Rhubarb Char Siu

char-siuI picked up another pig CSA from Millstone Farm a couple of weeks ago, and with it came a teeny-tiny pork butt roast – less than 2 pounds! Typically when you get a pork shoulder from one of these heritage breed pigs, they are massive: 5 – 8 lbs, bone-in and with a layer of fat that could choke, well, a pig. I’m often too lazy to break these suckers down (or to wait the couple of days it takes to thaw them in the fridge), so I tend to sear them well and braise them whole, most often in chile verde. This little baby butt, however, called out for something special; and that’s when I remembered that I had squirreled away a couple of char siu recipes a while back. Most of us have probably encountered char siu, or Chinese barbecued pork, when ordering those sticky red boneless spare ribs from the local Chinese takeout. And let’s just admit it, shall we? Gratuitously pinky-red, fatty and MSG-laden they may be: they’re still delicious. But this char siu, ladies & gents, is not that char siu. This char siu is just saved from being a complete shambles of a “Chinese” dish by the presence of tamari and 5-spice powder. This char siu is as far-flung from “traditional” as you can get, and in fact, may best be described as “vaguely Asian-flavored marinated pork BBQ made with things Kaela had in the house.” Char siu seemed a bit more efficient, as recipe titles go. When a recipe idea grips me, it grips me hard. Often, I stubbornly dive in, full speed ahead, even if I am missing several key ingredients (hoisin, rice wine, honey). To that end, I am no stranger to seemingly random substitutions (rhubarb syrup may taste nothing like honey, but it is both sticky & sweet) and am a big fan of the Taste & Adjust school of cooking. At the end of the day, Chinese barbecue is still barbecue: sweet, salty, spicy, smoky; a balance of these flavors is what makes all barbecue great. Consider the below ingredients list a jumping off point: I tasted & adjusted, and tasted & adjusted some more, until the sweetness and spice was perfectly balanced for my palate. Your mileage may vary, but you can’t go wrong if you keep tasting the marinade (before adding to the pork, of course). I marinated overnight, slow-cooked in a low oven and added the (once again, non-traditional) step of a final char over a hot grill for that crunchy, blackened, burnt ends quality that the best Chinese ribs have. These were not as sticky as a char siu made with honey, but the rhubarb lent them a subtle tangy sweetness that was uniquely delicious. Definitely worth a try with whatever sweet, spicy, Asian-y flavors you’ve got kicking around the pantry. Adapted from Homemade Char Siu by Mitch in the Kitchen and Chinese Char Siu Boar by Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. char-siuRhubarb Char Siu INGREDIENTS

  • ⅓ cup rhubarb syrup
  • 3 tbsp tamari
  • 3 tbsp spicy plum sauce
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 1 tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sriracha
  • ½ tbsp gochujang
  • ½ tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
  • 2 lbs pork shoulder, sliced into 1-inch slabs


  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the pork in the bowl of a food processor. Process until ginger & garlic are well-minced and sauce is uniform. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  2. Reserve about 1 cup of marinade for basting, then pour remaining sauce over the pork in a shallow bowl. Turn pork pieces over to make sure all sides are covered in marinade. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Arrange pork slabs on a wire rack (I used a V-shaped roasting rack for minimum sogginess); coat well with any marinade remaining in the bowl. Roast, basting with the reserved marinade and turning pork slabs every 20 minutes, until the pork is just barely cooked through (140 degrees F), about 2 – 2 ½ hrs.
  4. Meanwhile prepare a charcoal grill. If grilling on a gas grill or using your broiler, light about 5 minutes before cooking. Light a fire and let it burn down until coals are red with some ash but still very hot. Baste pork slabs with marinade, on both sides, one last time and place on an oiled grill grate. Grill for 2 – 3 minutes per side, enough time to char the edges and heat the pork through (pork internal temperature will rise to 145 degrees F or above at this point). Serve warm, with rice or other grain to soak up the sauce.

Serves 6 – 8. char-siuOPTIONS

  1. Marinade options abound. Honey is typically used as a sweetener, but I’ve seen recipes that call for maple syrup. Basically, something sweet, something spicy and something Asian. I’d say the only must-have is soy/tamari.
  2. Finishing over a charcoal fire adds a lovely smoky flavor to the meat, but if it is not grilling season, you can easily add a bit of char by placing the meat under your broiler for a minute or two. The best scenario would be cooking the meat in a smoker or indirect-heat grill for the entire roasting time.
  3. I love a good bit of char: you might prefer less blackened bits, and if so, roast until the internal temperature of the pork is 145 degrees F and grill for only 1 minute per side.
  4. Got leftovers? They’re practically crying out for pork fried rice.

STORE Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. SEASON Year round.


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