Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bak Kua--Coin of the Realm

Anyone who has a taste for pork and has spent any time in Singapore has probably not only tasted bak kua, but has come to long for it. In searching for a recipe for this, I came across many accounts of people trying to bring the pork into the US only to have it confiscated by customs agents. This also happened to my wife and me one time, even though the clerk at the shop in the airport in Singapore assured us there would be no problem bringing it in. We were trying to bring some back for my sister-in-law, who could probably wolf down a pound of this in one sitting. We have bought it for her on occasion here in the US, but a four ounce package (which is two small strips) is several dollars. Worse than the expense, it just doesn't taste as good. I won't claim that my recipe is as good as what you get in Singapore, but it's better than the packages you find in your local Asian market.

Ideally, the sheets of the prepared meat mixture would be dried in the sun, like drying krupuk. This would be possible in Sacramento in the summer, but not at this time of the year. Instead, I did as others have done and did the initial drying/baking in a very low oven. Once the sheets have been sufficiently dried/cooked, they are cut into smaller pieces and grilled. The pre-cooked sheets can be cut and frozen, stored for a final grilling when convenient. Serve them with cocktails and prepare to be worshipped.

I include links to recipes I tried before coming up with mine. They are all very similar with slight tweaks. I haven't been able to find rose wine or licorice powder, so I substituted rose syrup and ground fennel. Dry frying star anise and grinding it to a powder might also work. It's a recipe that allows plenty of room to tweak to your own personal tastes.

One addition to my recipe that you won't find in the others is pink salt (sodium nitrate). I would suspect that the original recipe for bak kua included saltpeter. This preserves the pinkish color in cured meats and can be found in old recipes for char siu. Sodium nitrite has largely replaced saltpeter because it apparently does a better job of killing bacterial nasties. Its inclusion in the recipe preserves the rosy color of bak kua and that slightly hammy taste. Leave it out and the bak kua will still taste ok, but it definitely is not as attractive.

Bak Kua/Bak Kwa--Singapore Jerky

2 1/2 lbs ground pork (should have at least 15% fat--pork shoulder is good)
2 TBS fish sauce
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS hoisin sauce
200 gr brown sugar
3 TBS honey
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
3/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp (3 grams) pink salt (sodium nitrite)
1 1/2 TBS vegetable oil

Mix ground pork with remaining ingredients. Cover tightly with cling-wrap and allow to marinate overnight. Spread mixture thinly on two jelly roll pans approximately 16" x 11". Put plastic wrap on top of the mixture and press down to spread as thinly and evenly as possible.

Bake the sheets in a preheated 180° F  oven for about 10 minutes. Carefully flip the sheets of meat over and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove and cut into photo-size rectangles or use a biscuit cutter to cut into "coins". Grill over medium heat on each side.

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  1. That sure is a beautiful piece of meat. It looks entirely delicious. I am just curious I was wondering what made you choose fennel over star anise?

  2. Hey there!

    I was wondering if you wanted to bake it at 180 Celsius or Fahrenheit? Thanks!

  3. Katie,

    Sorry about that. It is 180º Fahrenheit. Thanks for catching that.


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