Saison “Char Siu”(ish) Pork Belly

Char-Siu-ish Pork Belly

Char-Siu-ish Pork Belly

A classic Chinese pork dish… twisted and made utterly inauthentic.

Char siu is a very tasty Chinese BBQ treatment commonly used for pork. Typically prepared using pork neck this anise-spiced sticky-sweet red-hued barbecued pork is a staple of good Chinese restaurants back home in Australia. There’s a little clip about it on Australia’s SBS website here.

Thinking of the challenge to make something interesting for a Christmas get-together I found char siu floating into mind for some reason. We were supposed to bring something traditionally Christmassy/celebratory for our cultural backgrounds… as an Aussie atheist I see this as “free reign” – food back home is diverse, “fusion” is king, and Christmastime is HOT summer BBQ season. But… how could I add my own twist. Obviously: add beer. The beer I’ve chosen is a light and mildly spicy-sweet Saison with a pleasant farmy edge and just a twist of sourness. It’s my own Patio Grape Saison in fact. In addition I’ve used beer ingredients in the making of this dish too: malt extract in the brine & sauce and hops to smoke with. To make the dish even more luscious to suit the season I’ve also chosen to use pork belly rather than neck. Then to turn things up another notch I’m brining the belly for 24 hours prior to marinating for 12 hours in a char siu style marinade. The brine is about 50% beer, with some spices added, the char siu marinade is also made with the beer instead of vinegar and wine. The pork belly is slow-roast in the oven whilst being basted with the marinade – and is then lightly smoked with hops and applewood. My kitchen was nearly swallowed by some kind of hipster black-hole during the creation of this recipe.

Stage 1: Beer Brining a Belly

Equipment:

  • 1 small saucepan
  • Large plastic container that the pork belly can fit in
  • Kitchen scales capable of at least 3kg
  • Mortar & pestle

Ingredients:

  • Score deeply.

    Score deeply.

    ~2kg piece of ribs-in pork belly

    • deeply score the skin-side & score between the ribs – I’ve used a very meaty neck-end section of belly
  • 1 litre Patio Grape Saison
    • a low-IBU (~20IBU) saison-style beer – or try anything you fancy, so long as it isn’t too bitter, I’d avoid IPAs.
  • 8 tbsp light DME
    • Dried Malt Extract – available from homebrew shops and sometimes “Cooper’s” brand in Tesco homebrew sections. Or sub in the same amount of malt syrup, or molasses, or treacle, or honey, or brown sugar…
  • 1 inch ginger – thinly sliced
  • 2 good sized garlic cloves
  • 2 stars of star anise
  • 4 tbsp gochujang
    • A really yummy hot & sweet paste available from Korean food stores but sometimes in other general Chinese/south-east-Asian stores. Sub in the same amount of tomato paste/concentrate if you cannot get the chilli paste and about 1 tsp of hot cayenne powder per tablespoon of paste.
  • sea salt – depends, see calculation below
Brine Ingredients

Brine Ingredients

I’ve opted for a target 4% brine – to calculate the amount of salt weigh your pork belly in the brining container (~2200g in my case) and then fill with water until the belly is securely covered (about 1cm depth should do), remove the belly, and note the weight of the water (~2500g in my case). To calculate the amount of salt to use use 4% of the combined weight, i.e. (2500+2200)*0.04 = 188g. I should probably do other ingredients proportionally too… but so long as your pork belly is about 2kg the above should be good enough for replication. If repeating this myself I’d probably try a 3% target instead as the end product was just a little to the salty side. As ever do think about how to tweak it and make it your own, that’s the fun of cooking!

Use a plate...

Use a plate…

Crush the star anise in a mortar add ginger and garlic and pound them until roughly crushed. Put the salt, DME, garlic, ginger, star anise and chilli paste into a saucepan with 500ml of water. Heat until simmering and whisk vigorously until everything is combined and the salt dissolved. Put the remaining required cold water into the brining container (i.e. 2500ml – 500ml – 1000ml of beer = 1000ml cold water). To this add the hot brine mixture and then pour in the litre of beer.

