Vietnamese version (bản tiếng Việt): click here!
Char siu BBQ is originate from Chinese cuisine. It has a sweet and salty taste, together with a characteristic red color and beautiful aroma that has made them one of the savory dishes. In Vietnam, we call it “xá xíu” and it is usually served with hot rice, stir-fry noodle or wonton (dumplings) soup. Note that there is another type of char siu pork adapted by Japanese cuisine, which we usually see in ramen. It is different from the Chinese type as the Japanese char siu pork doesn’t have the red color and five-spice powder. However, in this post, I would focus on the Chinese type, and give some short reviews on the char siu marinades that are available in Asian/American grocery stores.
Technically, you can make the char siu marinade from scratch, and tons of recipes out there can help you with that. However, there is 1 ingredient that I’m a little bit afraid of: fermented red bean curd, which gives the natural red color of the char siu. Therefore, I was searching for alternatives and premix sauces. In Arizona where I live, as far as I know, there are 3 brands of char siu sauces/mix: NOH Char siu mix, Private selection® Char siu BBQ sauce and Lee Kum Kee Char siu sauce (photos above).
- NOH Char siu mix: In my opinion, this is not a good option for making char siu pork/chicken. The powder itself has a pink color! That’s right, PINK! So if you add water to it (following the instructions), you would have a pink marinade which is quite light in taste but it does smell good. After being marinated for long hours and roasted, the meat came out with pink color on the outside and plain taste, which is expected from the light taste of the marinade and disappointed!
What if it’s the only one you can find? Don’t worry, we can fix it! Adjust the marinade with some HOISIN sauce, soy sauce, honey/sugar and a drop of red food coloring to bring the taste and the color back to standard color of char siu. Pour the marinade into a saucepan, bring it to boil (to evaporate excess water) and thicken it with some tapioca starch (if needed) then use to for basting, brushing on the meat.
- Private selection® Char siu BBQ sauce: You will easily find it in any Kroger’s stores. To me, it’s like a mix of Japanese and Chinese char siu style. It has the five-spice seasoning, HOISIN sauce, but it also has mirin. The meat after cooking has a brown color on the outside (looks like Japanese char siu) and the taste is 60% close to the Chinese char siu. So, to fix it, I add some soy sauce, HOISIN sauce and honey, with 3 drops of red food coloring to adjust the taste and the color. Overall, this product is not bad, we still can buy it and we know how to fix it!
- Lee Kum Kee Char siu sauce: This product is easy to be found in any Asian grocery stores. It is a thick red sauce so you might want to massage the meat occasionally and marinate for long hours before grilling or roasting. I would recommend at least 48 hours and grill the meat on propane grill because it does taste much better than roasting/baking in the oven. The meat came out with slightly red on the outside (if you don’t baste or brush the sauce on) and smell exactly like the Chinese char siu. The taste is 90% close. That’s why we should not forget to use the sauce for basting/brushing on the meat so that the color and the taste is enhanced. The sauce is quite perfect already, but you could also mix some honey (just little amount) to the basting sauce to make it even better.
The table below summarizes all I mentioned above, just in case you don’t want to read long texts. Why I mention vegan/vegetarian in the table? Because there are some recipes out there trying to make char siu tofu, which I think would be interesting to try, so I include it here and you can know which suit your style better.
Summary of comparison
|NOH Char siu mix||Private selection® |
Char siu BBQ sauce
|Lee Kum Kee |
Char siu sauce
|Vegan/Vegetarian||Yes||Vegetarian only, not vegan (contains honey)||Vegetarian only, not vegan (contains honey)|
|Type||Powder||Fluidic brown sauce||Thick red sauce|
|Product after cooking (following the instruction on package)||– Pink;|
– Smell good
– Plain taste (Does not taste like char siu BBQ)
– Smell good (but not close to char siu BBQ aroma)
– 60% close to char siu BBQ taste
|– Bright red|
– Smell good (100% like char siu BBQ)
– 90% close to char siu BBQ taste
|Can we modify it to have better taste? – Yes!||– Don’t add water like in the instructions|
– Adjust the marinade with soy sauce, HOISIN sauce, honey/sugar and red food coloring
|– Adjust the marinade lightly with soy sauce, HOISIN sauce, honey/sugar and red food coloring||– Don’t have to but if needed, mix some honey to the sauce prior brush it on the grilled meat|
Another fun situation is that I tried to fix the baked chicken marinated with NOH char siu mix by making a basting sauce from the Private Selection® Char siu sauce, honey, soy sauce and a drop of red food coloring. The result is that I was able to “shift” the color from pink to more red (like in the photo below) but still some pink residues remained, and the chicken did taste better, rather than the plain taste of the original.
And… that’s it! Hope you enjoy and if you’ve tried any of these sauces/mix, let me know what you think!