Monday, March 21, 2011

Cha-Siew (Chinese BBQ Roasted Pork)

I know, I know, it's known everywhere as "char-siew" but I have no idea where that "r" at the end came from.  This is a Cantonese dish, I speak Cantonese, and it's "cha-siew," damn it!

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

Ahem.  This was incredibly easy to make.  The recipe I based this off of comes from Shiokadelicious, a now-defunct food blog written by a woman named Renee.  I got my hands on the recipe from Digital Dish, a collection of food blogger recipes compiled and edited by Owen at Tomatilla!.  It sounded so simple that I had to try it out, because like many people, I love cha-siew.

Renee reveals that maltose is used in the marinade of virtually all store-bought cha-siew, and gives it that glossy sheen.  Honey, corn syrup, and similar don't really make for good substitutions if you want that look and glazed texture.  Renee says: "Maltose is rather hard and extremely sticky and gooey. It gives a certain viscosity to the marinade, and more importantly, it imparts a high gloss and shine to the meat, which is also an important part of the appeal of char siew. And unlike honey, when cooked, it has a less sticky feel to it. The sweetness of maltose is also different from that of honey. I personally feel that maltose is quite an integral part of the char siew marinade. However, if it is unavailable, I think honey does make for an acceptable substitution."  However, I didn't want to specially find and purchase maltose for this purpose as I don't know what else I would use it in, so I substituted anyway and just accepted from the beginning that it wasn't going to be exactly the same.

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

I used pork leg meat, but pork shoulder is apparently also fairly common.  Other online recipes advocate the use of pork butt or pork tenderloin, but I'd avoid the latter because it's the least flavorful cut.  I purchased the leg meat with the skin still on, because it was cheaper, and removed the skin and most of the extra fatty tissue before marinating.

As for food coloring, to give the meat that characteristic 'red' edge, Renee used powdered food coloring.  I only had the liquid kind, but the marinade is really dark and even after using 5 drops of coloring it didn't really change, so I just gave up.  The raw meat, even after marinating overnight, didn't actually look red.  It kind of does after cooking, as you can see in the photos, but I don't know if that's really from the food coloring or just from the soy-sauce based marinade cooking into that color.  I'm personally doubtful it was the result of the food coloring.  I would think if the coloring were going to stain the meat red, it would have done so on the raw meat as well, but the raw meat showed no redness at all.  So if the red color is important to you, you might want to try using powdered food coloring as Renee did.  Personally I'm not convinced that adding the coloring at the marinade stage is the way to go... I'm going to have to do some more experimentation.

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

Now, as to how it tasted.  It was incredibly, wonderfully tender.  It wasn't like the kind of cha-siew you get at Chinese BBQ places; it did taste more soy sauce-y than sweet (both my cousin and I came to that same conclusion).  And while I am going to try this a few more times in order to try and get to a cha-siew that more closely resembles something you'd get at a restaurant (like Sam Woo) -- it probably involves actually buying maltose -- I have to say that this was quite delicious in its own right.  And so easy!  A simple marinade, wait overnight, then roast for about 40 minutes the next day.  The only challenge is not gobbling it all up in one sitting.

Cha-Siew (Chinese BBQ Roasted Pork) (recipe adapted from Shiokadelicious, in Digital Dish)

  • 2 lbs pork (leg or shoulder meat preferred)
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 5 tbsp maltose (or honey or corn syrup)
  • 4 tbsp white sugar
  • 4 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 4 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into 4 pieces and smashed
  • red food coloring (optional)
  1. Wash the pork and remove skin and really large chunks of fat.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine all the marinade ingredients except for the food coloring.  Heat this only until the sugar (and maltose, if using) dissolves.  If it gets too hot, cool it to room temperature.  Add food coloring, if using.
  3. Put the pork in a container that fits it snugly (I just used the plastic bag that it came in from the butcher's), then pour the marinade on top.  Let this marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Try to ensure that all the surface areas get some marinade.
  4. Remove the pork from the fridge about 40 minutes before cooking, to allow it to return to room temperature.
  5. Preheat the oven to 410°F.
  6. Line a roasting pan with foil (for easy clean up).  Place a wire rack on top of the foil.  Lay the pork on the rack.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Pour the marinade into a medium saucepan, remove the chunks of garlic and ginger, and heat to boiling, then keep simmering at a low heat to reduce the sauce.  It's been sitting with raw pork so you want to make sure to kill all the microbes.  Dirty foam will float to the top; skim this off and discard.
  8. After roasting for 15 minutes, baste the pork with the marinade and turn it over.  Reduce the heat to 360°F and roast for another 15 minutes.  (If you chose to use tenderloin despite my dire warning not to, it might be done now.)
  9. Baste the pork without turning and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  This next part is optional.  What I did is, in the last 4 minutes, I put the pork under the broiler, 2 minutes for each side, basting each time.  That gave it a nice, pretty charred look that's characteristic of cha-siew.
  10. Remove the pork from the oven.  By now the foil will be covered with raised black bits and you'll be very glad you used it.  Baste both sides of the meat again with the reduced sauce, and let it sit on the wire rack for 10 minutes undisturbed before slicing.  Serve with the sauce.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shanghai-Style Drunken Chicken

