Whole30 Char Siu

Whole30 Char Siu


Things have been slow around the house this week because I was a bit under the weather. It's especially hard without E bringing me a cup of tea or giving me a massage. After a few days in bed, I did manage to get groceries for the week's meal prep and quickly whipped up some char siu for E's lunch.

Char siu is probably one of E & I's most romantic food memories. It all started in a back alley cha chaan teng in the Tai Hang neighbourhood of Hong Kong. This particular food shack is completely outdoors and serves amazing rice plates and noodle bowls, all at lightning speed. I introduced E to their char siu scrambled egg rice a couple summers ago, and it has since become a place we visit every time we're in Hong Kong. Imagine this, silky-fluffy scrambled egg that is barely set, studded with sticky charred pork meat and served over a plate of piping hot rice. To tie it all up, pour over some special sweet soy sauce and dig in. Pure heaven.

Here in New York, Chinese food is one of the cuisines we found very difficult to order during Whole30. Before the program, I always have a bottle of char siu sauce stocked in the fridge. Although I add extra ingredients to modify the flavours, it's still filled with additives and preservatives. After much R&D and close supervision from E, this is our favourite version - same stickiness and flavour, but without any of the icky stuff. I hope you like it too!

Like any good meal prepping dishes, char siu is great for batch cooking. It stays well in the fridge for at least a week, and freezes well. It's also extremely versatile, you can eat it with vegetables, rice, noodles, or even stir fry it with other ingredients to create a new dish.


Cooking notes

  • The cut of pork to get for classic char siu is pork shoulder, also known as boston butt. It's a relatively tough cut with even layers of fat which makes it great for roasting and barbecue-ing.

  • The char siu marinade works for many cuts of meat. If you can't find pork shoulder, try pork chops, baby back ribs or even chicken wings! Of course, you will have to adjust the cooking time depending on what meat you use.

  • I added sweet paprika for the reddish colour of classic char siu. If you don't like the smokiness of paprika you can omit it.

Whole30 Char Siu

1.5 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt (preferably, organic, pasture-raised pork)
¼ cup coconut aminos
¼ cup date paste (from 2 dates) 
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp rose water liquor (optional)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground star anise
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp salt
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
¼ cup onion, finely chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Divide the pork shoulder into two equal sized pieces lengthwise and place in a shallow baking dish.
  2. On the previous night, make the date paste. Place the dates in a small bowl, pour over around half a cup of boiling water and let sit for at least an hour, or until it is very soft and tender. With you hands, squeeze out the pit and place the flesh and 2 tablespoons of soaking water in a small blender (I use my bullet blender). Whiz until it forms a thick paste, adding a teaspoon of water at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and the date paste and stir until it's combined.
  4. Pour the mixture over your pork and massage it into the meat with your hands until fully covered. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours, turning the meat half way through.
  5. Place the marinated pork on a broiling pan and bake for 30-45 minutes, basting with a brush every 15-20 minutes. The marinade should bubble and thicken as the meat cooks.
  6. 5-10 minutes before the pork is cooked, turn up the oven to the broil setting and baste on the sauce. Broil the pork for about 5 minutes and flip to the other side. Baste again, and broil for another 5 minutes. The pork is done when the outside is slightly charred and sauce is sticky.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Slice and serve with your favorite stir-fried Chinese greens.
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