I amazed myself by making bak kwa at home over the weekend. Bak kwa (or rougan 肉干) is a kind of Chinese dried pork, rather like jerky. It has a sweet and salty flavour and is a very popular snack item in Singapore and Malaysia during Chinese new year. I did try looking for somewhere that sell bak kwa starting from when we first arrived in Vancouver. While Chinese food is plentiful here, it is much easier to find Taiwanese, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese food items compared to those that are specifically Southeast Asian-Chinese. We did find one store (at the ground floor market area of Aberdeen Centre in Richmond), but the bak kwa just did not taste good – not in taste and not in texture.
Then I got this recipe from a Singaporean friend, which looked surprisingly simple. I gave it a shot over the weekend and was thoroughly impressed with how closely the recipe replicated the taste of Singapore store-bought bak kwa. It looks good, has the right texture and good flavour. The seasoning is kind of strong for our taste though, so I have tweaked the proportions somewhat. As there are no preservatives in this (other than the natural preserving functions of soy sauce, sugar, salt etc.), this will need to be kept in a sealed container in the fridge and reheated prior to consumption. This is also why I don’t recommend making a huge batch at one time, unless you are giving them away to friends or forsee them being eaten up very quickly (which is entirely possible!). If so, just double or increase the recipe portions accordingly. Give the recipe a go and then feel free to adjust the seasoning depending on how sweet or salty you like it.
Slices of bak kwa are traditionally cooked over a charcoal grill. At home, you can either use a toaster oven or place them under a medium grill/broiler. Just make sure to watch them closely so that they do not become charred.
I can’t believe I made my own bak kwa!
500g minced pork
100g or 1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1/4 tsp five-spice powder
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
A few drops of red food colouring
1. Mix all the ingredients except for the pork in a large bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add the minced pork and marinate for at least 2 hours (or overnight if you wish).
2. Preheat the oven to 100C/210F. Grease two baking trays.
3. Spread the marinated minced pork thinly onto the baking trays, approximately 0.5cm or thinner. I use the back of two spoons to do this or you can also use your fingers.
4. Place the baking trays in the oven, either on the same shelf if your oven is big enough or on two different levels. Dry the mixture for 50-60 minutes with the oven door ajar. Switch the baking trays halfway through if they are on different levels.
5. When done, the mixture will be semi-dry (some liquid from the marinade may appear around the pork) and the pork will shrink slightly away from the edges of the baking trays. Remove carefully from the trays and cut into smaller squares or rectangles as you wish (I used scissors). Place in a sealed container and store in the fridge until required.
6. Cook the bak kwa in a toaster oven or under a medium grill/broiler, about 3-4 minutes on each side. It should sizzle and caramelise nicely; make sure the edges do not become charred.
Tip: If you wish, you can grill the bak kwa before storing in the fridge. Then they only have to be reheated very briefly (either in a toaster oven or grill/broiler) before eating.