There are two things in this world that sum up Chinese New Year for me – ang pow (red money envelopes) and bak kwa. Alas these days I’m precluded from receiving ang pow as I have the misfortune of being all grown up (and married), but that doesn’t stop me celebrating the New Year by stuffing my face with ill-advised quantities of bak kwa!
Sweet, sticky and bordering on the addictive, bak kwa is a very Chinese take on jerky. Available all year round, bak kwa is, however, largely considered a Chinese New Year must-have. I’m not sure if bak kwa‘s prosperous red hues ramp up its appeal for the New Year or whether the festivities are simply an excuse to indulge in copious amounts of this gooey treat. Either way, the queues at Bee Cheng Hiang stores in the build-up to the holiday are daunting and are a testament to bak kwa‘s enduring popularity as a Chinese New Year staple.
Now I’m not going to lie to you, making your own bak kwa isn’t something you’d do if you didn’t have to – it would be much easier to just join the long queues and buy yourself some. However, for those of us who find themselves far from home on Chinese New Year, we have little choice but to roll up our sleeves and make our own. After all, those bak kwa cravings are not going to quell themselves! Thankfully the recipe for making bak kwa isn’t actually that difficult, but it is quite involved; wire racks, rolling pins, wax paper and a blowtorch – I like to think of this as real Blue Peter-style cooking!
Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)
- 1/2 cup castor sugar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1.5 tbsp light soya sauce
- 2 tsp dark soya sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 tbsp Chinese 5-spice powder
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp red food colouring
- 1kg fatty minced pork (preferably made with pork belly)
- 1/4 cup honey or maltose, mixed with 1/8 cup boiling water
- Wire rack approx. 300x200cm
- Wax or Parchment Paper
- A heavy rolling pin
- A kitchen blowtorch
Note: If your oven can accommodate it, I would recommend using two wire racks at same time!
- Combine all the ingredients except the minced pork and honey/maltose in a large mixing bowl. Add the pork and mix thoroughly with a large metal spoon until the “seasoning” is evenly distributed – this will take a fair few minutes, so persevere. Cover the mixing bowl with cling-wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight
- Preheat the oven to 100°C
- Cut 2 pieces of wax paper slightly larger than your wire rack. Place one sheet on a flat working surface (shiny side up) and place 200g of the meat mixture in the centre. Cover with the second sheet of wax paper (shiny side down) and, using a heavy rolling pin, gently spread the meat mixture as thin as possible (about 3mm). The layer of meat should be rectangular and just slightly larger than the wire rack (the meat will shrink when cooked). Continue the process until you’ve used up all the meat
- Lightly brush the wire mesh with vegetable oil. Gently peel off the top sheet of wax paper from the flattened meat. Place the wire rack over the meat mixture and then flip it over. Carefully peel off the remaining wax paper
- Bake the meat in the preheated oven for 20 minutes and then increase the oven heat to 180°C and bake for a further 15-20 minutes
- Once cooked, take the bak kwa out of the oven and reduce the heat back to 100°C (in preparation of the next batch)
- In the meantime, brush the cooked bak kwa with the diluted maltose/honey. Using your blowtorch, scorch the meat until lightly charred. If you don’t have a blowtorch, delay reducing the oven’s heat and return the meat for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the edges start to char slightly
- Cut the bak kwa into the desired size and cool on wire rack. Store in air-tight container