What are the best cuts of pork for char siu?
My dad uses pork butt, also known as "Boston butt” or "pork shoulder”, and this seems to be among the most popular cuts for char siu.
It’s ideal to use more fatty cuts, so some other options would be the pork neck end or pork belly.
Should you use red food coloring?
If you’re committed to getting that vibrant red exterior, a lot of traditional recipes will use ingredients like red fermented bean curd or red yeast rice powder.
An easy alternative is just to use red food coloring, which doesn’t affect the taste.
For almost all of our recipes, we film everything twice just to have more camera angles, so for this one, we made a batch with half a teaspoon of red food coloring and a batch without it.
For comparison, you can see what both versions look like after they’ve been cooked and chopped. They both taste the exact same, which is to say, they’re absolutely amazing.
On red fermented bean curd
Also known as "lam yuh" in Cantonese, this ingredient can seem a little exotic and off-putting if you're not familiar with it (like me.)
My dad uses it in a lot of dishes, and it's one of the core ingredients in this particular char siu recipe.
If you don't have this at home, it's okay to skip. It does help give the char siu more of a natural red color, and also provides a ton of umami flavoring.
Woks of Life has a great write up on this: https://thewoksoflife.com/fermented-bean-curd/
If you're interested, we'll also be including a link to buy it on Amazon below!
On five spice powder
The last ingredient to highlight is our five spice powder, or ńgh hēung fán 五香粉 in Cantonese, which is an umbrella for the popular Chinese blends of spices that usually consist of cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves, and peppers.
The number 5 doesn’t necessarily literally mean that it has 5 ingredients, as some blends use less spices, and some blends use way more than 5 ingredients.
Five spice powder is actually a nod to the 5 traditional Chinese elements (earth, fire, water, wood, metal) and a balancing act of the 5 traditional flavors of Chinese cuisine (salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter).
Finding Asian Ingredients
Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.
If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:
I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.
These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!
Equipment you'll need
To make char siu, you’ll need a few things:
This is optional, but you might also want to use a meat thermometer that allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the pork as it’s cooking.
My dad literally chuckled at me when I asked him about this and said, “we don’t cook this way,” but since I haven’t yet acquired my dad’s intuition in the kitchen, I like to use these to whenever I cook big pieces of meat.
As I mentioned, my dad usually makes this dish to celebrate Lunar New Year. I've been really excited to document his char siu recipe, among many things, so I can pass it down to our son and our future kids.
My wife and I recently got to connect with Hanna from Habbi Habbi, an amazing company that's creating a wonderful experience for kids through bilingual books and their magical reading wand.
We're really excited for Cameron to grow up learning Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin!), being able to communicate with his grandparents, and to understand his heritage.
If you have a small kiddo(s) and you're interested in a fun way to expose them to different languages, you can see the book in action in our video and also learn more on their website!
The link to Habbi Habbi is an affiliate link, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, our family earns a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!