools to room temperature, store in freezer. The fat can be scooped out with a spoon as needed (no need to defrost).

After the meat has marinated, allow the pan to rest at room temperature for at least 1 h, so that the center of the meat will be cooked in the time it takes to char the outside.  I have made this using either a broiler pan or using a half-sheet pan with a wire rack. Either will fit the meat nicely in a single layer, although the wire rack allows for more attractive browning due to the increased airflow.  
An extra large batch I made back in January for char siu bao wrapping party.
With a flame broiler that runs as a narrow strip down the center, you might need to put the pan more than 4 inches away, and turn it during cooking to avoid burning the center pieces.

After the pork goes into the broiler, I pour the marinade in a saucepan and boil it gently until reduced to a good dipping sauce consistency.  
Strain the cooked and reduced marinade to form a smooth dipping sauce. 

Be sure to check the internal temperature of the thickest piece of meat using an instant read thermometer.  If the meat was still kind of cold in the middle when entering the broiler, you might have to flip the pieces a second time, baste and cook for 3-5 minutes longer.

Serve the char siu, sliced, as a meal or snack with rice and an easy green vegetable such as steamed broccoli or stir-fried bok choy. The reduced sauce can be drizzled on top, and/or served on the side. 

IF you have any left after the initial meal and some followup meals as illustrated below, freeze the pork in 8 or 12 oz portions. Many recipes call for 6 or 8 oz, but a little more is always better!  Plus you will need at least 12 oz to make these delicious Chinese pork buns

One Pork Shoulder: Many Meals Part 2 of 3.

When I ordered the 10 pound pork shoulder from Goodness Grows Farm, I asked Farmer Eric if he could cut it in half. From the first half, I have made 6 different dishes so far -- enough for 8 dinners for a family of 3-4, and numerous leftover lunches. I still have the rendered lard, and 3 cups of now frozen pork bone stock leftover from the ramen, to be incorporated into still more dishes. 

Dish #1. Pork Slivers with Zucchini and Purple Carrots. It takes a bit of time to thaw a pork shoulder, and we could not wait. So the first meal I made was a stir-fry using about 12-14 ounces of meat that I was able to easily remove from the partially thawed shoulder. The recipe for this dish, pork slivers with vegetables in black bean sauce is flexible and can be used with a variety of ingredientsThis was served over my family recipe for crisp, golden chow mein noodle cakes 两面黄 炒麵. 

Dish #2. Char siu 叉燒 or Chinese barbecue pork. As the cook, be sure to sample one or two of these delicious nuggets fresh from the broiler (for quality control). A few portions of this batch was then sliced up and served with leftover broccoli-spiked white bean salad from Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn and red rice. As part of my no-food-waste movement, I cooked brown jasmine rice in a mixture of mushroom-bean-broccoli pot liquor from making the white bean salad and some tomato juice that had been squeezed from canned Romas when we made deep dish pizza a few days earlier. 

Dish #3. Cellophane noodles with three mushrooms and bbq pork. I used a combination of fresh cremini, dried shiitake and wood ear mushrooms to complement the 6 oz of leftover char siu pork, adding in some zucchini that needed to be used. This beautifully satisfying dish is from Grace Young's aunt in The Breath of a Wok. I substitute sweet potato noodles for true cellophane noodles, but it works well with either type of noodle. 
Prepped ingredients (top). I added zucchini and fresh mushrooms because they needed to be used. The egg is cooked first into a pancake (bottom left), that is cooled and sliced. Then I browned the fresh ingredients (bottom right).

Auntie Betty's method of only partially soaking the noodles in water is genius -- it allows the noodles to fully imbibe the flavorful stock even though it seems awkward trying to toss the still rather stiff noodles with the soy sauce in the beginning.
Noodles are not fully soaked and may seem to be too stiff and not enough. But after braising in broth, they increase quite a bit in volume and are wonderfully flavored.

Half of the julienned pork and egg strips are reserved for an attractive presentation on top of the dish.

Dish #4. Sticky rice bowls. This was my first attempt at making this dim sum dish from the charmingly illustrated Dim Sum cookbook by Ellen Leong Blonder. These bowls are filled with char siu pork, Chinese sausage, winter mushrooms (dried shiitakes), peanuts, yu tsai and cilantro. Instead of chicken, I cooked the liquid out of oyster and cremini mushrooms, and then tossed them in soy sauce. 
The mixture is steamed in bowls, which are then inverted on a plate for serving.

I might have crammed in too many goodies relative to the amount of rice -- so they did not stick together as tightly as in restaurants -- but it surely was delicious! 

Dish #5. Homemade broad rice noodles with bbq pork. For the last of the leftover char siu pork, I made an ad hoc stir-fry using homemade rice noodles. This was my first attempt at homemade broad rice noodles -- homework of sorts as I am still trying to perfect my Thai drunken noodles recipe. The texture achieved using homemade noodles is superior to rehydrated dry noodles. Again, thanks to Grace Young for the recipe and method.  

Through trial and error, I realize that the noodles will stick in the middle, which is the last area to cool, if you don't wait long enough before trying to roll them off the pie plate. Be sure to let it cool for at least 3-4 minutes. For this reason, next time I will try rotating 3 plates: one steaming, one cooling and one being prepped with more batter. 

The pork was supplemented with a bit of julienned dry tofu and canned bamboo shoots, from a small handful of each that I stole from my husband and daughter when they made vegetarian hot and sour soup the day before. A handful each of oyster mushrooms and yu tsai rounded out this complete meal that hits all the food groups. 

The sauce was the easiest stir-fry sauce ever! I simply took the remaining 1-2 tablespoons of the bbq pork sauce leftover from enjoying Dish #2, and thinned it using a bit of chicken stock that was leftover from making the Dish #3. 

Dish #6. Pork chashu ramen. I enjoyed this meal for 3 dinners. The first night, it was topped with jammy marinated egg, stirfried zucchini and onion, smoky mushroom crisps, pickled ginger slices and a smattering of minced carrot tops in place of cilantro. The crispy pork cracklings were consumed before the dish was ready. Look for a future post detailing the method and recipe for this shortcut ramen! 

Please be sure to support Chinatown and your favorite local Asian small businesses when they reopen.  
But in the meantime rest assure that you can still enjoy Cantonese roast bbq pork!

Other char siu based meals I have made in the past.

Singapore noodles from Stir-frying to the Sky's Edge.

Barbecue pork lo mein from Stir-frying to the Sky's Edge.

Char siu bao from the Woks of Life website. See also my blog post comparing different dough recipes and fillings. 

Fried rice with Chinese barbecue pork.  I don't really use a recipe, as this is a great dish to use up odds and ends for my clean-out-the-fridge dishes.  That being said, the Fried Rice in The Wisdom of a Chinese Kitchen greatly influenced how I cook this dish, introducing me to egg pancakes (instead of scrambled as my parents used), the use of bbq pork instead of ham, and XO sauce.  Any recipe for ham fried rice can be used. Or you can try this recipe from Grace's blog, substituting scallions or Chinese chives or onions for the ramps. Add peas or bok choy and a spoonful of XO sauce to really elevate this humble dish to the next level! 
Egg fried rice with char siu, green beans and XO sauce
Egg fried rice with bbq pork, bok choy, XO and Sriracha sauce

Please be sure to support Chinatown and your favorite Asian small businesses when they reopen!  

What are your favorite ways to eat Chinese bbq pork? 

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