Making Char Siew Sou has always been a ‘big affair’. In fact, making any kind of puff pastry is too time consuming for me. For the western version, it takes even longer given the time required to refrigerate in between folds.
The Chinese version of the puff pastry takes time too! But probably half. It has a completely different texture and is crumblier than the western puff pastry, these pastries also melt in your mouth unlike the frozen western ones. You cannot really replace Chinese puff pastries with the western version and vice versa.
Besides the skin, the filing in the dessert is of particular interest. It is pork used as a sweet. Asians have been cooking our meat sweet for centuries: sweet sausages, bakwa (sweet BBQ pork), nonya dumplings, Japanese sweet curries etc etc. This snack is just another good example of using meat as a dessert. It is therefore fascinating for me to watch how fascinated the westerners are when they start to caramelize their bacons with sugar for decorations in recent years. It just goes to show how much must be buried in the culinary worlds of ancient civilizations like Greece, Roman, Jew and Egyptian.
While my kids grew up with these, I only heard about char siew sou after I have started working. They were wonderful treats and I would go to Carlton hotel and buy them by the dozens for my kids in the 1990s. These were rare then, and only available in good restaurants.
Since the early 2000s, people are selling these everywhere including hawker centers and simpler restaurants, and the quality of these treats has gone up overall. We need not go to a specialist shop just to buy them anymore.
Having said that, nothing beats home made char siew sou. They are crumbly and delicious, always in the right texture and sweetness.
I made my own char siew as well, and everything from scratch. The recipe is from a famous Hong Kong chef and it is really wonderful. Even for someone who has not baked an Oriental puff pastry for 27 years, I still managed to do it. So you can try too!
It is a skill that is almost lost, and I certainly hope to revive that in some of the younger generation.
80g Lard (pork or veggie)
20g Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Vanilla extract
70g Low gluten flour
70g Low Gluten flour
1 Onion, sliced thinly
10g Oyster sauce
1/2 tsp Sesame oil
1/8 tsp Pepper
1/4 tsp Bullion
10g Corn starch dissolved in 20g of cold water
1/2 tsp Wine
100g Char Siew
1 kg Pork
1 tsp Five spice powder
1 tsp White Pepper
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tbsp Light soya sauce
1 Tbsp Dark Soya sauce
1 Tbsp Oyster sauce
4 Tbsp Honey
1 Egg White
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Sesame seeds
- Marinate the pork over night with the marinade.
- Boil or grill the pork.
- Cut the pork into thin slices, and width of 0.5 cm.
- Heat a pan with butter to medium heat, and stir in the onions.
- Put in the rest of the condiments except for the water and corn starch.
- Make a corn starch solution with the corn starch and water.
- Stir the constarch solution into the pork and bring to a boil. Set aside in the refrigerator.
- Put all ingredients in a mixer. Remove, wrap in a cling film and refrigerate once combined.
- Put all ingredients in a mixer. Give it a few good kneads. Remove, wrap in a cling film and refrigerate. Note that the consistency of both the oil and water skin must be the same so that they are malleable They will bleed into each other otherwise.
- Wrap the oil skin inside the water skin.
- Roll out to 1cm thick and use the book method to fold pastry three times, resting 5 minutes each time on the bench.
- Preheat oven at 200°C.
- Roll out the pastry to 0.5 cm thick, cut into 9 equal portions.
- Divide filing to 9 equal portions.
- Wrap each filing with the dough. Egg wash once with egg white and 1/2 the egg yolk. Let dry.
- Brush with the remaining egg yolk and top with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 10 min at 200°C, then lower to 170°C and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until it has turned golden brown, and the layers are dried to complete the bake.
It is always great to understand multiple languages. My great-grandfather and grandfather were from Kuilin (桂林，广西), a part of Canton, so I happen to speak and read fluent Cantonese, one of three Chinese dialects I picked up from young. So here’s a video of a Hongkong chef showing us how to do it right.