You can prepare Char siu (Chinese barbecue meat) with chicken, not just pork alone. Here is the recipe for char siu chicken.
Cha siu chicken is an improvisation from the traditional cha siu prepared with pork belly and shoulder loin. The flavor of char siu chicken is as good as char siu pork but is way healthier.
This simple recipe creates a taste close to the Cantonese-style char siu sold in the restaurant. Although it looks complicated, it involves only a few simple steps. All you need is to combine the ingredients and marinate the chicken overnight, then roast it to perfection.
You do not need complicated skills, as success mainly lies in the composition of the marinade.
1. How to prepare the char siu marinade
The most important part of making char siu is how to make a good marinade. Although there is no specific formula for the char siu marinade, it generally contains a relatively high sugar to create those mouth-watering charred marks. Light soy sauce and oyster sauce are the main ingredients for the savory flavor, but some recipes also include Hoisin sauce and Chu Hou sauce. In addition, red fermented beancurd or red yeast rice has a natural red coloring, making the char siu look appetizing. Besides that, other ingredients are free to include or omit to follow according to your liking.
Here is a brief explanation of each ingredient in the marinade.
The core ingredients
Honey is the key ingredient as the name is 蜜汁叉烧鸡 and in Chinese, which means honey char siu chicken. Since honey is one of many ingredients in the marinade, the taste difference is insignificant when using different types of honey. Honey helps to improve the flavor and form a sticky glaze on the surface.
Brown sugar is better than white sugar as it has a stronger caramelized flavor. However, you can substitute it with white sugar as the impact is not significant.
This char siu chicken recipe also needs some finely minced garlic and Shaoxing wine. Five-spice powder is optional if you include either Hoisin or Chu Hou sauce in the recipe.
Light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and oyster sauce are the main components that provide the saltiness and savory flavor to the chicken. However, some cooks prefer to use them more instead of adding salt, providing more flavor to the chicken.
A simplified char siu marinade only consists of these ingredients, but the flavor is elevated to the next level after adding the following ingredients.
The specialty ingredients
Fermented bean curds (lam yu/南乳) are a unique ingredient. You might already be familiar with this item if you have been cooking traditional Chinese food before, as it is also the key ingredient for preparing braised pork belly with taro (南乳扣肉) and Buddha’s delights. It looks like small cubes of cheese in a savory brine, with a bright red color. This specialty item has an intense savory flavor that no other food ingredients are close to. Besides its exceptional taste, it helps to produce the signature red color of char siu.
Red yeast rice is the result of rice fermented with a type of yeast (Monascus purpureus). It has a bright red color mainly used as the natural coloring in Chinese cuisine, such as Peking duck and other barbecue meats. Besides that, It has medicinal value and has naturally contained lovastatin, an anti-cholesterol component that reduces cholesterol. However, you may not need it if you are using the red fermented beancurd, which will provide the red color you need. If you want to use red yeast rice, break up the rice with the mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and add it to the marinade. Lastly, you may consider adding some red food coloring to improve the color, which I do not recommend for home cooking.
Hoisin sauce has a complex flavor that mainly derives from its main component, fermented soybean paste. It also contains sesame paste, chili pepper, garlic, and other spices. The name Hoisin 海鲜 means seafood in Chinese, but there is no seafood, nor is it only used for cooking seafood. Instead, it is the primary seasoning for a variety of meat dishes.
Chu Hou sauce/paste is a Cantonese specialty sauce consisting of soybean, sesame oil, and garlic. A Chinese chef invented it over two hundred years ago for his restaurant in Foshan, Guangdong. The owner, Mr. Leong, made this concoction in which the formula passes down through generations. Its flavor is similar to Hoisin sauce and can be substituted with Hoisin sauce if unavailable.
- The flavor of Hoisin and Chu Hou sauce is quite strong. However, the taste will become more like the sauce for Chinese roast duck if you use too much. It does not mean that it is not tasty, just that it will deviate from the authentic flavor of char siu sauce.
