Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

charsiupork1.jpg

I have posted a recipe for char siu, or Chinese style roast pork, previously. But that was way back in 2004, and my standard go-to recipe has changed a bit since then. Plus, it makes a great staple for bentos, so here it is.

Char siu, called yakibuta in Japanese (in Japan it’s called by both names チャーシュー or 焼豚)is used in many everyday dishes. It is very rich, so it’s usually used in small quantities, not eaten as a hunk o’ meat. Here are just a few ways you can use it:

  • top off a bowl of ramen with one or two thin slices
  • cut into cubes and add to fried rice
  • roughly chopped and use as a filling for steamed buns (where my original char siu recipe appeared)
  • minced and use as a shumai filling
  • as a sandwich meat
  • cut into strips for salads or stir fries

Or, you can just cut a few slices or strips to tuck into the corner of your bento as-is.

It does take some time to prepare and cook, but your actual kitchen time is minimal. You can store it in the refrigerator for a few days, or cut it up and freeze it. The marinade can be used as a sauce too. It’s a very frugal dish, and one of my favorite ways to cook pork.

Note that this recipe has just a few more ingredients than my original recipe, and a more complex flavor. If you cannot find sake or shaoxing wine, or can’t use alcohol for some reason, please try the alcohol-free recipe that I posted previously (scroll down for the roast pork recipe). If you don’t have an oven, try my nibuta (stewed pork) recipe.

The cut of pork you use is very important. I usually use either the shoulder or the neck, both of which have some marbling but not too much. They’re also usually fairly reasonably priced. The butt is fine to use too. Loin is lower in fat and not that suitable for this. Filet is very low in fat, not to mention expensive, so the char siu will be rather dry. Belly or ribs are too fatty.

Commercial char siu is sometimes dyed a bright red color, which I have omitted here.

Recipe: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

  • A bit more than 2 lbs (1kg) pork shoulder or neck

For the marinade:

  • 1 cup (360ml) soy sauce
  • 3 Tbs. oyster sauce
  • 5 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 cup shaoxing wine (紹興酒)or sake or dry sherry
  • an inch-long (2cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with a knife
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 small piece of star anise
  • 1 clove

Poke the lump of pork all over with the point of your knife. This allows the marinade to penetrate the meat better.

If you want your pork to be a neat, even bundle, wind some kitchen string around it tightly. I usually skip this step.

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl.

Put the pork in a sturdy plastic zip bag, then put another bag over it (the second bag catches any leaks - and believe me, that first bag always leaks.) Pour the marinade into the inner bag. Express as much air as you can out of the bag, and close it. Close the outer bag also.

Place the bagged pork on a plate, and put it in the refrigerator. Marinate it for at east 3 hours or overnight. Turn it around occasionally to distribute the marinade evenly.

When you are ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 450°F (220°C). Take the pork out of the bag and put it in an oven baking dish. Add the marinade. Roast the pork at the high temperature for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 250°F (120°C). Turn the pork over.

Roast the pork for 1 1/2 to 2 additional hours, turning it every 30 minutes, or until an oven thermometer registers an internal temperature of 160°F (70°C). Take the baking dish out of the oven and let the meat cool in the marinade, turning occasionally to moisten the meat surface. Cool down before slicing.

Char siu will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days, and in the freezer for up to 3 months.

To store in the freezer: I find it’s easiest to use if I cut it up before freezing. I cut some of it into slices, some into cubes, and some into strips, divide it all up into single-use portions, and freeze. Sometimes I add a drizzle of the marinade to the meat before packing it up. This amount of char siu lasts me for a good month, used in various dishes.

The marinade itself can be frozen too. Skim off the solidified fat from the surface of the cooled marinade, and strain it through a sieve. Put it in a plastic zip bag and lay flat in the freezer. Once frozen, you can just scoop out a little bit at a time with a spoon. Use a little bit in a stir-fry, fried rice, and so on.

Variations

You can make it sweeter by sprinkling the surface with sugar every time you turn the meat.

As an alternative to using the cinnamon stick, star anise and clove, use 2 tablespoons of Chinese five spice powder. You can also omit the spices entirely, for a simpler flavor.

Equipment note: Instant-read meat thermometers

If you are a meat-roasting newbie, I really recommend getting an oven thermometer - they really aren’t expensive, and will take away any anxieties you may have over overcooking an expensive piece of meat.

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Yakibuta is really good--to me it usually has a slightly different flavor than the reddish char siu stuff, which sometimes has more of a five-spice powder profile. Maybe more anise, or something. Both are good, though. I just love the almost smoky, caramel edges of a slice of チャーシュー in my ramen. It's a perfect example of the oft-repeated maxim "use meat as a flavoring." You feel satisfied without eating a huge serving of meat. (Surprisingly, of the two closest Japanese-run ramen places, it's the chain--Ajisen--that does the best pork.) I wonder if I'll have the nerve to try it making it myself. I encourage more confident people to give it a go, anyway! Just look at that gorgeous photo!