Submerge the pork belly in the brine. Weigh down with a plate. Cover and pop into the fridge for 24 hours.

Stage 2: Beery Char Siu Marinade

This marinade is loosely based on char siu recipes found online, many recipes use Hoisin sauce but that’s a bit cheaty to me so I’ve replicated the flavour in this marinade by using Korean chilli paste and some Japanese miso. To add the beery edge to this marinade a large volume is made up of the same homebrew saison used in the brine plus the sweetener used is DME to add a Horlicks-like malty note.

Equipment needed:

  • The container the pork was marinated in
  • A small food processor to combine the marinade
  • Tablespoon and teaspoon measures
Marinade Ingredients

Marinade Ingredients (click for hi-rez version)

Ingredients – good for ~2kg pork belly:

  • 20 tbsp saison beer - see previous ingredients list
  • 10 tbsp DME - see previous ingredients list
  • 5 tbsp miso
    • Easy to find in supermarkets. I’ve used shiro (white) miso – but would have used aka (red) if I’d had some handy.
  • 5 tbsp gochujang - see previous ingredients list
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3 minced garlic cloves (10g)
  • 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice

Pop all this into a small food processor and blitz until thoroughly combined.

Marinating...

Marinating…

Remove the pork belly from the brine, tip brine out, rinse belly, and place back into emptied container. Slather with marinade, working into any nooks and crevices.

Pop the lid on and put the container back in the fridge. This marinade should be on the pork for at least 12 hours. In this time flip the belly once or twice to help even marinating of the meat. (If you have a big enough ziplock or vac bag to put the belly and marinade in this is an even better way to do it.)

Stage 3: Slow Roast

Into a roasting dish...

Into a roasting dish…

Equipment:

  • Oven – preheat to 150C
  • Roasting dish that the belly fits into snugly
  • Brush/baster for basting
  • Small knife & a fork

Remove pork belly from marinade, let excess drip off, and place into a baking tray skin-side-up. Pop into the oven for 3 hours, basting lightly with some of the excess marinade every hour. (Just pull the whole thing out of the oven quickly and slap a bit of marinade on with a pastry brush.)

Removing skin...

Removing skin…

After three hours remove from the oven and carefully remove squares of skin that up until now have protected the underlying fat from burning. This is easy to do with a fork and a small knife. Baste thoroughly and pop back into the oven at 120C for another hour basting again after half an hour.

Stage 4: Lightly Smoke

The light smoking has been done to add a more “BBQed” effect that you can’t get using an oven. This smoking is entirely optional – or you may even be lucky enough to own the equipment to do that actual slow-roast in a smoker… in which case I envy you! If you are going to do the smoking as I have done it then be prepared and ready to go when the slow roast is complete.

BBQ smoking setup

BBQ smoking setup (click for hi-rez)

Equipment – see photo:

  • Decent size BBQ with hood
  • A couple of bricks
  • A small cheap/disposable metal tray
  • A mesh rack to place belly on

You can buy smoking sawdust online, but I have some applewood logs from a local orchard and I made my own sawdust by sawing cuts into a log with a hand-saw. This is proper “slow food”! Just a couple of good handfuls of sawdust is enough. I’ve also added hops to the smoking fuel – the smell when the hops are smoking is amazing (and may cause neighbourly raised eyebrows), I’m not sure how much difference using hops specifically makes to the smoked flavour though. A couple of handfuls of hops are chopped thoroughly in a food processor.

Log sawin'

Log sawin’

Hop choppin'

Hop choppin’

Smoke "ingredients"

Smoke fuel…

The sawdust & chopped hops are placed in an old unused oven tray in my hooded gas BBQ. The pork is propped up on a wire rack a couple of inches above it, supported on a couple of bricks. A fresh lot of marinade is painted over the top-side and edges of the pork. The BBQ is turned on low until the sawdust starts to smoulder and then the hood is put down. I painted on a second lot of marinade after 10 minutes and gave the belly 20 minutes over smoke all up (by which point my smoking fuel was mostly blackened & spent.)

