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Passport & Plate - Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

Singapore | Friday, 14 March 2014 | 5 photos


Ingredients:
500 grams minced pork (the fattier, the juicier your bak kwa)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup and 1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 tbsp orange juice
1/2 tsp sesame oil
red food colouring (optional - I did not use it in mine)

How to prepare this recipe:
1. Mix together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, honey, sugar, salt, garlic powder, orange juice and sesame oil. Add the minced pork and stir until thoroughly incorporated. The meat mixture should have a gluey consistency.
2. Cover meat mixture and refrigerate for anywhere from an hour to overnight for maximum flavour (alternatively you could skip this step and go straight to the next step)
3. Line a baking tray with tin foil and spread half the meat mixture on top, evening it out with a fork - you want to make it as thin as possible without any holes. (It should be roughly 0.5 cm thick.) Lumps will make it cook unevenly. (You will need a second baking tray for the second half of the meat mixture.)
4. Heat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius and put tray in for 15 minutes.
5. After 15 minutes, take the meat out and set the oven at 240 degrees Celsius.
7. Cut the meat into smaller pieces, roughly 2 by 2 inch squares.
8. Put the pieces back in the oven for 2 minutes to char, remove the tray, flip the pieces, and put them back in for 2 more minutes. The charring is what makes it authentic bak kwa - just make sure you keep an eye on it because it can burn quickly because of the high sugar content!
9. Take the bak kwa out and enjoy! It will look sticky and have slightly charred bits. Bak Kwa is best fresh, but can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days - simply heat it in the oven or in a pan before serving.

The story behind this recipe:
Bak kwa, or "rougan" in Chinese, is a pork jerky that has been grilled to sticky sweet perfection and is traditionally eaten as part of Chinese New Year celebrations. I, however, have never had bak kwa from any of the popular stands in Asia. Growing up in Toronto, the only "rougan" I'd ever had was that made by my mother, who perfected her own recipe based off of her memory of the "rougan" she ate in Hong Kong. It was a simple recipe that I often helped her with, and eventually memorized by heart. However, I never knew just what this unassuming snack food could signify until this year.
I was studying abroad in the Netherlands when an exchange student from Singapore mentioned that he wanted to caramelize bacon to simulate bak kwa for Chinese New Year. Having never heard of bak kwa before, I asked what it was, and soon realized that he was describing the "rougan" my mother made. When I offered to teach him how to make it, he was blown away - he'd never heard of anyone making bak kwa at home before! If I made bak kwa, the Chinese New Year's potluck would be complete.
Intrigued, I set about teaching him my mother's recipe, and when we finished, he swore it was almost exactly the same as the bak kwa they had back in Singapore. At the potluck, the bak kwa was snapped up in seconds, and many of the Singaporean exchange students told me how nostalgic eating the bak kwa made them feel - it wasn't something they thought they'd be able to eat outside of Singapore. For them, it was a dish strongly associated with family gathering to celebrate Chinese New Year together, something they would line up on the street to buy. For me, "rougan" simply reminded me of my mother's cooking, but now, as bak kwa, it took on a whole new association. Now, whenever I eat bak kwa, it makes me think of Chinese New Year in Singapore - a celebration in a place I've never visited, but one I somehow feel tied to.

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