By the way, one tiny note--the Chinese wine is shaoxing, not xiaoxing. "Xiao" is a different character (well, characters). :)

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Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I guess my original char siu recipe is closer to the usual yakibuta, but I prefer this one with the added spices in the marinade now. The anise comes from the star anise. Thanks for the shaoxing correction - I can never remember the alphabet spelling for that since I know it mostly by the kanji (Chinese) characters ^_^

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I don't usually eat char siu because of the amount of fat in it. If I eat meat at all, I'm very picky about things like fat and color and those little hard bits you sometimes find. So, even though I like the taste of it, I can only eat a very tiny portion of char-siu, and in things like ramen it's just too much work to eat around the fat. (This is why it was relatively easy for me to become vegetarian, although I'm a really bad vegetarian now. Having a non-vegetarian boyfriend makes it complicated...)

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hey Maki! ^_^

This recipe sounds delicious.

You mentioned that sometimes, they colour their pork red. I've never coloured meat before, and was curious how you would do it?
Also, star anise and clove and the Chinese five spice powder aren't available where I live. I live in a small town, so it's really hard to get things here :(
Is the pork going to be too simple if I leave these spices out, or are there any other common spices I could use possibly as a substitute?

Thank you ^_^

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

That's a bit odd. I live in a small town too and those were the easiest to get for me. Cloves are commonly used in Pumpkin baked goods (IE Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Rolls, Pumpkin cakes ect) and you might be able to find it in a ground up form. Star Anise is a bit different. It gives a bit of a licorice flavor. I've read that you can substitue fennel seed for it, but I've never tried that.

Before you go for substitutes though try going to a store that has a Mexican foods section. They should have their own spices there. The cloves and the star anise will will be in little plastic packets, not jars/bottles/plastic shakers. They're usually really inexpensive in this section as well, most times the spices are half the price of the ones in the actual spice section. My Ma always gets her spices there instead of the regular stuff. I've never had a problem with quality.

The hardest thing for me to find was the wine. I used Sake instead and still couldn't even find that! I had to ask to use some of my moms friends. He didn't mind though and gave me the rest of the bottle :3

I know I'm not Maki, but I hope I helped, even if only a little.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

We tried this recipe tonight, and I must say it was soooooo good!! ^_^
It took a bit of time to cook, but the wonderful aroma while it was cooking and the flavor when it was finished was fantastic, well worth it. Highly recommended!!

Thank you Maki!

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Thanks for the recipe--it looks wonderful, and I love how your recipes are always so user-friendly! I'm looking forward to trying this one out and adding it to my list of bento options. :D

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

This looks really scrumptious. I hope to get a chance to try it soon. The spices added sure do seem like they add a lot of additional flavor. Thanks for updating the recipe. Can't wait to try it.

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Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I cooked this recipe last night, and it has turned out beautifully! I used a larger piece of pork (about 4lbs bone in) and cooked it to the internal temperature, and as a result I didn't quite get the beautiful roasted color of yours on the inside. But it has such a lovely flavor! Thanks for the recipe! Can't wait to make bao.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

hi maki! this is actually my first time posting, though i've been reading your blog for a while. my mother actually makes this herself & it's wonderful! she uses molasses & a bunch of other ingredients that i can't remember off the top of my head, & helps to prevent the marinade from being too runny. for the more lazy cooks out there, a lot of asian food markets also carry char siu sauce as well.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Thanks for sharing this recipe.

I have a quick question: where I live, I can't really easily get pork apart from those that come pre-packed. The largest cut I could get is about 300g max.
If I use a smaller piece of meat, do I just reduce the poaching time accordingly?

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

This roast was just lovely! So far I've cubed it for fried rice, sliced it for ramen, and (my husband's favorite) served it sliced as a side to eggs for breakfast!That last one may seem a bit odd, but I just sliced it and then heated it in a pan until the fat melted a bit and it was marvelous next to some chive-laced eggs. This is definitely going into my Sunday rotation considering my freezer's well stocked with leftovers and the whole family loves the taste.

A question on the oyster sauce: When I'm looking to purchase it, what ingredients should I be looking for/avoiding? It's not something I use often, so I'm not sure what a nice quality oyster sauce should look/smell/taste like. The stuff I have now seems suspiciously thick....

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Is there any suitable substitution for the oyster sauce that could be used? Some of my household is allergic to shellfish, but this looks great.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Try steak sauce, 'bulldog' sauce or worcestershire sauce

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

It appears worcestershire may be commonly flavored with shellfish.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Matt wrote:

It appears worcestershire may be commonly flavored with shellfish.

Anchovies.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I made this about a week ago and it was delicious! My family really enjoyed coming to my house for dinner rather than vice versa XD Haha!

