Chinese Pork Jerky: A Delicious Snack for Chinese New Year

Bak Kwa, also known as Chinese pork jerky, is a mouthwatering delicacy made from thinly sliced or minced pork. Seasoned with a perfect blend of soy sauce and sugar, it is grilled over an open fire on a charcoal grill. As a lover of this delectable treat, I embarked on an extensive search for the best recipe to create this savory delight.

Living in an apartment posed a challenge as I couldn’t grill it on a barbecue pit. However, that didn’t deter me from finding a surprisingly simple method to make bak kwa that would rival any famous brand in town. This recipe has received universal approval from all my enthusiastic taste testers.

The Best Choice of Meat for Making Bak Kwa

Traditionally, pork is the most popular choice of meat for bak kwa. However, you can also substitute it with chicken thigh meat to make chicken bak kwa. The juiciness of the chicken thigh meat adds a unique flavor to this succulent delicacy.

While thinly sliced pork is the more elegant option, it can be challenging to slice large pieces of meat thinly at home. As a more common alternative, ground pork works perfectly well. Choose pork butt, which has a good amount of fat, and mince it into small pieces. You can also save time by using pre-ground meat with a fat content of 20 to 30 percent. Lean meat alone tends to result in a dry and hard bak kwa, so it’s important to have a good balance of fat.

The Best Seasoning for Making Bak Kwa

Sugar and soy sauce are the main seasonings that bring out the delightful flavors of bak kwa. While regular sugar is sufficient, adding a touch of honey enhances the taste even more. Some recipes also incorporate maltose, a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, to achieve the perfect level of sweetness.

Two types of soy sauce are commonly used in bak kwa recipes. Dark soy sauce adds a rich, attractive color, while light soy sauce enhances the overall flavor. Feel free to experiment with different combinations to suit your taste preferences.

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Other seasonings that play a crucial role in creating the delicious taste of bak kwa include oyster sauce, fish sauce, Shaoxing wine, Chinese five-spice powder, ground white pepper, and salt. While some recipes include red bean curds, red yeast rice, and artificial coloring to achieve a reddish hue, I have found that these additional ingredients are unnecessary as the bak kwa looks appealing on its own.

Combine the Ingredients and Let the Magic Happen

Preparing the meat jerky is a straightforward process. Start by thoroughly mixing the minced meat with the seasonings. This step can be done with a pair of chopsticks or by employing the traditional technique of repeatedly lifting and smashing the meat paste into the bowl. This process not only enhances the texture but also allows the meat to absorb the liquid seasonings, resulting in a delectable, gooey paste. I’ve used a similar method to prepare Chinese meatballs, which turned out fantastic.

Let the meat paste rest in the refrigerator for an hour, allowing the flavors to meld and the meat to absorb all the seasonings. This step is crucial to achieve the perfect taste.

Spread the Meat Paste for Grilling

Once the meat paste is ready, it’s time to spread it into a thin layer on baking paper. This step ensures that the bak kwa cooks evenly and retains its desired shape. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Cut a piece of baking paper slightly larger than nine inches square (23 cm).
  2. Place 5 oz (150g) of the meat paste on the baking paper.
  3. Cover the meat paste with cling wrap or plastic wrap (I prefer reusable plastic sheets).
  4. Use your hand to spread the meat paste evenly by placing it on top of the plastic sheet.
  5. Roll out the meat paste with a rolling pin, shaping it into a nine-inch square.
  6. Use a dough cutter to straighten the sides.
  7. Remove the plastic sheet and transfer the meat paste, along with the baking paper, to a baking tray.

Ensure the thickness is consistent across the entire sheet, as any thinner parts may burn quickly during baking or grilling. An easy way to achieve uniformity is to use a dough cutter to straighten the sides, pushing back any excess meat paste to the center. With these steps, you’ll end up with a perfectly shaped meat paste.

Further reading:  Discover the Art of Broiling Pork Chops in the Oven

How to Grill the Bak Kwa with an Oven

Grilling the bak kwa is a two-step process that ensures it reaches the perfect texture and flavor. Let’s get started:

First Grill: Forming a Sheet of Cooked Meat

  1. Preheat the top and bottom heating elements of your oven to 160°C/320°F.
  2. Place the tray of raw meat paste on the middle rack of the preheated oven and grill for 15 minutes.
  3. As it cooks, the meat will darken slightly in color and significantly shrink in size. Once it turns into an elastic and pliable sheet of cooked meat, carefully transfer it to a chopping board.
  4. Cut the sheet into four smaller squares.

Second Grill: Achieving a Rich, Smoky Flavor

  1. Prepare the basting liquid by combining four portions of honey with one portion of water.
  2. Brush the honey liquid on both sides of each half-done bak kwa.
  3. Arrange the bak kwa on a wire rack, ensuring there are small gaps in between.
  4. Adjust the oven’s top and bottom heating elements to 230°C/445°F.
  5. Grill the bak kwa on the center rack, keeping an eye on its progress. Depending on the distance between the bak kwa and the heating elements, it should take about six minutes to start sizzling.
  6. Open the oven door and turn over the bak kwa every two to three minutes to ensure even grilling.
  7. As the edges of the bak kwa start to char, remove it from the oven.

This grilling method closely replicates the flavors achieved by using a charcoal grill. The result is a mouthwatering bak kwa with a delectable smoky aroma and enticing charred marks.

Options after the First Grilling

Once you’ve completed the first grilling session, you have a few options to choose from:

  1. Proceed immediately to the second grilling session with high heat if you don’t have access to a barbecue pit.
  2. If possible, grill the half-done bak kwa over a BBQ pit to infuse it with a signature smoky flavor, reminiscent of the street vendors’ offerings. This method is ideal if you have the means and desire to achieve an authentic taste.
  3. For those planning to make a large batch for Chinese New Year in advance, wrap each piece (after the first grilling) individually with wax paper or a thin plastic sheet. Store them in the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy them. When the time comes, simply follow the second grilling steps outlined in this recipe, or finish them off on a barbecue pit for an even more authentic experience.
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Storage: Enjoying Bak Kwa at Its Best

Proper storage ensures that your bak kwa remains fresh and delicious for an extended period. Here are the best ways to store your precious homemade treats:

  • Refrigerator: Bak kwa can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1-2 weeks. Wrap each piece with a plastic sheet and another layer of parchment paper to maintain its optimal texture.
  • Room Temperature: For short-term storage, bak kwa can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for more than a week.
  • Freezer: If you want to enjoy your bak kwa for an extended period, store it in the freezer for up to a few months. To consume it, remove it from the freezer, allow it to return to room temperature, and then warm it in the microwave until it reaches the desired temperature.

Other Related Recipes for Chinese New Year

In addition to bak kwa, Chinese New Year celebrations are filled with a variety of delicious dishes. Here are a few popular recipes that you may enjoy:

  • Buddha’s Delight: As a vegetarian dish, Buddha’s Delight holds a special place in Chinese New Year traditions. It’s a must-have dish that symbolizes good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
  • Braised Chicken with Mushrooms: For those who prefer meat dishes, braised chicken with mushrooms is an excellent choice. This savory delicacy can be prepared in advance, making it convenient for busy festive days.
  • Pineapple Tart: No Chinese New Year celebration is complete without pineapple tarts. Symbolizing prosperity, these delectable treats are a favorite among both young and old.

Remember, the joy of Chinese New Year is not just in the food but also in the shared moments and cherished traditions with family and friends. So go ahead, indulge in the deliciousness of bak kwa and these delightful recipes, and create beautiful memories during this festive season.

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