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


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


  • 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.



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…


  • 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.)




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

HardKnott Infra Red Prawn and Halloumi Shish Kebabs


It is well and truly BBQ weather this weekend and you don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen with the sun shining so wonderfully outside. So knock together a quick marinade, pop some bits into it, then do a spot of gardening. A couple of hours later we’re ready to skewer and BBQ! This particular recipe was inspired by BeerReviews Andy’s “Punk Prawns“, however the only similarity is the bringing together of beer and prawns.

First thing to do is knock up the marinade, I chose the Infra Red “oxymoronic IPA ruby red and as hoppy as a bucketful of frogs” from HardKnott brewery as the base for the marinade as it has a good rich malty body as well as a nice hit of aroma hops. I think using a typical golden hoppy beer wouldn’t work so well, the malty richness is necessary for the marinade and dipping sauce. Anyway, toss all this into a bowl:

  • 1 500ml bottle of HardKnott Infra Red (or any other rich & hoppy ale)
  • 8g of fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp fine-chopped parsley
  • ½ a salt-preserved lemon fine-chopped
  • 15g palm sugar (or light brown sugar, honey would be interesting too)
  • ½ tsp hot chilli powder
  • ½ tsp sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp ground coriander seed


I made two different shish kebabs, one just prawns and the other a vegetarian option: aubergine & halloumi. Halloumi is great stuff – cheese you can BBQ! I can’t believe I never came across it back home in Australia. Put the prawns straight into the marinade, I used 6 prawns per skewer (they have such piddly little “king praws” here in the UK) and made 7 shish kebabs. Cube the halloumi and the aubergine to around the same size, roughly 1 inch per side. Put everything into the marinade, pop the lot into the fridge, and wait a couple of hours. I gave it a bit of a shake after an hour too. Also, I put the skewers into the marinade so that they’re less likely to burn on the BBQ – you can just soak them in water though. (If you’re feeding actual vegetarians it is probably polite to marinate the vege stuff and the prawns in separate containers!)


When the marinating is done it is time for skewering. For the vegetarian skewers I used 3 pieces of halloumi alternated with 5 pieces of eggplant, and also added squares of red onion between these.

When the skewering is all done prepare the dipping sauce. This is really easy! Strain 1 cup of the marinade through a fine sieve and heat this in a small saucepan until simmering. Then dissolve 8 teaspoons of light-brown sugar into the marinade. Mix 2 teaspoons of cornflower into a couple of tablespoons of cold water and drizzle this into the marinade while whisking steadily. Continue to whisk while the marinade simmers and thickens. Give it about 5 minutes on the heat then set aside. You can warm this up again later before serving.


BBQ time! Drizzle the shishkebabs with a little oil and BBQ them. Not much else to say about that is there.

This is ideally served to people straight off the BBQ. Have bowls of warmed dipping sauce handy and enjoy! It goes down well with a beer of course – and in this case we had it with a crisp cold Sharp’s Monsieur Rock.

HardKnott Infra Red Prawn and Halloumi Shish Kebabs

BrewDog Beer Bash

On Saturday June 19th I held a little BrewDog beer tasting. The tasting list was, in my opinion, impressive. We sampled the 10 brews pictured below, from left to right – they’re ordered by %ABV. The beers range in strength from a mere 4.1% for the Trashy Blonde through to a whopping order-of-magnitude increase to 41% for the Sink the Bismark.

Beer Tasting Line-Up

So, what’s this “BrewDog” you ask? Well, they’re a relatively new brewery up in Scotland, situated in the almost-crazy north of the UK, close to Aberdeen (well, close by Australian standards). They do things a bit differently compared to your typical small British brewery. We’re not quite talking “real ale” here, certainly not in any traditional sense. What we have here is a micro modelled a bit more on the US style, more so than is comfortable for some in the CAMRA scene maybe. That said, BrewDog do release some of there beers in cask form, the Hardcore IPA from cask is one of the best ales I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.

