Monday, August 1, 2011

Slow-Cooker Char Siew (Chinese Barbecued Pork)

I heard from my MIL that Oversea Restaurant, a well-known Malaysian Cantonese-themed restaurant, had recently opened a branch in Singapore. I recall having dined at one of its branches in Malaysia many years ago, and although I can't remember exactly I had, I know the food was really good with lots of fresh seafood. I decided to google it and check out pictures of the food that had been posted by other food-bloggers. Apparently, the char siew is one of their signature dishes, and from the photos I've seen, it appears to be perfectly charred slices of barbecued pork sitting in a thick pool of gleaming black gravy. That would be so complete with a big bowl of steamed rice!!

And so, to avoid sleepless nights dreaming about char siew, I decided to make some for dinner last night. If you haven't tried making this before, you should because it's really easy to prepare and it's sooooo delicious! The method I used is to slow-cook the pork in the marinade for an hour or so, then pop it in the oven under a hot grill to get it nicely charred and crisp all over the fatty bits. Make sure you use pork belly with adequate layers of fat on it. It just isn't char siew without the char! You don't have to use a slow-cooker if you don't have one, as long as you are able to cook it over low heat in a pan with a tight-fitting lid so the steam doesn't escape.

Here is the recipe:

Char Siew (Chinese Barbecued Pork)
Serves 2 hungry people


500g pork belly, rind removed
1 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying

1 small brown onion (or 3 shallots), chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rose wine (or substitute with chinese cooking wine)
2 tsp thick black soy (caramel)

Optional: Syrup for basting (bring to boil in a small pan):
1 tbsp maltose
3 tbsp water


  1. Pound the onion and garlic with a mortar and pestle to extract the juice. Alternatively, process them in a blender until fine, leave for 20-30 minutes until the juices are released, then push through a fine sieve to extract the juices.
  2. Combine the juices above with the rest of the marinade ingredients and rub all over the pork. Leave to marinade in the fridge for at least an hour.
  3. Heat up oil a medium-sized pan. Gently shake off the marinade from the pork and place the pork in the pan. Sear all over until browned. Then add the marinade into the pan with 1-2 tbsp water, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer over low heat. Check occasionally to make sure the liquid doesn't dry up. Alternatively, you can transfer the pork to a slow-cooker and pour the marinade over it. Cook for 1 1/4 hours, turning the meat 3-4 times to ensure it's evenly coated with the sauce.
  4. At the end of the cooking time, open the lid and let the gravy simmer until it thickens. Transfer the pork onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Reserve the gravy for serving later.
  5. Preheat the oven grill on high. Brush the meat all over with half of the basting syrup. Pop it under the grill for 5 minutes or until it starts to char on the layer of fat. Turn the pork and brush the other side with the rest of the syrup. Grill it again for 5-8 minutes until it's slightly black and charred to your liking.
  6. Remove from oven, let it cool for 10 minutes before cutting into thin slices (about 6mm). Arrange on a serving plate and top with the luscious thick gravy reserved from earlier. Serve with steamed white rice. Enjoy!
Notes and Tips:
  • You can opt not to grill the pork in the oven, but I like the smoky flavour that comes from charring it.
  • The maltose is optional. However, it does give the meat the sweet and sticky characteristic of a good char siew. You can find maltose on the shelves of Asian supermarkets.
  • Don't overcook the pork in the pan. It needs to be still firm enough so it's easy to slice it neatly without the meat breaking up.