Look at my pork booty! My beautiful babies! Bak Kwa
They look a little weird but these gorgeous meaty salty-sweet slabs, aka Bak Kwa or Long Yok is hands down, my favourite snack of all time. Every time I go back to Kuala Lumpur, I go nuts and buy loads of the stuff from my favourite store along Jalan Alor. In Sydney, Friday night Chinatown Markets are never the same unless I pop into my fave greasy stall and buy a sheet of Chinese ‘honey pork’ as a pre-dinner snack.
My earliest memory of it was when I lived in Perth. I remember greedily stuffing a buttered hot dog bun with slices of bak kwa and tucking in while watching the Australian Open tennis or Hopman Cup. Then give or take, a couple of days later, I was always severely punished for stealing too many slices and leaving barely any for the rest of the family (hey you snooze, you lose ya’ll!).
Mother Superior was brilliant at making it and this was adapted from her long standing family recipe (adapted as in, she never gave me the exact measurements for the ingredients!). I was always her faithful kitchenhand because the pay off at the end was worth it. Traditionally the pork was dried out the natural (and tediously long) way; outside under the hot sun, which in summer, was a hellish job if you were on ‘insect duty’. I had to risk heatstroke under the brutal Perth sun just to defend the precious porky slabs against menacing flies with my fly swatter. It’s a brutal job but a rite of passage in our Malaysian family. Even The Captain has been officially inducted into the Bak Kwa Fly Swatter Hall of Fame.
The first time I made it by myself was about 8 months ago when I threw a spring bbq for my nearest and dearest pals. I decided to whip up some bak kwa with leftover pork mince the night before just for giggles but sadly, Mother Superior was off cruising the high seas so I was well on my own. Coming up with the marinade through flashbacks (and a round of hypnosis) took a while and I tweaked it for gawd knows how long (add a little and taste. Add a little more and taste again aaargh). Thankfully it went down well but I knew I wanted to play with the recipe a bit. You should’ve seen one unfortunate batch where I accidentally used violet food colouring instead of red. Woohoo trippy unappetising pork jerky!
This stuff is usually expensive to buy because apparently it takes a lot of work but I’m here to tell you that it’s way easier than you think. Forget the archaic solar-assisted drying techniques! Do it in no time at all and minus the sunburn with an oven. Roll out the mince into sheets in a few seconds with clingwrap or baking paper and a rolling pin. Then just bake, cut and grill. And voila! You’ll soon be richly rewarded with sticky slabs of juicy grilled pork ‘jerky’ to gorge at your heart’s content. Best of all because you made it, you can have as much as you want and no one can scold you for it hah!
- 2kg pork mince (not 100% lean. Fattier mince gives more tender, juicy bak kwa. You could use half lean, half normal if that’s an issue for you)
- 300-350g caster sugar (I like mine on the sweeter side but feel free to adjust)
- 4 tsps Chinese five spice powder
- 90ml fish sauce
- 60ml light soya sauce (feel free to adjust)
- 60ml Shaoxing wine (Shao Tsing / Chinese rice wine)
- A few drops of sesame oil
- Red food colouring (I used powder but liquid or paste is also fine)
- 1.5 Tbl kecap manis / dark soy sauce (optional if not using colouring)
- Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. With a wooden spoon, start mixing it vigorously until all ingredients are completely mixed and the mince is ‘gluey’.
- Add your red food colouring, a little bit at a time and mix until the colour is uniform (and to your desired scarlet shade). Cover with clingwrap and marinate overnight in the fridge (longer marination = more intense flavour).
- Preheat oven to 100°C. Wash and dry your baking or cookie sheets (anything flat and without an edge lip is fine). If you don’t have any, simply turn over your baking trays to use the flat bottom (after washing it of course!).
- Add a mound of pork mince onto the tray then spread and press down to form a thin sheet over the surface of the tray to a thickness of 3-5mm. Try to keep the edges as straight as you can so you can cut into neat squares.
- You can either use wet hands to manually press it or you could lay a sheet of clingwrap or baking paper over it and use a rolling pin to roll it out. I like to roll mine out to a thickness of around 2.5-3mm because I like a more meaty chewy texture. If you prefer more of a dryer jerky texture after it’s grilled, roll it out thinner.
- Place one tray in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the pork has dried out (you might need up to 30 minutes if your pork sheet is thicker). The pork is ready when the entire top surface of the sheet is dry to the touch, most of the liquid has evaporated and is holding together without breaking (though it might be a little moist underneath the sheet from the oil or marinade but that’s fine). Continue pressing and drying out the remainder of pork with the rest of your trays.
- Use kitchen scissors to cut the dried pork sheet out into squares (whatever size you prefer).
- Heat up your charcoal bbq, grill or broiler and grill each square until darkened and caramelised. It’s totally ok to have the tiniest hint of charring but keep your eyes on them because they burn quickly and easily.
- Store grilled bak kwa in an airtight container in the fridge with sheets of greaseproof baking paper between each slice of pork (bear in mind that the flavour will intensify the next day). Reheat pork in grill or microwave. Best eaten within a few days.
- You can also store and freeze the bak kwa after you have dried it out in the oven. Once cooled, place sheets of greaseproof baking paper between each slice of pork. Wrap very well with clingwrap and place in a container to freeze. When ready to use, defrost in refrigerator and grill as normal. The pork can also be wrapped in foil and briefly stored in the fridge for a couple of days, until you’re ready to cook.