Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

Homemade Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

When I first came to the U.S. as a college student, one of the foods I missed most from Singapore was bak kwa. It’s kind of like jerky, but made with pork and with Chinese flavors.  

Beef jerky didn’t cut it—not even teriyaki-flavored—and even though salmon jerky was delicious, it wasn’t the same.

You see, bak kwa (also called “rou gan” or “dried meat”) wasn’t just a yummy-tasting snack. Bak kwa reminded me of Chinese New Year in Singapore.

store selling bak kwa Chinese pork jerkyIn this Hong Kong shop, bak kwa is sold in many different flavors. Photo credit: *嘟嘟嘟* at Flickr 

My family celebrates Chinese New Year on a small scale, mostly because as ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, my parents never learned Chinese customs and traditions. However, we would usually visit Singapore’s Chinatown at least once or twice during the festival to “absorb the atmosphere.”

During the month-long celebrations, Chinatown was gaily decorated with red banners, firecrackers, and lanterns; makeshift markets lined the alleyways; and shops bustled with shoppers bargain-hunting for new clothes and sourcing the freshest and finest ingredients the reunion dinner on new year’s eve.

I wanted only one thing—bak kwa.

I craved them so much because at the time, bak kwa was only available during Chinese New Year, and my mom didn’t let me eat too much—too fatty, she said! But now they’re sold year-round, at least in Singapore.

I still think of bak kwa, especially at Chinese New Year. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find it at any of the Asian markets I’ve frequented in the U.S. and I refuse to pay the ridiculous online prices.

Well, one day, my friend Ivy gave me a recipe for Chinese beef jerky. This was maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Recently, I finally made it using pork instead of beef. I tweaked the recipe a little and the result was so good! I was transported back to 1980’s Chinatown, and I was a little girl again tearing off pieces of bak kwa, and sucking my fingers to get all that sticky goodness off.  

Happy Year of the Dog!   

~~~

Homemade Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

bak kwa Chinese pork jerky

Ingredients:

*1 pound ground pork (20% fat is ideal)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (I use Red Boat brand, if using another, add a little more)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
*Light corn syrup or honey

Directions:

  1. Mix together the pork, fish sauce, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, sugar and 5-spice powder in a medium mixing bowl. When thoroughly mixed and sticky, marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge. (You may want to microwave a small piece to taste at this point.)
  2. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  3. Line a 12×16″ baking sheet or jelly roll pan with foil. Spread the meat out evenly on the foil using an oiled spatula until it’s about 1/8-inch thick. You can also use a gloved hand or cover with plastic wrap and roll flat with a rolling pin.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes. Raise the temperature to 400 F.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes. Change to the highest broil setting (my oven’s is 550F).
  6. Brush the bak kwa with corn syrup on both sides.
  7. Leaving the rack in the middle, broil for about 1-1/2 minutes on each side. Don’t walk away because the meat will burn quickly if left unattended.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into 3×3” squares or similar sized rectangles.

Notes:

A high fat content ensures the meat doesn’t dry out.

In Chinese cooking, maltose syrup is a common sweetener used to make popular dishes like barbecue pork and Peking duck. It’s a byproduct of fermenting germinated grains such as barley, rice and millet. Corn syrup, processed from corn, is a close substitute.

Homemade Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)
Serves 6
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
35 min
Total Time
1 hr 40 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
35 min
Total Time
1 hr 40 min
Ingredients
  1. *1 pound ground pork (20% fat is ideal)
  2. 2 tablespoons fish sauce (I use Red Boat brand, if using another, add a little more)
  3. 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  4. 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
  5. ½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
  6. ½ cup sugar
  7. 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
  8. *Light corn syrup or honey
Instructions
  1. Mix together the pork, fish sauce, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, sugar and 5-spice powder in a medium mixing bowl. When thoroughly mixed and sticky, marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge. (You may want to microwave a small piece to taste at this point.)
  2. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  3. Line a 12x16" baking sheet or jelly roll pan with foil. Spread the meat out evenly on the foil using an oiled spatula until it’s about 1/8-inch thick. You can also use a gloved hand or cover with plastic wrap and roll flat with a rolling pin.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes. Raise the temperature to 400 F.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes. Change to the highest broil setting (my oven's is 550F).
  6. Brush the bak kwa with corn syrup on both sides.
  7. Leaving the rack in the middle, broil for about 1-1/2 minutes on each side. Don’t walk away because the meat will burn quickly if left unattended.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into 3x3” squares or similar sized rectangles.
Notes
  1. A high fat content ensures the meat doesn’t dry out.
  2. In Chinese cooking, maltose syrup is a common sweetener used to make popular dishes like barbecue pork and Peking duck. It's a byproduct of fermenting germinated grains such as barley, rice and millet. Corn syrup, processed from corn, is a close substitute.
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