My dad used to work in sales and his job required him to meet clients around Singapore. This also meant that he could arrange his schedule such that he could either pick me up from or drop me off at school when I was in primary school (depending on whether my classes were in the morning or afternoon).
I looked forward to having him pick me up after class at noon as we would have lunch together. My school was in Clementi and we usually ate at the nearby hawker centre or kopitiams. One of my favourite lunch options was char siu siu yuk fan (‘rice with barbecue pork and roast pork’ in Cantonese) at Ah Fong’s.
Ah Fong was my cousin-in-law and he had a roast meat stall in a kopitiam. I liked the siu yuk he made, with the wonderfully crisp pork skin and tender bits of meat and fat. His char siu was even better and I would save the slices with slightly caramalised edges to enjoy at the end.
Between my dad and I, we would finish two plates of rice topped with char siu and siu yuk drizzled with a sweet, salty sauce (often referred to as char siu sauce). There would also be a few slices of cucumber, a token amount of vegetable I suppose. After we were done, my dad would sit back and poke between his teeth with a toothpick. I tried to imitate him but ended up making my gums bleed!
These days, whenever I eat char siu, I’m often reminded of those mid-day breaks that my dad took to have lunch with me.
Living in Brussels, there’s probably only one Chinese restaurant that I would consider eating at, but only if I’m in the neighbourhood and craving siu yuk with noodles. Often I would prefer to cook Chinese food at home. Sometimes, the lack of proper ingredients – or the absurdly high prices of imported ingredients – requires me to improvise.
I tried to make char siu earlier this year. While the result was tasty, it wasn’t what I expected and didn’t taste like the char siu that I would get back in Singapore.
Recently, I decided to try making char siu at home again. This time, I kept it simple and used only four ingredients to marinate the pork. This included some Bombay London Dry Gin in place of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine which is commonly found in char siu recipes. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out as I had not cooked with gin before and didn’t know how the different botanicals would interact with the soy sauce and honey.
How did it go? Both AB and I agree that it is much tastier this time round and closer to the char siu that we would get in Singapore. Success!
Aside from the honey and brown sugar, I think the Bombay London Dry Gin was key to success of this recipe. This is not to be confused with its more famous successor ‘Bombay Sapphire’ which has more aromatics and comes in a blue bottle.
Made using a recipe from 1761 , Bombay London Dry Gin was introduced in more recent times (1959). The gin is made with eight botanicals: coriander, lemon peel, angelica root, cassia bark, iris root, liquorice, juniper berries and almonds.Want to try it out? Below is the char siu recipe that I made up on the fly:
Pork shoulder, about 400g, cut lengthwise into 4-6 cm thick strips
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp Bombay London Dry Gin
3-4 tbsp honey
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
1. Mix well the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the strips of pork to the mixture and knead lightly and make sure that the meat is well coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
2. To cook the pork, preheat the oven to 220°C. Take the pork out of the marinade and place it on a baking sheet. Set aside the marinade for basting. Bake for around 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the oven and baste the meat liberally with the marinade. Broil the meat in the oven for another 15 minutes or so, until the meat gets sufficiently caramelised. Remove from the pan from the oven, let the char siu cool before slicing it. Best served with rice or noodles.
4. If you have a significant amount of leftover marinade, reduce it into a thick sauce over a low heat on the stove and drizzle over the char siu.