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Barbecued and Roasted Meat

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food in History

Fall Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(3) page(s): 11 and 12

Noodle shops abound. They and large restaurants that roast their own meats or purchase them from fine vendors are the main sources of Chinese barbecued meats. The term barbecue, Bar-B-Q, or however you spell it, for the Chinese, means roasting meats in exceptionally hot ovens. The purpose is to make the exterior crisp, the interior juicy and delicious, and to melt away as much fat as possible. This magazine in an early issue, had an article titled Roast Pork in Volume 2(3) on page 8.

There were many recipes for roasted or barbecued meats because the Chinese, particularly the Cantonese, adore them. Some of these include the recipe for Roast Chicken in Volume 3(3) on page 13 and one for Roast Drunken Duck in Volume 6(2) on pages 16 and 17. There were also recipes for Barbecued Spare Ribs in Volume 4(1) on page 20, Barbecued Pork in Volume 7(2) on page 26, and Barbecued Steak in Volume 8(3) on page 16. However there was very little background information on this popular cooking technique. This article includes more detail about the technique.

Roasting along with baking and grilling, are considered hot, in the yin/yang dichotomy. Most Chinese homes do not have an oven, therefore this type of cooking is rarely done in Chinese homes. While the standard of living has improved and quite a few now have an oven, most often it is a microwave and not an oven for roasting and baking foods. Chinese living at ground level or those on upper floors with a balcony, can use a charcoal brazier in addition to their one or perhaps two-burner gas stove to cook their foods. It is with this brazier, that some can and do barbecue their own meats.

In years gone by, itinerant peddlers brought barbecued, aka roasted meats to the homes of the affluent. Those with less disposable income perhaps ate some on a major holiday or family feast. They might have purchased a small piece of meat cooked this way to add to their dishes, or to eat before they ate any other cooked dishes These roasted or barbecued meats were not daily fare. With the expanding number of noodle shops nowadays, they are more common, and more Chinese are enjoying them more often alone, in dishes, or in soups.

How long has this cooking technique been part of the Chinese culinary? Foods were cooked shielded from fire and not in any particular vessel since Han dynasty times at least. They were hung over or near the fire and cooked that way. This cooking was called fan and is a technique mentioned several times in the Shi Qing or Book of Odes, and mentioned several times in the Li Chi , also known as The Record of Rites. Skewering meat was also a technique mentioned in those early times. In the Elegies of Chou or Chu Tzu, they mention roasting a particular food; it was a crane. Other early volumes speak of roasting suckling pig, beef, lamb, pork, dog, deer, and chicken.

Meats were cooked hanging over the fire. Some in large chunks and others cut and roasted on a wooden skewer over burning charcoal. Tomb paintings attributed to Eastern Han times show a three-pronged fork roasting meat, and a contraption that matches modern barbecue cooking of skewered meat.

Do not confuse more modern Mongolian barbecue with this early barbecue/roasting of meat. That is not roasting meat, but rather grilling meat, be it beef, mutton, venison, pork, chicken, and even vegetables. That style, now popular in restaurants has origins before and during the Yuan Dynasty. It can be cooking with some stock or some fat and on a flat grill, seasonings added during the cooking. The grill can be a gigantic forty-or-more inch grill, with heat coming underneath it. Some refer to this as a Genghis Khan grill. Very few are aware that on it food cooks very quickly because the temperature is about six hundred degrees Celsius.

Today, the most common roasting or barbecuing done in China is making char sui or barbecued pork. Some call this dish Honey-Roasted Pork. Many recognize the strips of reddish meat hanging in the windows of mostly Cantonese restaurants. It is but one of many meats prepared in specially designed ovens. Meats are put on skewers and placed leaning against the oven wall, tandoori-style. Any fat drips into the fire. Peking Duck can and often is made this way. So is roast chicken, and of course, roast pig, suckling or larger. Cooking this way makes the meat crisp on the outside and tender within. Meats cook very quickly in these ovens, and they must be watched at all times.

Keep in mind that cooking on charcoal must be done out of doors. Inside, it is very dangerous to cook on charcoal because this type of cookery uses virtually all available oxygen. Huge indoor commercial ovens vent outside; so do not cook meat on charcoal inside the house. Results will vary from items made commercially. There are also differences if cooked outdoors on charcoal or on gas. Inside, roasting meats in a very hot oven can be a fine substitute.

Do visit a Cantonese restaurant that has ducks, pig, ribs, and other meats hanging in their window. One was reviewed in Volume 7, Number 1, on page 21 called SAMMY'S NOODLE SHOP AND GRILLE.. Their newer and more uptown place called SAM'S NOODLE SHOP AND Grill BAR at 411 Third Avenue in Manhattan on the corner of 29th street; phone: (212) 213-2288 is fancier but still provides excellent roasted meats for eating in or taking out. We did both with equal success; and over the years we have made these recipes, also with success. So do try them and enjoy your own barbecued and roasted meats, Chinese style.
Barbecued Pork
I pound pork loin
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese liquor such as Maotai
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon maltose or honey
1. Cut pork into long trips about an inch wide.
2. Mix all the rest of the ingredient except the honey and sesame oil and marinate the pork in this mixture in the refrigerator, covered, six hours or overnight.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
4. Remove the meat from the marinade and put it on a rack raised half inch or more over a baking pan. Put the meat in the oven for ten minutes, turn it, and baste with some of the remaining marinade. Then roast it another five minutes, baste again, and roast it another three minutes. Next baste on both sides with a mixture of the maltose and sesame oil, and baste another three to five minutes.
5. Remove meat from oven, cut into serving-size pieces and serve.
Barbecued Pork and Noodle Soup
1/4 pound barbecued pork
6 dried black mushrooms, soaked for twenty minutes, stems removed
1/2 cup canned water chestnuts or bamboo shoots, sliced thinly
1 cup Chinese broccoli (gai lan or bok cai), sliced or cut into one-inch pieces
1/2 pound dried egg noodles
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine, such as Shaoxing
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 scallions, angle-sliced thinly
1. Slice pork and mushrooms thinly, and mix with water chestnut slices.
2. Blanch green vegetable in boiling water for one minute, then immerse in ice water for one minute, and drain well.
3. Cook noodles in boiling water for eight minutes, then drain well, and distribute into eight soup bowls.
4. Distribute pork mixture into these same eight bowls.
5. Bring broth to the boil, add rice wine and sesame oil, and pour into the soup bowls; then top with slivered scallions and serve.
Roast Pork Buns
2 teaspoon sugar mixed with two teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 pound roast pork, diced
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
16 three-inch squares of parchment paper
1. For the dough, mix sugar-yeast mixture with one cup warm water. Set this aside for ten minutes.
2, add both flours, the corn oil, and the baking powder and knead for five minutes or until no longer sticky. Then put it in a sesame oiled bowl, cover, and set aside for three hours. Reserve any extra sesame oil and rub it on the parchment squares.
3. Divide dough into sixteen portions, and flatten each one, and place on an oiled square of parchment paper.
4. Mix roast pork, oyster and soy sauces, and the tablespoon of sugar, and put one heaping teaspoonful on each piece of dough.
Wet the edges of the dough and seal by pinching them together, then turn over so sealed side is on the paper and the top looks somewhat rounded.
5. Put buns on a steamer rack, spacing then two to three inches apart. Place rack aver actively steaming water, cover, and steam for eighteen minutes, remove, and serve.

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