Thank you very much for the recipe! I've been using the leftovers for my bentos :3

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I varied the spices to include, fennel seeds, allspice and cloves. What an elegant dish!

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

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Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

This looks/sounds tasty. I want to make it asap!

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hi, Maki, this looks so delicious, i wish i could try this recipes, but i don't have any oven. Can I make it with a microwave oven instead, i have a microwave oven (a gift from my auntie) never been used, can u suggest me the cooking time and cooking power please? Thanks so much Maki.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I just wanted to say that this recipe turned out great and was incredibly delicious. :) We're making it again today. Thank you for posting it!

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hi! Please can you tell me, was the soy sauce in the marinade - dark or light soy?

Thanks

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

You could use either really, but for better color use dark (or regular) soy sauce.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

What are the rough dimensions of your 2lb pork shoulder? Mine seems almost to be squared off, perhaps 6x5x9 inches. Are you starting with that and then cutting it raw into halves or thirds before marinade or just cooking it however it comes from the butcher?

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Dear maki, (or anyone else who knows)

I have some "salted cooking sake" - is this something I can use when sake is called for?

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

You sure can. Just remember to adjust the amount of salt in your recipe overall to account for the salt in the cooking sake.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

This recipe was extremely delicious. I absolutely will be making this again! I found a nice pork roast lurking in the freezer and couldn't wait to try this out! I used the five spice powder version since I had just ground some fresh a few days ago. I can't wait to use some to make some bao in the near future. Thank you for all the great tips on how to use the meat too!! (I am so squirreling some away in the freezer for my bento down the road).

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hello. I have just discovered your blogs, and want to try just about everything you post! I made this the other night and used tenderloin instead of shoulder or neck. Was that a mistake? It had a lovely flavour on the outside, but the marinade didn't penetrate the rest of the meat as it appears to have done in the photo. I followed the recommended marinating and cooking times. Any advice for the next time I try it?
Thanks
Kimi

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Tenderloin has very little fat, so it's not really suited for long, slow cooking methods like this. It will tend to dry out rather than get juicy and soft and tender, plus it's usually more expensive than the cuts I recommend. Try it with shoulder meat perhaps next time, and reserve tenderloin for fast-cooking recipes like a pork sauté. You can also make the meat moister when you eat it by pouring a bit of the cooking liquid over it (though it may be a bit salty).

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Thanks Maki!

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hi again Maki
Here's the thing. I live in Dubai, no pork neck or shoulder! I can get pork ribs, pork belly, pork chops and gammon steak. Would any of those cuts work? Thanks again for your help on this!

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hmm - do any of these come in one big lump of meat, like a roast? If not...it may not work that well. If you can't get a lump of pork, this is a great way to cook pork belly.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

The gammon steak comes like a roast. There's a layer of fat on top, but the rest of the meat is pretty lean. The others come in slices...

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

It might work, but I cannot say for sure since I have never cooked a gammon steak myself, and it's not a cut that you see in Japan (or France for that matter...or in the New York area). For what it's worth, a gammon steak seems to be a cut from the leg. Maybe try it out and let us know if it worked?

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

Hello,
I've got some questions- I'm living in China and there are no ovens here, is it possible to use a crockpot for this? And for the small onion, they don't sell brown onions where we live...is the purple onion just as good or will it change the flavor?

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

If you don't have an oven, this similar recipe may work better for you. (A crockpot does not cook things under oven like conditions at all.)

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I just tried this reciipe and it came out great! I also tried my IKEA meat thermometer for the first time too--meat perfectly done and it alarms when the meat reaches the right temp. I can roast pork now!

Great recipe

Hi, I lurk a lot on this site but had to comment as I made this char siu over the weekend and it turned out beautifully. It even recieved compliments from a vistor who tasted it and said it looks and tastes exactly as the lovely Chinese pork they've tried previously.

I marinated the pork for about 26 hours and subbed Chinese 5 spice for the cinnamon and cloves (but did put in a little bit of star anise, which I had on hand) and used sake rather than xiaoxing wine. The marinade does call for quite a few ingredients and used a full regular-sized bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce, but the good news is that after straining it off once the pork had cooked, I've got a cup of lovely delicious flavour to add to other dishes.

Have diced up some of the pork and will make my first attempt at bao next weekend.

This recipe is going into my regular rotation. Absolutely beautiful.

Thank you so much for sharing the recipe.

Re: Char siu or yakibuta - Chinese style roast pork

I've been itching to try this for a while now and I will this weekend. I cook North Carolina BBQ on the weekends and I think I'm going to put this on my smoker with one of my butts. (I try to cook my lunch for the week while I make BBQ.) The question I have is what cut do you recommend? I prefer a Boston Butt for my BBQ but considering the size you recommend it sounds more like you use a picnic roast. If this was mentioned before I apologize I did not see it.

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