Char Siu is one of my favorite things to come out of Cantonese cooking. Literally translating to “fork roasting,” this method of cooking involves marinating a cut of meat (typically pork) in a complex sweet-and-savory barbecue sauce before roasting to caramelized perfection. You can use this method on any cut of pork, from the fattier cuts like the shoulder or belly to the leaner cuts like the loin or tenderloins.
The complex flavor of the sauce largely owes to the presence of Chinese five-spice powder. This combination of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and Szechuan pepper is actually a nod to the traditional five Chinese elements (water, fire, earth, metal, and wood), incorporating five main flavors in a beautifully balanced way. It’s used in dishes all over Asia, and it gives a stunning depth to both savory and sweet dishes. This spice blend also gives the meat an earthy-red color. A lot of modern recipes include a touch of red food coloring to enhance this and give the meat a pinkish-red hue, but it’s not crucial to the dish.
When it comes to cooking the tenderloins, most home kitchens aren’t exactly equipped to roast meat on huge forks, as the translated name would suggest. However, you can get the same kind of air circulation in your oven by simply using a cooling rack on top of your pan. (If you have a convection oven, that will also be a huge help in getting the hot air to surround the meat and give you that caramelized glaze.)
These tenderloins are already delicious enough on their own, but they’re absolutely fantastic as an ingredient in a number of other recipes! I grew up eating these diced and mixed with fried rice, but I love them in steamed buns and noodle dishes. The sky’s the limit with this versatile meat!
Char Siu Pork Tenderloins
1/4 cup raw turbinado sugar
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp Chinese five-spice
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 TBSP sherry cooking wine
1 TBSP soy sauce
1 TBSP hoisin
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
Optional: 1 dash of red food coloring
2 lbs pork tenderloins, each about 1” thick
Whisk together the sugar, salt, five-spice powder, pepper, sesame oil, sherry, soy sauce, hoisin, honey, and garlic (and food coloring, if using) in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Reserve 2 TBSP of the marinade, and refrigerate. Pour the remaining marinade into a resealable bag with the tenderloins, coating evenly; squeeze out as much excess air as possible, and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425F. Lay a cooling rack in a baking pan, and arrange the tenderloins on the rack. Roast the tenderloins for 12-15 minutes, until an inserted meat thermometer reads 145F. Brush the remaining marinade over the tops of the tenderloins, raise the heat to 450, and cook for 3-4 more minutes, until the glaze caramelizes. Remove from the oven, and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
Serves up to 6.