Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Homemade Char Siew IV - The different cuts

Pork Char Siew (Chinese BBQ pork) has got to be one of my favourite Chinese recipes. I had experimented and posted a few homemade Char Siew recipes in the past (Here, here and here) using different cuts of the pork and tweaking the marinade recipes along the way and my top pick so far has to be the pork belly cut Char Siew. 

My group of serious foodie friends had recently mooted the idea of making authentic wonton mee at my place. The idea was to cook everything from scratch - from the chili and sauce to the egg noodle to  the Char Siew, everything was to be made ourselves. 

I thought it was quite a fun challenge. But before we do that, I told them I wanted to conduct an experiment to find out which cuts of pork make the best Char Siew. Of course I had tried different cuts to make Char Siew before but they were all made on different occasions with slightly different marinade recipes. This time, the objective was to keep the different cuts of meat the only variable in the experiment to taste and compare them side by side.

Pork shoulder cut (梅花肉 or commonly known as 五花肉 here in Singapore)

Pork shoulder is the top portion of the front leg of the pig. The cut has thin layers of intermuscular fat running across the lean meat. If you like a healthier version of Char Siew with less fatty layers, this is the cut for you. As the meat is lean, it can be tough and slightly dry. For best result, the pork shoulder char siew is best sliced thinly against the grain of the meat. 

Armpit cut (between picnic shoulder and belly, 不见天)

This is the cut used by my favourite wonton mee stall at Tiong Bahru market to make their famous premium char siew. 不见天 cut has a distinct layer of fats on the outer side and another thin layer running across the slab of meat. You "decide" the thickness of the outer layer fats - just tell the butcher your preference. To me, the thin inner layer of fats is the reason why this cut is ideal for making tender and not too dry and outright Char Siew. However, only about 40-50% of each arm pit cut has this thin inner layer of fats. 

 Belly cut (三层肉 or 五花肉 in China or Taiwan)

The large rectangular block of meat has plenty of fats worked into the meat. The fat layers are distinct and consistent throughout the long cut. The belly's thick layer of fat keeps the pork tender as it cooks and I really like the melt-in-mouth effect of the fats. I know I know, it is unhealthy but too good to pass. 

In terms of texture, the arm pit cut edges the belly cut but just slightly. A pig will yield much more bigger portion of the belly cut compared to the the arm pit cut. Furthermore, only half of the arm pit cut is of "premium" quality. So do the maths - which is more economical.

In conclusion, my order of preference - Pork Belly - Arm pit - Shoulder but it really depends on how you plan to serve the char siew. By slicing it thinly, the pork shoulder char siew is ideal to serve with noodles or diced for making fried rice. But if you like to eat the char siew on its own (Mmmmm... with a glass of ice cold beer), thick slices of pork belly or arm pit char siew would be perfect. Honestly, I can have any of the cuts for char siew any time!

So guys, I'm ready for the Char Siew Wonton mee challenge! What about you?

This is my revised marinade recipe for this experiment:

2 kg Pork
3 tbsp Maltose
5 tbsp Sugar
4 tbsp Chinese Wine
1 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp 5-spice powder
2 tbsp dark soya sauce
2 tbsp light soya sauce
4 tbsp Oyster Sauce
1 cube Red fermented beancurd (1 tsp sauce)
Juice from 2-inch long Ginger

Update: For the latest and my favourite Char Siew recipe, CLICK HERE.


  1. This reminds me that I have not had char siew for quite a while.
    Great insights in this post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi ... your char siew look so good and delicious. I got wonton mee but no char siew, so I'm bring my bowl over to tah pau some. LOL

    Have a great week ahead, regards.

  3. Replies
    1. Slurp slurp! Arthur, this will go well with your favourite kampua noodle!

  4. Alvin , your char siu recipe that I made last time was just awesome ! Maybe I'll try this new version next time :D What's the size of the red fermented beancurd over there ?

  5. Drooling worthy for all cuts....I love the belly cut but for health reason, I usually cook shoulder and belly so the boys can have their fatty parts and I get to eat the leaner shoulder...:D Thanks for sharing, I'll give this a try next time! Oh and as a sommelier, what type of wine would you recommend to go with this delicious meat:D

    1. Hi Jeannie! We all love Char Siew, don't we?

      Hmmm.. never thought of the pairing seriously before. Maybe a more full body red like shiraz?

  6. I think my fav cut is still pork belly too,recently I tried with pork neck fillet and that turned out not bad too. Have also been tweaking my marinade recipe but my husband still wants it to be sweeter.. LOL! Thx for sharing this comparison.

    1. Hi Yen! Let me know your "perfect" recipe when you make this again! :D

  7. Thanks for sharing, where can I buy red fermented beancurd and the brand. Thanks

    1. Hi Lily! You can get it from any grocery shop in a local market if you are in Singapore.

  8. So, Alvin! When is your next experiment? Call me, OK? Hah..hah...

  9. You can set up shop for this char siew! Can't wait for your wanton mee post. Handmade noodle?

    1. Hi Edith! Set up a shop?... and let the greedy landlord suck dry all my earning?! LOL!

    2. Oh Yes! Homemade noodle! I'm excited too!

  10. Hi Alvin, King of Char Siew. Good resource here if I want to make different char siew. Must start to try these recipes soon.. otherwise I'll be way behind. Thanks for sharing.

  11. pretty nice blog, following :)

  12. this is amazing, I love char siew and have only tried cooking it once before with off-the-shelf marinate. I would love to try this again some time (soon I hope!).
    Ohh yes, I would also recommend the wonton mee (amongst their other famous dishes) at Cantonese Delights, Block 531 Hong Lim Food Centre #02-03.. This is what I plan to eat first when I'm next back to Singapore!

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