What people know BrewDog for mostly seems to be crazy-strong “beer” and ostentatious marketing. This is unfortunate, because they make some excellent beers that stand up perfectly well on their own beery merits. Of course, you’ve got to get people’s attention somehow – and the BrewDog guys seem to be good at that! As for crazy beers, the 4.1% Trashy Blond isn’t crazy at all, it’s an great beer and I’ve been told it’s sublime from cask. (The Live and Let Live in Cambridge sold a whole firkin in a single weekend, most of it on Saturday.) The 4.5% black lager, Zeitgeist, is crisp and refreshing as a chilled beer. Many of the stronger beers are no crazier than good Belgian ales, Bashah at 8.6%, two imperial stouts at 10%, and Devine Rebel at 13.8%. Sure, things do get a bit silly north of this point. But even the 18.1% Tokyo!* is distinctly beer, it is possibly my favourite brew – to enjoy in moderation! These are just a few from the wide variety of beer you can get out of the ‘dog.

OK, intro over. Pop along to the BrewDog website if you’re keen to know more. So, back to that beer-tasting lineup…

  1. Trashy Blond – 4.1% – Blonde Ale
  2. Zeitgeist – 4.9% – Black Lager
  3. Bashah – 8.6% – “Black Belgian-Style Double IPA”
  4. Paradox – Isle of Arran – 10% – Whisky Cask Aged Imperial Stout
  5. Paradox – Smokehead – 10% – Whisky Cask Aged Imperial Stout
  6. Divine Rebel – 13.8% Barley Wine (yes, that’s how they spell it…)
  7. Abstrakt – AB:02 – 18% Imperial Red Ale
  8. Tokyo!* – 18.1% – Vanilla Oak Chip Aged Imperial Stout *
  9. Tactical Nuclear Penguin – 32% – (Imperial Stout!?)
  10. Sink The Bismark – 41% – (IPA?!)

(* It’s Tokyo star, by the way, not Tokyo-asterisk, or Tokyo-there’s-a-footnote.)

I’m afraid I didn’t really gather detailed feedback on the beers. There was a plan to do so, but really we all just wanted to get on with imbibing and enjoying. The main idea was to expose some people to beer they wouldn’t normally try, and that we did!

Happy BrewDog Drinkers (and one juice drinker)

The Trashy Blonde and Zeitgeist were the only beers served fridge-chilled. (I think the Bashah works well either way, as does the Devine Rebel.) Both went down well, with little comment. The black larger attracted the most interest, and was labelled Schwarzbier by our token German.

The Bashah was appreciated, but didn’t seem to burn much of a memory into peoples’ minds. I was reading out the labels on the beers prior to tasting, as they’re quite entertaining, and the Bashah piqued some interest from its rambling and “meaningless” blurb. I think the actual beer may have been a let-down for some in contrast to the theatre of the label text.

Next came the Paradox imperial stouts – it seems that these have left the most indelible impression upon the audience. Even now, several weeks later, people mention the Isle of Arran as a favourite if I ask about the beers. If people in the group were to buy and drink any of the beers by preference it seems it would be the Isle of Arran. It has the particular distinction that it was enjoyed even by those who normally don’t drink beer at all. One description of the Arran was “nice combination, extravagant adventure.” The Smokehead, on the other hand, seems to have been less to people’s tastes. I got the impression that there was a feeling of being smacked in the face with, well, smoke. Smokehead is certainly an experience for the uninitiated. The thing is that that initial hit of smoke is mainly in the aroma; but, while distinctive, it comes across in a more mild manner on the palate. Personally, I’m a lover of single malt whiskies and thus might be less sensitive to the smokier flavour in this beer than some. Those who appreciate whisky appreciate the Smokehead I think.

A couple of Tokyo stars

Sadly the Abstrakt AB:02 and Tokyo!* didn’t attract much comment. These were both last-minute additions to the line-up. AB:02 because I’d ordered 6 of them and felt like I could sacrifice one to the tasting. Tokyo!* because one of the tasters, by sheer coincidence, was wearing a Space Invaders t-shirt! The back of the Tokyo!* bottle includes the text: “This is a beer inspired by a 1980’s space invaders arcade game played in Japan’s capital.” (Damn! Now I have one on my desk and I have to try very hard not to drink it!) I have to say, parting with a Tokyo!* is difficult, I really do love this stuff. (Note to self: order more!) Unfortunately it is also on the pricey side, for beer. But realistically the Tokyo!* is certainly in no less a league for flavour and enjoyment than an equivalently priced wine! (In quid-per-millilitre we’re talking about a roughly £20 bottle of wine.)

