If I had to choose a meat that I had to live with for the rest of my life, it will be pork. And maybe perhaps chicken being a very close second. I love pork, in all its variations, and one of my favorite ways of preparing pork is marinating it in a BBQ-ish sauce, to give me char siew. Living in Singapore (and Malaysia), I never had to make my own char siew, because frankly speaking, it’s available everywhere! Compound that with the fact that there’s a super good roast pork and char siew stall opposite my estate; well, making my own char siew never occurred to me. 
At least, it never did until I was in Sydney and suddenly decided that I had to make my own char siew because I was dying to eat some proper Chinese-flavored pork. Char Siew as I know it to be, is also known as char siu, chashao (the direct translation from Chinese 叉烧) and perhaps chasu as well, which is what the Japanese call their version of roasted pork meat. Here at home, we usually consume it with rice or noodles, in pastries (叉烧酥 anyone?) or steamed buns. Anyway, I was in Sydney for a while, and I decided I had to make char siew. So off I went to first buy a dish that I could use in the oven (oh the extent I go to just for making something myself no?), then to get myself a proper cut of meat – I prefer to get the shoulder or butt which is less fatty but you can get the belly if you are in the market for something more fatty.

This is actually a picture of my second charsiew attempt, which I will blog about later. 
Of course before all these, I did my research on the recipes available on the internet, and boy did I come across many! However, I had to adapt a recipe of my own, mainly because I was working with a bare pantry, and I didn’t want to buy too many ingredients only to not use it again. So ingredients like fermented tofu (taucheo), maltose (麦芽糖), Chinese Rose wine (绍兴酒 or shaoxing wine) and five-spice powder were out. Those requiring red food coloring were also out because I’m not a fan of food coloring. However, you do require the basic Chinese seasonings such as soy sauce (both light and dark) as well as Hoisin sauce. 
I am thus happy to announce that this version below is really something that anyone, especially someone overseas who doesn’t have access to a very well-stocked Asian kitchen, can accomplish in a jiffy. All you have to do is to make sure you have an oven-safe dish, the requisite ingredients below, and get yourself down to your butcher (preferably the Asian butcher since the cuts of meat required will be best understood by the Asian butcher, especially if you tell him you want it for roast BBQ pork), marinate the pork and let it rest for a few hours before putting it in the oven a few hours before dinner. Trust me, I made it twice when I was in Sydney and it was DELICIOUS. I know someone else can attest to that ;p

Sorry the photos are pretty bad, because I was really very famished by the time I finished cooking and all I could think of was to polish off the charsiew, hence the blurry iPhone photographs and un-cut meat lol. 

Char Siew Recipe
Adapted from Lily 
500g pork, cut into 2-inch thick strips 
For the marinade
3 tbl Hoisin sauce
2 tbl brown sugar
1 tbl white sugar 
1 tbl rice wine 
2 tsp soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil 
¼ tsp salt 
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground white pepper 
½ tsp ground cinnamon 
¼ tsp allspice 
3 cloves of finely minced garlic

For the glaze

1 tbl dark soya sauce
1 tbl honey
1 tbl oil (I used olive oil)
  1. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade together in a large ziplock bag. 
  2. If your cut of pork is too thick, cut it to about 2-3 inches and put it in the ziplock bag. Seal the bag and begin massaging the pork, ensuring that the marinade coats every part of the pork. 
  3. Leave it to rest for at least half at hour, preferably for 1-2 hours. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180ºC.
  4. Place the pork into an oven safe dish and place it in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes on one side before flipping the pork over to the other side to bake for another 10 minutes. Then, bast the pork using the glaze mixture and turn the heat up to about 210ºC (or up to 250ºC). Bake the pork for a further 5-10 minutes on each side until caramelized. You should be able to see almost-black charred bits on the pork. If so, remove from the oven and wait for it to cool before cutting and serving. Otherwise, turn down the heat to 150ºC and leave it in the oven until you are ready to serve. 
Look at those charred bits! And the translucent liquid is actually the rendered fat from the pork!

Janine’s jots: 
  • Note: The recipe is also in cup measurements because I didn’t have the benefit of a weighing machine, and spoons and cups were all I had. You can use 1 tsp of garlic powder as in the original recipe if you have it. I didn’t, hence the minced garlic. 
  • Tips: Another tip is to make sure you have 2 racks in the oven, one on top and another in the centre. I found that to better aid caramelization, placing the dish of pork on the top rack with the top heating element turned on helped in caramelizing the pork faster and within a shorter time. 
  • Taste: Cooking is always an inexact science for myself, so do adjust the amount of spices and marinade according to your preferences. I have used quite a bit of sugar and soy sauce in the recipe to suit my preferences, but on subsequent attempts, have used less sugar and soy sauce and the result is still really good. 
  • Texture: The texture really depends on which cut of meat you get. As you can see, the cut I got above (probably the shoulder) was rather meaty and had quite little fat, so I should have sliced the pork into 2-inch slices as advised instead of leaving them whole because I had to bake them for a longer time to make sure they were tender. 
  • Serving size: A 500g serving will be more than enough to serve a family of 4 as the main dish. For 2, we demolished this in 2 meals. 
  • Storage: The char siew stores really well in the fridge, keeping for at least a week. You can also choose to keep it in the freezer, which is what I did when I made a lot of the charsiew. It goes well in fried rice, charsiew paos, and anything else!
  • Would I make this again?: Definitely! This is by far the cheaper method to get good quality charsiew, even in Singapore! Just do your math, a cut of pork will set you back a few dollars, and you’ll be able to gorge yourself silly on the resulting charsiew, whereas buying the charsiew from a store will easily cost $5 up for quarter the weight. 