Smokin'!

Smokin’!

Serve!

Char-Sui-ish pork & sourdough

Char-Sui-ish pork & sourdough

While the smoking is happening I strain all the leftover marinade and pan juices into a saucepan and then boil this down to a double-cream thickness (as observed in a blow-cooled soup-spoon of sauce). This sauce was pretty salty – use sparingly, I drizzled just a little on the pork and put the rest in a gravy jug.

Stick the belly on a huge tray and give everyone a bun and a fork & knife! :) Two four six eight, BOG IN, don’t wait.

I’m pretty sure the “beery” element came through in the pork, albeit as part of  a melange of BIG flavours so this wasn’t all about the beer. More an underlying saison-booziness. I made a sourdough based on the same saison to complement the pork  – 80% white, 20% wholemeal, 50% liquid ingredient was the same beer used in the brine & marinade. It soaked up the rich marinade juices wonderfully.


Full Photoset

Beer Brined Pheasant

… though I prefer the sound of “Beerinated Pheasant“.

Pheasant in brine

I picked up a couple of decent sized pheasant at my local butcher. It is the season… I do miss my old local in Hitchin where we knew a chap who kept us well supplied with pheasants, and other beasties, throughout the appropriate seasons. It feels a bit wrong buying oven-ready birds. But 8 quid for a brace without having to do the tedious plucking and messy gutting isn’t bad, you’ll pay more for a good chicken yielding a little less meat. While they’re “game” I don’t really think of pheasant as a “wild” bird. Almost all will have been cage raised, when you get them their crops are full of grain, and they really aren’t “gamey” – you need to give them at least a fortnight hanging to get any real decent gamey flavour. For the most part pheasant are best thought of as equivalent to a fine outdoor reared chicken, with an edge more flavour – especially around the fatty areas. If you have a good source then sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to get one of last season’s birds that has been roaming free for a year… deluxe! (Best Coq au Vin ever – or Coq au Bière!)

Anyway – the pheasant put me in mind of my old Poacher’s Pheasant Stew recipe, and I figured it was about time I did some beery cooking for this old blog thing. I’ve done beer brined chicken before and I figured: why not pheasant?

The Useful Content: Brining Your Bird

I work with a simple target 5% salt solution when brining like this, it’s hard to over-salt the bird at this strength but the solution is strong enough to have the desired affect. The recipe below is for just 1 litre of brine, as this plus one pheasant fits nicely into a 1.9 litre clip-seal container I have (see photo). You can easily make & add more brine if needed.

TPreparing to brine pheasanthe Brine:

  1. Measure 50g of sea salt into a container.
  2. Add 100ml of hot water from a kettle and dissolve salt.
  3. Pour in a pint of beer – something not too bitter, a rich golden ale is good.
  4. Top up with cold water to make a litre of solution.

The Beer: The beer I chose for this was a take-home pint of The Brew Company “Simcoe (3.8%) from my local, a light ale with very grapefruity flavour notes (thus it must be craft!). I’d have preferred something with a bit more malt richness in it, but there were only a couple of other ales on and one was a stout (too dark IMO) and the other too bitter.

[Update 2014-03-15: I repeated this recipe using a bottle of Badger Blanford Flyer plus a bottle of Brain’s Barry Island IPA. Both beers I’d bought two of and discovered once was enough… too sweet. The brine worked brilliantly making for a very tasty pheasant with no hint of bitterness.]

The Salt: I used Maldon Sea Salt, posh stuff but the only thing I have handy that doesn’t have “anti-caking agent” in it. When brining a general rule of thumb that I’ve picked up from my reading is to find a “plain” salt without additives. I’ve never actually tried brining with a salt that has anti-caking agent in it though, I expect it’d probably work out fine.

