Auntie Ruby's Char Siew (Asian BBQ Pork) - the Easy Way

Char Siew

Char siew (aka cha siu, cha shao, char siu) is a type of BBQ pork dish in which long strips of boneless pork are marinated in a mixture of maltose, five spice powder, red fermented beancurd, dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce and lots of red food colouring. They are then skewered and grilled in a hot oven. The obscenely red meat is then sliced and served often with rice, noodles or in buns.

I've been wanting to make char siew for the longest time ever but kept procrastinating for I-cannot-remember-what-reasons. And just suddenly one day, after seeing the recipe on The Food Canon, I decided to give the recipe a go. Tried and tasted by many other foodies, this recipe not only looks good - it is also easy as well. Instead of using the oven approach, the pork is braised in a pot with all the seasonings - brown sugar, white pepper, honey, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, five spice powder, a little wine and water - until tender. The pork is then pan-fried to obtain the slightly crisp and burnt exterior.

Recommended by the butcher, I chose to use pork butt, which is also known as pork collar, sometimes pork shoulder, and in Chinese, known as wu hua rou (五花肉). This part of the meat is found on the upper part of the of the pig's shoulder. It has a very pretty marbling of fats in and has a very nice ratio of meat:fat (about 3:2), so it's not excessively oily but still yields a very tender and melt-in-the-mouth texture. It is also the preferred part for making pulled pork. You can use pork belly if you want an even more fatty char siew, but it would have been too oily for me.

Char Siew

Char Siew Noodles

I ended up with a pretty watery sauce, so I boiled it vigorously and reduced it by half, yielding a thick and syrupy sauce (perfect to drizzle on top and to go with rice!). I also pan-fry the pork in a separate non-stick pan with a little oil - it was an extremely smoky and sticky affair and I have an additional pan to wash, but because the pan was non-stick, it is a lot easier to clean. If you char the meat directly in the pot, you'll most likely end up with charred bits stuck all around the pot, which will be extremely hard to clean afterwards.

I originally wanted to serve the char siew with rice, but I was lazy so I ended up cooking a bag of instant noodles (would have opt for Chinese egg noodles but didn't have them on hand), dressed it in a little home-made sauce (recipe at the end) and then spooned char siew slices and blanched greens on top - a yummy char siew noodles dish is ready to be served! The char siew was really delicious and I foresee myself making it again - and probably using the home-cooked char siew to make char siew bao (BBQ pork bun) next time!

Only 2 step-by-step-photos today as the recipe's very straightforward and easy!

(Click to see a larger image in Flickr!)

Char SiewChar Siew

1) Marinate the meat overnight and then simmer it gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour until tender.

2) Pan-fry the meat in a non-stick pan to get it nicely charred on all sides.

Char Siew

Slice, drizzle with the sauce and serve!

This is for:

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On to the recipe!

Auntie Ruby's Char Siew (serves 4 to 6)

adapted from The Food Canon

1 kg pork butt, slice into strips
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons mild honey or maltose
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese wine
250 ml water (1 cup)

Rinse the pork butt, pat dry and place it in a pot. Add in all other ingredients except water and use a pair of chopsticks or your hands to mix all the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours to marinate the meat.

Place the pot, covered, directly onto the stove. Heat it up over high heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the pork until tender, flipping the pork occasionally. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Snip off pieces of meat now and then to determine if it's soft enough for you.

Once the char siew is tender enough, remove the char siew and set aside. There should be plenty of sauce left in the pot. Bring the sauce to a rolling boil and reduce it until thick and syrupy. Scoop out the layer of oil floating on top if desired before straining it into a small serving bowl.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, and add in a little bit of oil. Pan-fry the char siew until the exterior is well-charred to your liking, flipping it frequently as they can burn quite easily.

Let the meat rest on the table counter for about 5 minutes, then slice and serve with the sauce and rice / noodles.


[1] Note that pork butt = pork collar = upper part of pork shoulder. This part of the meat has a nice marbling of fats, fatty but does not give an overly greasy after-taste. If you prefer fattier cut, use pork belly. If you want to be a bit more health-conscious, you can go for leaner cuts, but it will lack the juiciness and tenderness of the fatty cuts!

[2] I asked my butcher to cut the pork butt into long strips, so that it looks more like char siew.

[3] Traditionally char siew is red in colour, but not wanting to add artificial food colouring into my food, I decided to omit them. Since food colouring doesn't help in improving the flavours in any way, no harm to omit it!

[4] If you don't have Chinese wine, you can use sherry instead!

[5] After marinating the pork, you can sear it first with a little oil, before adding in all the marinade and simmer it. You can also use a non-stick pot to cook the pork so that you can char the pork directly in the pot later on.

[6] If you want to serve it with the noodles, dress each serving of noddles with:

1 teaspoon fried shallot oil
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon dark soya sauce
1/2 to 1 tablespoon reduced char siew sauce

Happy cooking!

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  1. This looks delicious, simple to make too! What is maltose, I have to look that up. I have everthing I need for this dish except that. Have pork shoulder in the freezer waiting for just the right recipe, I found it.

  2. Looked it up, it's used for home brewing, would there be anything that could be subbed for the maltose if I have a hard time finding?

  3. Hi Suzanne! Sorry my mistake! It should be either honey or maltose. Maltose is the traditional ingredient for this recipe, but since it's pretty uncommon, we often used honey instead! Pardon my typo in the recipe!

  4. Char Sui fan is my eldest son's favorite meal. I love your Aunties recipe and will be keeping or printing this recipe off for save keeping to try soon. I see you serve yours over noodles. It all is good. I love the sauce. Thanks so much for sharing this delightful recipe!!! Wishing you a super weekend. Take Care, BAM

  5. These looks delicious! I am rather selective when it comes to store-bought char siew, which is usually too sweet for my liking. Homemade is still the best. These sounds great, with just the right amount of sweetness, which I can see from the ingredients. Thanks for sharing, Jasline! Wish I could have a share of your char siew!
    Hope you have a great weekend!

  6. This looks so tasty, I could just try some :)

    Thanks for sharing with us at welcome to the weekend blog hop :)

  7. Excuse me I need to dry off my computer I was salivating so much reading your recipe. Thank you so much for sharing your succulent pork with us on foodie friday.

  8. This is one delicious looking dish you've created, Jasline. Pork butt is a flavorful cut of meat and I bet that marinade really brings out its best. Add that sauce of yours and we're talking mouth-watering good. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Your char seew is pan fried, never even know and tempting to try...
    btw, i love to add some angkak or fermented red rice to the marinade ang roasted until crisp up...

  10. I have had this but never knew how to make it. Thanks for sharing at Foodie Friends Friday!

  11. Love your second photo of the pork, greens and noodles. This pork looks so good. :)

  12. […] Auntie Ruby’s Char Siew (Asian BBQ Pork) – the Easy Way (foodismylife.wordpress.com) […]

  13. Very yummy looking, will try this when I get a nice piece of pork:D

  14. Hope you will like the recipe!