When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother made this dish frequently.  She was quite known for it.  As she grew older, cooking became more difficult, and she hadn't made drunken chicken in years by the time she passed away.  I was too young to ask her how she did it when she was making it, and I wasn't interested in cooking until after she was gone.  Huge failure on my part.  It's just one of the things I miss about her.

Shanghai-Style Drunken Chicken

The good news is that I remember what it's supposed to taste like.  The other day I had a sudden craving for it, and this is one of those dishes that may be a little obscure for a restaurant to have, and even if they have it, it doesn't quite taste the same.

The most important thing, other than the Shaoxing wine that flavors the meat, is the texture of the chicken.  In Cantonese, my mom would say that it should be "wat" -- a direct translation is "slick"; basically, the meat should be extremely tender and moist.

I prefer dark meat (as did the writer of the article I read where I got the recipe), but traditionally this is made with a whole chicken.  It's supposed to be served cold, and when sitting in the fridge, a nice wine-flavored aspic will develop.  This is normal and desired.  It's yummy!

For true Shanghai-style drunken chicken, the chicken pieces should be bone in.  The challenge, then, is in chopping the chicken after it's cooked into even, bite-sized pieces.  You need a heavy-duty cleaver, like the kind the butchers use at Chinese BBQ restaurants to chop roasted duck into those delectable slices.  And even then it's not easy -- I still need a lot of practice, as my chicken looked practically hacked to pieces!  Remember the scene in Titanic where Rose is attempting to save Jack by breaking his handcuffs with an axe?  And he tells her to try a couple of practice swings, but her second swing lands nowhere near the first?  That's how it was with me and chopping this chicken.  I may not have been decisive enough, or perhaps the cleaver I purchased wasn't strong enough, but be warned, this is definitely not as easy as those butchers make it look!  Do not -- I repeat, DO NOT -- use a regular knife or chef's knife to do this, you'll only ruin your blade, and if you have nice knives that I do, that would be a terrible loss.

There are two methods of cooking the chicken -- poaching and steaming.  I had originally intended to steam the chicken, but I don't have a great steaming solution, especially not for that much chicken, and I was short on time.  So instead I went with the poaching method, which is apparently more traditional anyway.  I think I used a bit too much water, because my chicken didn't develop the desired aspic. :(  I'll try steaming next time and see if that gets me better results.

Finally, a quick tip on the green onions.  I used my mother's trick with these and it worked perfectly for this recipe, since the onions aren't intended to be eaten, just to add flavor.  It saved some time and clean up afterward.  Take the length of white part, place the tip of your knife almost at the very end of the onion farthest away from you, and slice it lengthwise down the middle all the way through.  It should still be held together at the very tip.  Turn it 90° and perform the same action.  The length of onion should now be opened up like a flower.  Toss the whole thing in the pot and repeat with the others.  When done cooking, fish them out easily.

Shanghai-Style Drunken Chicken (recipe adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

  • 3 lbs chicken, whole or in pieces
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 green onions, white parts only, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 cups Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ice cubes and water

Mix the salt with the two peppers. Rub the chicken all over with the salt and pepper and let it sit for an hour.


Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a Dutch oven or large pot, then add the green onions and ginger. Add the chicken, make sure there is enough water to cover the chicken, and return to a boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. If you’re using a whole chicken, during the simmer time, lift the chicken out of the water and make sure the stock in the cavity empties back into the pot. Do that 3 times for a whole chicken. For chicken pieces, gently stir the pot once or redistribute the pieces so they cook evenly. After 10 minutes, cover, turn off the heat, and allow the chicken to poach undisturbed until the water cools almost to room temperature.