Other Flavours: If you like add other flavour ingredients to this at the start with the salt. Bay leaves, juniper berries, a bit of rosemary, cracked black pepper, some crushed garlic… any of the “usual” aromatics. It helps if you give them a good crush or crumple. I’ve stuck with just beer because I was interested in how “beery” the bird would end up.

Pheasant in brineBrine It: Pop your pheasant into a container or suitably sized zip-lock bag and cover with brine. Ensure it is fully submerged. I’ve put a small plastic container under the lid of the bigger one to force the bird into the brine. If you need more solution to cover your bird then make it up as 5:100 salt to water ratio. I.e. 500g (ml) or water (and/or beer) plus 25g of salt.

Time: Give the bird at least 24 hours in the brine, I’ve done a chicken for 48 hours before and it turned out fine. In fact with a bigger bird 48 hours might be better than 24.

So… here’s one I prepared earlier… remove the bird from the brine and voilà! Brined pheasant. You can now do with this whatever you want. It’ll work jointed and braised, braised whole, or simply roasted. Basically, pick a suitable pheasant recipe that you like the sound of, roasting is where the brining really has the most marked positive results. Read on for what did with my brined pheasant…

Roast beer-brined pheasant…
… with roast veg, garlicy bacon cavolo nero, and beery walnut bread sauce.

Dinner ready for service...

What you need… in general:

  • Beer! Just a splash here and there – you can drink the rest. :)
    (Avoid the very dark and very bitter.)
  • A bit of cooking oil, salt, and pepper as required.

Dinner... before assembly.

Roast ingredients…for the roast:

  • A whole beer-brined pheasant (as per above).
  • Four and a half slices of unsmoked streaky bacon.
    (Other half is used in the cavolo nero.)
  • A cup of chicken stock (game stock would be good, veal stock would do).
  • Four cloves of garlic – thinly sliced.
  • 6 juniper berries – well squashed.
  • A couple of sticks of celery – 5mm dice.
  • A medium brown onion – 5mm dice.
  • Roasting veg, all peeled and diced into chunks about as big as the end of an average sized thumb!  (Well, about an inch by half an inch.)  Put them in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil (or other variety) until lightly coated. I used:
    • Two medium parsnips
    • Two carrots
    • Half a swede
    • A handful of baby carrots

Beery walnut bread-sauce ingredients…for the beery walnut bread-sauce:

  • A slice of good firm bread – I’ve used a pretty rustic sourdough.
  • Some milk.
  • Some walnuts – about 50g will do, chopped to “breadcrumb” consistency.
  • A 20g knob of butter.
  • Half a small brown onion – finely diced (2mm).
  • A small garlic glove – crushed/grated/pasted.
  • 2 juniper berries – squashed and chopped

Garlicy bacony cavolo nero ingredients...…for the garlicy bacon cavolo nero:

  • One cavolo nero, or a suitable amount of leaves – with stems stripped out.
  • Half a rasher of streaky bacon – finely sliced.
  • About 20g of butter.
  • A small clove of garlic – crushed/grated/pasted.

At least an hour in advance, put your firm bread into a bowl (cut/tear it if needed) and douse with just enough milk to soak it.

Pre-prep all the ingredients as described above.

Get the roast going: Preheat your oven to 230°C. Roughly chop two strips of streaky bacon and sizzle in a little oil. I do this directly in my cast iron baking dish. When the bacon is just beginning to brown toss in the diced onion and celery and sizzle this until the celery and onion is just lightly browning as well. At this point pour in the chicken stock and half a cup of the beer. Use the liquid to scrape off any browned-on residue, add the garlic and juniper berries, and bring this lot to simmering point. Now you can turn off the heat and place the pheasant in the middle of the roasting-tin breast-side-up. Bard the pheasant with a couple more strips of streaky bacon and pack the vegetables around the bird. Now into the oven with it – turning the oven down to 180°C immediately. Set a timer for 45 minutes.

Brown BaconAdd onion and celery...Add stock and beer...Ready to go in the oven...

