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Char siu pork – made from scratch and gluten free

Char siu pork

I’ve noticed that a strange blindness sometimes comes over me when shopping for Asian ingredients. Usually I’m a stickler for reading everything on the label of packaged ingredients, not being wild about the unnecessary preservatives, corn syrup, trans fats, flavour enhancers and general gunk that find their way in there. But I’ll often buy sauces from the Asian grocer without a second glance at their ingredients, mostly because I assume there is no alternative and greed gets in the way of righteous living , sometimes because I’ve forgotten my glasses.

When we’re planning a dish for the Dinner Ladies, we always try to think about customers with special dietary needs, especially the high number of them who are gluten-intolerant. Now, we love our pies and pasta as much as, and probably more than, the next person  and we’re not in a rush to replace them with ersatz, gluten-free versions – until we find recipes that are as good as or better than the real thing – but when a recipe calls for something like hoisin sauce, I want to find out whether it necessarily has to contain gluten, artificial colours and preservatives, or whether that’s just  been the easiest or cheapest way to manufacture it and whether we can come up with a good alternative.

Also – contrary of me, I know - there’s nothing I like better than making something from scratch.  You know what’s in it, you can tinker with it to taste and, if it turns out slightly dodgy, so much the better: it’s artisanal.

So, when I decided to make some char siu pork at home, I first read the label on the jar I had in my pantry, thought "Nahhh" then Googled a char siu sauce recipe. Which in turn called for a hoisin sauce recipe. I could probably amalgamate the two into one but they have different uses so I’m going to give you both – they’re both gluten-free and number free. I wouldn’t make big health claims for the salt or sugar level but hey, you only eat char siu in small amounts.  (A patent lie, if ever I wrote one.)

In a blind taste off (ie, without my glasses) between the home-made and the commercial brands, I think I actually preferred the slightly gentler sweetness and less tarry texture of the homemade, though I can’t deny that the stuff from the bottle is still pretty delicious.

If you have a piece of cooked char siu pork in the fridge, you can use it for so many things - Asian omelettes, stir fries, soups. We're making char siu pork for home-delivery this week to go with stir fried greens but we'd love to know how you use it - let us know.

Char siu pork

Serves 3-6, depending on how you plan on using it

500g strips of pork neck, about 10cm wide by 3 cm thick (you can also use the leaner pork fillet which will be healthier but not quite as unctuous – your choice)

150ml hoisin sauce (recipe follows)

170 ml honey

2 tbs soy (gluten free if you wish)

2 tbs shaoxing wine*

3 pieces fermented red bean curd (with some of the red juice)*

Half tsp 5 spice powder

* available at Asian grocers

In a small blender, mix the hoisin, 120ml of the honey, soy, shaoxing, red bean curd, 5 spice powder and blend till smooth.

Put your pork strips in a stainless steel bowl, cover with the char siu marinade and leave anything from 3 hours to overnight.

Preheat an oven to 200 and place pork strips on a rack over a baking tray (this is important or the pork will get steamy and not burnished and roasty.

Cook for about 40 minutes (more like 25-30 minutes for a fillet), basting regularly with the marinade and turning every 10 minutes.

Heat remaining honey in a saucepan or the microwave.

Take the pork out of the oven, brush one side with the honey and return to the oven for five minutes. Take the pork out, then flip it and repeat.

Remove the pork from the oven and rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with steamed rice and greens, stirred through stir-fried noodles, stuffed into buns or pretty much anything else you care to do with it.

Hoisin sauce (gluten free)

Makes 300ml

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp 5 spice powder

125ml red miso paste

125 ml honey

2 tbs rice vinegar

Put in a small blender and blend till smooth. Um, that’s it.