After the heady 18.1% experience of Tokyo!* came a smack in the face with a Penguin. This was actually my first taste of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin, something I’d call not-quite-beer at a whopping 32% ABV. What they do is explained on their blog (watch the video), like applejack – or scumble (“it’s made from apples, well mainly apples”) – they freeze the water out of the drink thus increasing the ABV. The general feedback was quite positive, with the main word in use being “smoke”. However, like the Smokehead, the smoke is more upfront on the nose than on the palate – and less upfront than in the Smokehead. TNP and Smokehead are quite different drinks of course, one a beer the other, in my opinion, a beerish spirit. I’d say it is certainly rich and caramelly, with a touch of smoke, quite a caramel sweetness too, not just caramel flavours. I’m a whisky drinker, one keen on smoke and peat, and the hint of that whisky cask in the TNP works quite well for me. It isn’t for everyone though, a fellow beer and BrewDog advocate describes TNP as “a cheap gimmick” – harsh!

STB, Hop Nectar

The grand finale was, of course, Sink the Bismark. The experience of the TNP, as good as I think it is, actually pales against Sink the Bismark! The TNP steals character from whisky, that’s the first thing to run through my mind on tasting it, and I appreciate that. The STB is 100% its own unique drink. It’s rarefied essence of hop. It’s a total hop explosion. It’s like having your tongue bashed flat with a bale of hops wrapped around a brick – but in a good way. There’s something special about this STB, it is a drink that surprisingly has merit and value outside of the sensationalism around the crazy idea of a 41% ABV “beer”. This is spirit of hop, perhaps we could call it hopsky? The reaction around the table contained a fair amount of surprise I think. Nobody knew what to expect from this, and nobody was expecting something that was so interesting and enjoyable. The choice quote that puts forward the STB over the TNP was: “Amazement at the quality of STB, not a cheap gimmick like TNP. Maybe that’s just my preference.”

I have another bottle each of STB and TNP and I’m not sure what to do with them. They’re quite something, the STB especially so. I think I’ll be putting them aside, perhaps for at least a decade. Something to crack open on my 40th birthday?

In the end I think it was the Paradox – Isle of Arran that hit a sweet spot in experience, flavour, and strength. It seems the clear favourite from conversations had since the tasting. I myself would rather sip Tokyo!*, but I’m also quite happy with a glass of the Arran in my hand. And I think the Arran may represent the best value for money as a total beer experience. (I note that James Watt’s new venture(?) Musa Aberdeen has an Arran crème brûlée on the menu – I’m intrigued!)

My personal summary of the beers I enjoy the most is: STB and TNP are very rare treats for special times. Tokyo!* is a grand drink to be reserved for moments of decadence. Isle of Arran is a decadent and enjoyable weekly nightcap drink, like a great whisky. And Zeitgeist is my BrewDog session beer, though it does battle in my life with the Bashah – which looses out only in that it is too strong to drink much of on a regular basis.

Finally, the BrewShrine…

The Brew Shrine

Disclosure: Kathlene and I are BrewDog punks, we have one pair of shares between us – it’s a bit of a lark. I was drinking and enjoying BrewDog beer prior to “buying in” of course. We bought in because their innovative Equity for Punks IPO scheme was interesting. Nothing at all to do with the 20% shareholders discount, honestly! ;) We’d have to spend quite a lot of money on beer to break even on cash. Good thing that wasn’t the point! (That said, if BrewDog survive for the long-haul I expect we will break even eventually!) Mainly it is fun. Being a shareholder is fun, you get to see the news first in the shareholders’ forum, get early access to special beer releases, presumably there may be AGMs (which would rock, I’m sure.) Shareholders may even be permitted to pop into the brewery, by advance arrangement… I can vicariously live the dream of being a brewer through these dudes, that’s what I’ve bought in to.