Make the beery walnut bread-sauce: Lightly brown the walnut crumbs in a small saucepan, add the knob of butter and the onion. Cook on low heat for 2 minutes to just soften the onion. Add the garlic and juniper berries - which have both been crushed and finely chopped. Soften the spices for a minute before adding the milk-soaked bread and any milk with it, roughly tear this up. Heat and stir/mash to combine in the bread – the sauce should thicken considerably. Wet it with some additional milk if it isn’t a paste already. Add a splash of beer at a time, tasting as you go with an aim to get a beery flavour without undue bitterness. As you’re doing this you can also add salt to taste, which can balance the bitterness. As the sauce simmers it will continue to thicken, once you’re happy with the flavour imparted by the beer start adding milk instead in order to bring the sauce to a suitable consistency (which is up to you really, I aimed for a “heapable” paste). Put a lid on it and set it aside somewhere warm.

Sourdough...Milk-soaking sourdough...Bread being mashed in...Sauce consistency....

Turn your attention back to the roast: By this stage your roast has probably reached 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, I checked the internal temp deep between the leg and the body – 65°C, fine. Remove the bird from the baking tray and place aside on a warmed plate. Toss the vegetables in the roasting dish to get a bit of moistness on them and pop them back in the oven. They’ll probably need at least another 20 minutes until they’re suitably cooked. Optional: Take the bacon off, rub the breast with a little butter, place the bird under a low grill and carefully brown the breast. This isn’t just cosmetic, but it makes more of a cosmetic difference than a flavour difference – thus optional. Place the bird breast-side-down in its warmed bowl, putting the bacon next to it, cover with foil and put somewhere warm to rest. (I popped it into the top-oven, which is nicely warm while the veg are still roasting.)

Pheasant is roasted...Pheasant breast is browned...Pheasant is resting...

Fry up the cavolo nero: Simple: steam the leaves in a colander over boiling water until “tender” (a couple of minutes). Let them cool a little before chopping roughly. In a fry-pan lightly brown the streaky bacon in a smear of oil. Pop in the nugget of butter and melt this then add the garlic. Let the garlic sizzled just a little, 15 seconds is plenty, then put the cavolo nero in and toss vigorously to coat the leaves in garlicy bacony buttery goodness. Done!

Steaming cavolo neroChopping steamed cavolo nero...Frying garlic in butter...Garlicy bacony cavolo nero!

Time to “plate up”: The roast veg should be done by now, so we’re ready to serve. How you present this is up to you. I’d flip the bird back to breast-side-up, pop the bacon back on top, and take the lot to the table as-is and carve & dish-out to warmed plates at the table. The bread-sauce may need a little warming through before going to the table. On the plate I’ve simply put down a sample of each item, a small bowl of the bread sauce, and the beery juices from the pan with celery & onion are drizzled here and there.

Served with Durham Brewery's EvensongServe, of course, with some good beer. If you’ve used take-home beer in the dish like I did it is probably a bit flat & dead by now if you still have any left. I served this dinner with Durham Brewery “Evensong” (5%)… which was a perfect match to a rich game dinner. The beer has a solid toasty backbone, it’s malt-forward and compliments both the season and this autumnal meal. My check-in note for the beer was: “Easy drinking amber ale. Very good with a bit of roast pheasant. Robust yet smooth flavour of maltloaf, cola, and summer hay.” The brined pheasant retained an excellent moistness thanks to the brining and had picked up a subtle beery note, too subtle perhaps, though it seemed more distinct when I tried some cold the next day. The beery notes were more to the fore in the bread sauce and pan juices and really are best described as “beery” – no fine nuances. It had tended a little to the bitter side in the pan juice, but this was no trouble as this was used sparingly anyway. Overall – a success. I’d like to try brining pheasant with some different beers to test the differences – something like my side-by-side IPA beer batter test, but I really need to invite some folk over to test the results for this one!

Plated up!

Enjoy!