Thursday, January 21, 2021

Ravishing Char Siu and an Unusual Pairing Idea

A box of wines arrived at our doorstep a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Toasst, a new business venture based on the wine club concept co-founded by my friend A just over a year ago. Most of the time I do have a good idea what kind of wines I would like to get, but I did find this wine subscription model interesting as a supplement to my usual collection. There are always those odd bottles – either from an obscure region or made using a rarer grape varietal or both – that one often overlooked, or there’s time you wanna be more adventurous. That’s when these bottles sent from companies like Toasst would come in handy as they focused on some unusual choices. 

This time, a particular bottle caught my attention, and it’s the one from a renowned winemaker in Piedmont made using Pelaverga grapes. In the wine region dominated by Nebbiolo grapes (thanks to the Barolo and Barbaresco fame), Pelaverga won’t even make it to top 5 in terms of popularity. With the light-bodied red with almost translucent ruby color, nice floral tone, plenty of red fruit characters and no tannins, it’s best to drink young in one of those easy afternoons you don’t wanna drill down to secondary flavor or after taste or time to decant and breathe. 

And I thought with the pleasant rosy nose, this would work perfectly well with Char Siu, or Cantonese-style barbecued pork. I have been experimenting with the dish for a while using my new air fryer, so I was eager to verify that myself using some of the dishes I made. Char Siu is perhaps the most well-known Cantonese roast meat – for more you can refer to what my friend J has written recently - and every one in town has their own favorite shop or preference in terms of taste and texture. For me, I belong to the old-school camp with the more charred crust, almost to the point of completely burnt, with the meat extra fat using shoulder cut, and the basting sauce made using maltose syrup instead of honey which is considered to be more common-place these days. 

Here’s the recipe I am using after a few tests and trials, with everything start from scratch. At the end I did resort to using the honey basting sauce because it’s readily available in my kitchen and I like the end result. 

House-made Char Siu


  • 1 pound or 450g boneless pork collar shoulder – ask for a fatty one from the butcher. (locally it's known as Mui Tau 梅頭 or elsewhere it's also known as Boston Butt cut) Other fattier cut also works. 


  • 1 heaping tablespoon of red fermented tofu (nam yu 南乳) or half a slab if you buy from the local wet market
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese rose liqueur 玫瑰露酒 (or Shaoxing wine if you insist – but then you won’t get the nice red tint at the end and the flavor would be slightly different too)
  • 2 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 2 heaping tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • (Optional) 1 tablespoon of shio-koji (for seasonings and tenderizing)
  • (Optional) Pinch of five spice powder

Basting Sauce: 

  • 3 tablespoon of honey
  • 3 tablespoon of cooking oil (canola or peanut oil work best)


    1. Mix all marinate ingredients in a bowl completely. Put both the meat and marinate in a large bowl or Ziploc bag and rub the marinate around the meat.

    2. Keep the bowl or bag in the refrigerator for a few hours or preferably overnight

    3. To finish, you have two ways – the slow one which yielded a softer texture, or the fast one which is firmer. The slow method also required a sous vide immersion circulator.

    4. Slow Way:

        a. Take the meat out, discard the marinate and place the meat in a plastic bag and vacuum seal.

        b. Set the Immersion Circulator at 60C and cook the meat sous vide for 2 hours

        c. Take out the cooked meat, dry the surface as best as you can using kitchen towel, and brush the basting sauce all around.

        d. Pre-heat the Air Fryer to 200C, place the meat inside and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the meat, apply more basting sauce, and cook for another 5 minutes until the surface is well-charred. 

    5. Fast Way:

        a. Take the meat out, discard the marinate and dry the meat surface as best as you can using kitchen towel.

        b. In the meantime, pre-heat the Air Fryer to 180C. Place the meat in and cook for 10 minutes

        c. Flip the meat, apply the basting sauce generously using a brush, put the meat back into the air fryer and cook for 10 minutes

        d. Increase the temperature to 200C, take out the meat, flip, re-apply the basting sauce and cook for an additional 7 minutes until the surface is well-charred.

You can serve the meat on its own – just slice it to your preferred thickness (I normally cut it thin for leaner cut and thick for fat cut), or as depicted in the classic God of Cookery movie starring Stephen Chow, serve on top of a bowl of steamed rice, an egg done sunny side up and a gentle splash of sweet soy sauce, in the version now known as the “Ravishing Char Siu Rice” (黯然銷魂飯) thank to the movie. 

And in terms of wine pairing, yes, I think the Pelaverga worked well with Char Siu, especially one that’s made using rose liqueur marinate as the aroma did complement each other with the medium bodied wine worked just fine with the mild taste of the roasted meat with a hint of smokiness. So, there you have it. 

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