I went through phases of what I most liked to eat in Chinese restaurants. In those phases I would order the same dishes with single-minded purpose. My earliest memory of such an obsession was roast pork. I loved Chinese style roast pork. Sometimes I had it with fried rice. Sometimes I had it with lo mein. Sometimes I would even order it with a vegetable. Whatever accompanied the meat was inconsequential. I just loved those sweet, red, pork nuggets.
One day I was able to order just plain old sliced roast pork. I don't remember if the pork was on the menu by itself like that or if the kitchen made it special for me. I just remember it was the day my love affair with Chinese pork ended. The pork they served me was dry and tough. From then on I moved on to pressed duck or spare ribs.
Years later I was having dinner with friends at a local diner and was browsing the sandwich menu and discovered something called a "Chinese Roast Pork Sandwich." It promised Chinese-style roast pork on a garlic roll. I tried to imagine what it could be like. Would it really taste like the Chinese pork I loved so much as a child? I had to order it and find out. Sure enough, it was exactly like the roast pork in Chinese restaurants - sweet, salty, and tinged with red on the outside. I loved the idea of having piles of it on a sandwich. Every subsequent time I went to that diner I'd order it and slather it with the provided duck sauce then proceed to make a pig of myself. Each time I devoured the entire sandwich with a side of fries and a massive linzer tart for dessert until they stopped offering it on the menu. (How dare they!)
I still find myself thinking about Chinese roast pork and wonder why I eat so little of it these days. (I suppose part of it has to do with my diet and part of it has to do with my digestive system. Even if I could still order that sandwich, I don't think I could wolf down the whole thing anymore.) I was really having cravings. Could I replicate it at home?
I began investigating recipes so I could find a way to replicate that taste in my own kitchen. I learned that Chinese barbecued pork, a staple of Canton (so not exactly inauthentic) is called Char Siu. Recipes vary all over the place, but generally consist of something anise-flavored, something sweet, and something acidic. That signature red color is actually dye. To this end I decided replicating it wouldn't be too hard and I would happily sacrifice that color if it meant leaving out a few chemicals.
Here are my players: Rice wine*, gluten-free soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, five-spice powder, and honey. This is a very stripped-down version of the classic marinade. Most other recipes consist of hoisin and occasionally ketchup. I wanted to keep my ingredients and flavors to a basic minimum without a lot of the added sugars and salt that come from bottled and jarred sauces.
I put them overnight in a plastic bag in the lovely marinade.
Roast at 325 for 45 minutes and then give it a blast under the broiler to caramelize the outside a bit.
*Yes, I used cooking wine. Sorry. Sometimes you have to work with the ingredients you can easily get your hands on. I just added no extra salt to the recipe.
Chinese Roast Pork My Way
- 2-4 pounds pork shoulder chops
- 3 Tbl soy sauce
- 2 Tbl rice wine
- 2 Tbl sesame oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
- 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp 5-spice powder
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place pork on a baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes.
Optional: Place under the broiler for one minute to caramelize the outside.