- If you omit Hoisin and Chu Hou sauce, I suggest adding more light soy sauce to increase the saltiness. You also need to add some five-spice powder.
2. Marinade the chicken overnight
Since chicken meat is leaner than pork, chicken tends to be dryer and less juicy, especially if you use chicken breasts. Therefore, I choose to debone chicken thigh with the skin on in this recipe as thigh meat is more forgiving even if you overcook slightly. I leave the skin on as skinless chicken thighs will dry out quickly during roasting. Furthermore, there is more fat for thigh meat than breast, which makes it juicier.
The marinade takes time to penetrate the meat and will give the best result after marinating overnight. However, from my experience, there is quite a difference between marinating for 1-2 hours and overnight. Therefore, it is worth marinating it in advance. I keep it in a plastic wrap and sometimes store it in an airtight ziplock bag.
3. Prepare the baking pan and tray
You need to line the baking pan with either aluminum foil or baking paper before roasting the chicken in the oven. The dripping from the chicken is so thick that it will make it very difficult to clean the baking pan.
4. Roast the chicken
After marinating the chicken overnight, remove them from the refrigerator and return to room temperature before roasting. This step can avoid the inside of the chicken (especially the thick part of the meat) not being fully cooked when the exterior has already turned golden.
Here are the steps:
- Place the chicken thigh meat on the oven rack, brush with some vegetable oil and roast it at 210°C/410°F for twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix one larger tablespoon of maltose either with the microwave or in a pot, then add one part with an equal part of hot water to dilute it to become a sticky mixture. Bring it to boil over low heat to reduce it to about two-thirds of its original volume. Set aside.
- After twenty minutes, remove the chicken, then baste the flap of meat with the sticky maltose mixture on both sides.
- Return the chicken thigh to the oven and continue to roast at the same temperature. Please pay attention since maltose caramelizes quickly, which means the color of the chicken will change quickly. The endpoint is when the internal temperature reaches (74°C/ °165F) with charred marks and clear juices flowing. You can use a kitchen thermometer to check if you are unsure.
- Remove the chicken and let it cool for five to ten minutes before slicing it into large pieces on the cutting board.
Note: You can barbeque the chicken on an open charcoal fire, or cook the chicken on a gas grill. The charcoal grill chicken yields a better result, but I use the oven since I live in an apartment.
5. How to make char siu sauce
The chicken tastes even better if you drizzle some char siu sauce on it before serving. The leftover marinade can double up as the sauce. First, heat the leftover marinade until it starts to boil. Then, use it as the dipping sauce, or drizzle on the chicken, or stir-fried other meat dishes. If you do not have enough excess marinade, make some extra sauce according to the same recipe as the marinade.
Lastly, if you get lazy, there is Char Siu sauce sold in the grocery store. Lee Kum Kee is one of the famous brands.
Ingredients A (chicken and marinade)
- 500g chicken (two debone chicken thighs)
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1.5 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 cube red fermented beancurd, plus a tbsp of the brine
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp chu hou sauce
Ingredients B (Others)
- 2 tbsp maltose
- 2 tbsp water (to mix with the maltose)
- Vegetable oil to roast the chicken
- Combine all the ingredients in A to become a thick marinade
- Rub the into the chicken meat, then let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
- When it returns to room temperature, apply some oil to the chicken.
- Preheat the oven to 210°C/410°F.
- Line the baking tray with aluminum foil or baking paper.
- Place the chicken on the oven rack, and roast it for twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the maltose and water, then bring it to a boil to thicken it slightly.
- Strain the leftover marinade, then bring it to a boil. Use this as the char siu sauce.
- After twenty minutes, remove the chicken from the oven. Baste the chicken with the maltose mixture on both sides.
- Continue roasting at the same temperature for ten minutes or until charred marks appear.
- Remove the chicken from the oven. Let it rest for ten minutes, then cut it into large pieces and serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 859Total Fat: 45gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 30gCholesterol: 275mgSodium: 1665mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 0gSugar: 35gProtein: 72g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 8/17/2021