The ultimate comfort food is the food you ate as a kid. In our family, my Dad was the cook. The last 30 minutes of his workday found him running around Chinatown for dinner groceries. He haggled with the fishmonger for the freshest catch of the day or gossiped with the store clerks as he picked through piles of fresh snap peas. My dad’s favorites (ok mine) included steamed fish with soy, ginger and onions, stir fry beef with pickled vegetables or scrambled eggs with bbq pork, onions and peas. The bbq pork or “char siu” was purchased from one of the many delis in Chinatown.
Dad cooked for fun, but for my Grandfather it was his livelihood. He worked as a chef at the Original Joe’s on Broadway and also at the legendary Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel. To this day I have no idea what he cooked at these iconic San Francisco restaurants. Every meal he made for me and my brother was rooted in Chinese comfort food. We ate dinner with him a couple of times a week at 3:30pm right before he went off to work. In his tiny room above Jackson Cafe in Chinatown he would spread the China Daily on the table, pull out chopsticks, rice bowls and a glass for his shot of whiskey (improved digestion so he said). Cooking was done in a communal kitchen, the finished dishes carefully transported back to his room where we sat waiting impatiently, stomachs growling and legs swinging in anticipation. As we ate he regaled us with stories from his childhood. We feasted on steamed pompano with black bean, stir fried greens with garlic and onions or pork with fermented shrimp paste, my comfort food.
These days I make my own barbecue pork. The marinade is adapted from a cookbook I found in Chinatown, Authentic Chinese Cooking by Sharon Hoy Wong . Long out of print, it is my go to cookbook for the down home food of my childhood. Cha siu can be served as an appetizer, stir fried with greens, eggs, or with noodles or used as a filling in buns. It’s sweet and salty flavor makes it a favorite in our house. The marinade is also delicious on grilled baby back ribs.
- 2-3 pound piece of pork shoulder cut into strips approximately 1.5 - 2" thick, 3" wide, 6-7" long
- or 2 slabs of baby ribs with membrane removed
- 1-tsp. Salt, 2 T sugar mixed together rub this on ribs or boneless pork shoulder and let sit for 15 minutes while making marinade.
- 3 T hoisin
- 2 T catsup
- 1 T honey
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1 T sherry
- 1 T oyster sauce or black bean with garlic paste
- 1/8 t 5 spice powder
- 1-2 T orange or apple juice
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed
- 2 slices ginger (1/4 inch thick each slice)
- Combine marinade ingredients and coat meat. Let marinade for 2-4 hours minimum or overnight in the fridge.
- Char Siu
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a wire rack over a baking pan. Place strips of pork on the rack and place in oven. Add 1/2 cup hot water to pan, filling to approximately 1 inch depth.
- Roast for 45-50 minutes. Turn pork over midway through.
- With about 10 minutes to go, increase temperature to 400 degrees, drizzle pork with honey and roast an additional 10 minutes to glaze the pork or pork can be transferred to a grill for the last 10 minutes.
- Place ribs on grill (underside of ribs faced down) and cook over indirect heat, (medium heat 350-400 degrees) in a covered grill for 15-20 minutes. Flip ribs over, brush with additional marinade and grill additional 15 minutes.
- To finish ribs, move ribs over direct heat and continue cooking ribs uncovered. Baste ribs and flip every couple of minutes to avoid burning ribs but you do want a little bit of char for flavor and texture. Grill over medium heat additional 10 minutes. This is for baby back ribs, times will be longer for larger ribs.