Recommended substitutions for ingredients 
  • To substitute the Chinese Rose wine (玫瑰露), many on the internet suggest that the best substitute is a dry sherry. If you happen to have sake lying around, do use that, but note that it’s sweeter than shaoxing wine. In a pinch, just use a dry white wine that you might have lying around, or some Chinese rice wine (绍兴酒) will do as well. I tried both of the latter and they didn’t make too much of a difference (in my opinion). 
  • For the maltose, I simply substituted it with honey. 
  • For the 5-spice powder (五香粉), you can make your own using Marc’s recipe or you can just do what I did and just use whatever you have in your pantry. Basically, 5-spice powder is made up of (duh) 5 spices, although what these 5 spices are can differ somewhat. The usual suspects include star anise (bajiao), cloves, cinnamon (or Chinese cinnamon, rougui), Sichuan pepper (huajiao) and ground fennel seeds. The spices are not in equal quantities, so it’s really a matter of taste. For my substitute below, I have attempted to use ground cinnamon, allspice (which contains ), some black pepper and some white pepper. 
  • If you don’t have Hoisin sauce, my recommendation is for you to get it, because it’s pretty inexpensive – a few dollars for about 300+g in any Asian grocery store. I can vouch that it will be available in the smallest of Asian grocers. Otherwise, a good substitution (I have tried this at home) is a combination of 4 parts soy sauce to 2 parts peanut butter to 1 part honey/sugar to 1 part white vinegar. You can also choose to add garlic powder, sesame oil, habenero and other seasonings. There are many recipes on the internet for Hoisin sauce, but honestly, it’s pretty troublesome when it’s so cheap and you’ll have many other uses for it, like Hoisin Chicken Wings :]


        1. I think home made char siew is just awesome 

        2. It’s so great to recreate your favorite foods at home. Great job!

        3. this is a recipe i wanted to try to make at home, must make soon.

        4. Lisa H. says:

          This comment has been removed by the author.

        5. Lisa H. says:

          Love the first photo… eventhough I dont eat pork but that photo would make anyone ‘drool’ 😀

          `do apologise for the ‘delete’… spelling error *embarassed*

        6. Very true, just like the French don’t make their own macs, it’s everywhere there.
          BTW, I think Chinese Rose Wine is 玫瑰露, it has a distinct fragrance, especially in heavily sweetened pork products, like lap cheong and char siew.

        7. Thanks for posting. I was just looking for a char siew recipe. 🙂

        8. Ah Tze says:

          Lovely char siew! Hope to try it soon ^^

        9. Janine says:

          @Shaz & lisa: thanks 😀

          @Sonia: do try it, it’s very yummy and surprisingly easy!

          @Lisa H: no problem about the typo ;p and thanks for your lovely comments!

          @Wendy: yup I just realized I made an error with the mei gui lu and shaoxing hehe – changed it already thanks 😀

          @Murasaki: glad to be of help! hope the substitutions are helpful if you can’t find the ingredients readily!

          @ah tze: when you try it you won’t regret it!

        10. lena says:

          oh yes, it is definately cheaper making our own char siew and roasted pork at home. Even pork is also rather pricey here but it’s still much cheaper compared to buying them from stalls especially roasted pork.Your char siew looks really good here, appreciate your notes..

        11. crustabakes says:

          i have always wanted to make my own charsiew but like you, was deterred by the crazy list of unfamilliar ingredients. This recipe seems so much more manage-able. I think i will give it a go finally!

        12. Wow, us your char siew to make some char siew pau will be awesome. It has been a while since I made my own char siew. Hehe as if I made char siew many times. No I did it only once but not even near yours.

        13. MaryMoh says:

          Ooooh…drooling over your char siew. Love that colour…a nice rich colour without the red colouring. I love char siew too. Good with anything….mmm. Thanks very much for sharing. MaryMoh at http://www.keeplearningkeepsmiling.com

        14. Your char siew looks fantastic! I don’t blame you for being eager to dig in, I would too! 🙂

        15. Janine says:

          @lena: glad that my notes were helpful!

          @crustabakes: do try it out! 🙂

          @quay po: that’s exactly what i did for the subsequent char siew batches! dice and freeze for use as char siew filling!

          @mary: thanks 😀

          @kitchen flavors: hehe ;p

        16. Jeannie says:

          Looks so delicious! I am going to try making this too…then I am going to make siew yoke and get to serve char siew and siew yoke at home 😀

        17. shaz says:

          Looks absolutely delicious and thanks for taking part again 🙂 Great work on the substitution advice too, very handy for those of us not living in the “motherland” :).

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