Bring water to a boil in the steamer. Place the chicken in an even layer, scatter the green onions and ginger all over, and steam over medium heat for 30-40 minutes or until the internal temperature near the bone reaches 170°F. If the chicken pieces are larger, they will take longer to steam. If any of the pieces are touching, make sure to redistribute them in the middle of cooking so they cook evenly.

Mix the ice cubes and water and shock the chicken in ice cold water for 2 minutes. If you poached the chicken, shock it after the chicken has cooled to room temperature. If you steamed the chicken, shock it immediately after steaming.

After cooking, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces, or simply score the chicken meat with a knife. Put the chicken pieces into a large container. Mix 3/4 cup to 1 cup of the chicken stock (the liquid you poached the chicken in or the liquid that comes out of the chicken after steaming) with the sugar and Shaoxing wine. Taste the marinade and add salt if needed.  Keep in mind that when eating cold food, our taste buds are numbed a bit so a bit of extra seasoning is beneficial.  Pour the liquid over the chicken pieces and let it sit in the fridge over night or longer before serving. Serve cold.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

When I set out to make this cheesecake by Dorie Greenspan, I did it because I was attracted to the beautiful photo of the cheesecake in her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.  It had a lovely crust that rose up the sides unevenly (and all the more attractive because of it), with a snowy white top.  You can see this photo on Dorie's blog.

Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

I didn't notice, until too far into the process, that the recipe says the top will be browned.  I didn't know what to do about this discrepancy between the photo and the recipe -- was the recipe incomplete?  Or was the photo wrong?  I had planned to serve the cheesecake at work the next day for a coworker's birthday celebration.  Would it be unattractive with a brown top?  Did I want to risk removing the top?  But at what point?  And how then to make the top look as smooth and beautiful as it does in the photo?

I posted a comment on Dorie's blog the evening I made the cheesecake.  The very next morning, I was delighted to find that Dorie had taken the time to email me a response.  She explained that the book had been written several years ago and she couldn't remember why the top of the cheesecake in the photo was pale, but that when she makes it herself, it becomes very brown as mine did.  Good enough for me!  And thus cheesecake was enjoyed by all.

Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

This was my second attempt at making cheesecake, and both of the recipes I've used must be pretty good, because I've never had a problem with cracking, which I hear can be a problem with cheesecakes.  (The first recipe is here.)  Between the two I prefer this one, for a number of reasons: 1) It spends less time in the oven; 2) The crust is prebaked; 3) The crust, which is my favorite part of any dessert that has one, goes up the sides, which not only makes for a more attractive appearance, but means there's MORE OF IT; and 4) It uses slightly fewer ingredients.  You could solve for 2 and 3 by using the other recipe and simply making more of the crust and prebaking, but the other points stand.

Flavor wise, both are very good.  The difference lies mostly in the texture; this recipe produces a creamier cheesecake, while the other is slightly fluffier.

Strawberry Sauce

I chose to make strawberry sauce to accompany it once again, because I just think it complements the cheesecake so well.  I used the same recipe as I did here, but with twice the amount of sugar as the other version is super tart.  If you like things super tart, don't change the sugar amount.  The graham crackers I used came from Trader Joe's, which apparently only sells cinnamon graham crackers.  I was a bit concerned that this would negatively affect the flavor, making the crust too cinnamony, but the problem did not materialize.  It was actually quite delicious.  I recommend it over regular graham crackers!  But because they're already sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, I put less sugar into the crust than the recipe calls for.

Tall and Creamy Cheesecake (from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)


For the crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tbsps sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbsps) unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake:

  • 2 lbs (4 8oz boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two

To make the crust:

Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.

Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don't worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn't have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

To make the cheesecake:

Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and/or heavy cream.

Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roaster pan.

Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven's heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, although overnight would be better.


Remove the sides of the springform pan— I use a hairdryer to do this (use the dryer to warm the sides of the pan and ever so slightly melt the edges of the cake)—and set the cake, still on the pan's base, on a serving platter. The easiest way to cut cheesecake is to use a long, thin knife that has been run under hot water and lightly wiped. Keep warming the knife as you cut slices of the cake.


Wrapped well, the cake will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or for up to 2 months in the freezer. It's best to defrost the still-wrapped cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator.