Char Siew Puffs
I've never met anyone who's tried Char Siew and doesn't like it – and if you're like that, then I probably don't want to meet you anyway. What's Char Siew, you ask? Oh, just one of the most amazing pork products of all time. It's sweet, savoury, meaty, juicy. Just, the best. And people will fight over where to get the best Char Siew, what cut of pork makes the best Char Siew and a whole load of other Char Siew-related topics. What is it? It's basically honey roasted pork with spices and soy sauce and other things. And what's a Char Siew Puff? Well, it's cut up Char Siew in some pastry. Riiiiight?
I'm not claiming that I've made a particularly authentic one here, but I think that it's definitely good enough to fill some pastry with. This is an easy way to Char Siew heaven, and it's certainly better than lipstick-red, tasteless, dry takeaway versions.
When I was about 8 years old, I randomly decided that I was going to be kosher, on account of my half-Jewish heritage. However, having a disapproving, atheist father meant that I got no guidance on this weird mission. Bear in mind my experience of Judaism thus far had included spinning a dreidel and not much else. So I thought that being kosher was only not eating pork (if only that were all, right). As you can imagine, this caused a lot of trouble in my family - pork is the Chinese meat of choice. Anyway, for a long time after this misguided idea of mine, I couldn't stomach pork. After not having it for so long, it just tasted weird and, like, farmy. But I don't think I ever had trouble eating Char Siew or bacon. If I did, this story would really take a turn for the tragic.
This recipe was loosely adapted from an amazing book called Two Asian Kitchens by Adam Liaw. He was the winner of the second Masterchef Australia. We are addicted to this show, by the way. I can't tell you why, but it actually makes riveting TV. In any case, his book is just perfect for me - it's a mix between old and new Malaysian-inspired and Japanese-inspired recipes. This recipe is great in that it hardly requires any really specialty ingredients and it's easy. But, it also tastes slightly different – less sweet and more meaty than more traditional Char Siew.
My aim was ease this time, so I bought whatever pork shoulder was available at the shops, which happened to be cubed pork shoulder. This is absolutely fine for making puffs, as the meat is going to get all chopped up anyway. But if you just wanted to make Char Siew, you should look for a strip cut of pork neck or pork shoulder. Also, I'm pretty sure traditional recipes use a lard pastry halfway between puff and shortcrust, but I just used puff pastry sheets (shopbought) because, well, I'm lazy and I've embraced it. You may also notice that these aren't particularly pretty, but making pretty food has never been a strong suit of mine. However, I guarantee they taste good, and in my book, that's king.
Char Siew Puffs (makes about 16 big ones)
Char Siew recipe adapted from Two Asian Kitchens by Adam Liaw
For the Char Siew:
1 kg pork shoulder cubes [or pork neck - see above]
8 garlic cloves, cut into rough pieces
3 teaspoons sea salt flakes
2 tablespoons grated ginger
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
100ml soy sauce
2 tablespoons five spice powder
optional: 1 teaspoon red food colouring (for that traditional look)
In a pestle and mortar, grind the salt flakes with the garlic until they form a paste. Add to this all the other ingredients except the pork. Stir well to combine. Taste it, and if you'd prefer it sweeter, add a tablespoon more honey.
Pour this mixture over the pork cubes in a non-metal dish and marinate overnight in the fridge.
The next day, preheat your oven to 190 degrees C. Transfer the meat to a baking dish covered in foil (the burnt honey and sugar is hell to clean). Bake for 45 minutes, turning to coat in the marinade every 10 minutes or so. Make sure it is looking glazed and crisp on the outside - if it isn't crisping up, then turn the grill on for 5 minutes or so.
Let the meat cool, and then chop up into small pieces, about the size of your little fingernail. Set aside.
For the puffs:
Two 250g blocks of puff pastry, or two ready-rolled puff pastry sheets
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.
If you're using blocks of pastry, roll the pastry out to a 1cm thickness.
Cut the sheets of pastry into squares roughly 8 x 8cm. (If you feel you have a better way to wrap these up, please do so, because I'm not exactly churning out beauties here)
Put about a tablespoon of chopped Char Siew into the centre of each pastry piece, and fold it up into a triangle. Crimp the edges to seal.
Lay all the prepared puffs on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Beat the egg in a bowl and brush over the puffs. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until they are risen and golden all over.
Serve with chinese tea.