Char Siu Chicken: A Must-Try Dish for Asian Food Enthusiasts

If you’re searching for a dish that will tantalise your taste buds and transport you to the vibrant streets of Asia, look no further than Char Siu Chicken.

This mouthwatering delicacy is a must-try for anyone who appreciates the rich flavours and unique culinary traditions of the East. Char Siu Chicken, also known as Chinese BBQ Chicken, is a dish that showcases the perfect blend of sweet and savoury, with succulent pieces of chicken marinated in a delectable sauce and then grilled to perfection.

The result is a dish that is bursting with flavour, tender and juicy on the inside, while boasting a caramelised and slightly charred exterior. From its origins in Cantonese cuisine to its widespread popularity across the globe, Char Siu Chicken has become an absolute staple in Chinese cuisine and around the world.

Char Siu Chicken with Rice
Char Siu Chicken Served with White Rice

The Origins of Char Siu Chicken

Char Siu Chicken (叉燒; pinyin: chāshāo; Cantonese Yale: chāsīu) is thought to have originated in Guangdong, China, sometime during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The dish is believed to have been created by Cantonese immigrants who were looking for a way to preserve pork. In more recent times the pork has been replaced by chicken in some parts of the world, partly due to availability and partly due to the fact that chicken is healthier.

The reddish-pink colour of char siu comes from the use of red yeast rice, which is a type of fungus that is used to ferment foods. The red yeast rice gives char siu its characteristic flavour and color.

The term “Char Siu” translates to “fork roast” in Cantonese, referring to the traditional method of skewering the meat with long forks and roasting it over an open fire.

What Sets Char Siu Chicken Apart?

What sets Char Siu Chicken apart from other grilled chicken dishes is its distinctive marinade.

The marinade typically consists of a combination of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, Chinese five-spice powder, garlic, and often red fermented bean curd. This blend of ingredients creates a flavour profile that is both sweet and savoury, with a hint of smokiness from the grilling process. The marinade not only infuses the chicken with delicious flavors but also helps to tenderise the meat, resulting in juicy and succulent bites.

The secret to achieving the perfect Char Siu Chicken lies in the balance of flavours. The sweetness from the honey and hoisin sauce should be countered by the saltiness of the soy sauce, while the spices and garlic add depth and complexity. The marinade should cling to the chicken, forming a delicious caramelised glaze when grilled, giving the dish its signature charred appearance.

Ingredients and Preparation of Char Siu Chicken

To make Char Siu Chicken at home, you’ll need boneless chicken thighs, as they are more flavourful and tender than chicken breasts. The marinade ingredients include soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, Chinese five-spice powder, minced garlic, and optional red fermented bean curd for added complexity.

To prepare the marinade, simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Then, add the chicken thighs to the marinade, ensuring they are fully coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least two hours, or ideally overnight, to allow the flavors to infuse.

When it’s time to cook, preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess sauce drip off. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 8-10 minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked through and has a nicely charred exterior. Remember to baste the chicken with the remaining marinade during grilling to enhance the flavors and keep it moist.

Variations of Char Siu Chicken

While the classic Char Siu Chicken recipe is delicious as is, there are several variations you can explore to add your own twist. One popular variation is adding a touch of spice by incorporating chilli flakes or Sriracha sauce into the marinade. This creates a spicy and tangy version of Char Siu Chicken that packs an extra punch.

Health Benefits of Char Siu Chicken

Char Siu Chicken not only satisfies the taste buds but also offers some health benefits. Chicken, as a lean source of protein, provides essential amino acids that support muscle growth and repair. Additionally, the marinade ingredients, such as garlic and honey, contain antioxidants that can help boost the immune system and promote overall well-being.

Choosing boneless, skinless chicken thighs further reduces the fat content compared to chicken with skin. However, it’s important to moderate your portion size and balance your meal with a variety of vegetables and wholegrains to create a well-rounded and nutritious meal.

Serving Suggestions and Accompaniments

Char Siu Chicken pairs well with various side dishes and accompaniments, enhancing the overall dining experience. One classic combination is serving Char Siu Chicken with steamed jasmine rice, which allows you to savor the flavours of the marinade without overwhelming your palate. Fragrant jasmine rice complements the savoury chicken, creating a harmonious balance of tastes.

If you’re looking for a lighter option, you can serve Char Siu Chicken on a bed of mixed greens or alongside stir-fried vegetables. The freshness and crunchiness of the vegetables provide a refreshing contrast to the richness of the chicken, resulting in a well-balanced and satisfying meal.

To elevate the experience, consider adding condiments such as sesame seeds, chili oil, soy sauce, or sliced scallions for an extra kick of flavour. These condiments can be drizzled over the chicken or used as dipping sauces, allowing you to customise the taste.

Cooking Tips for Making Char Siu Chicken at Home

Here are some useful cooking tips for homemade Char Siu Chicken :

1. Marinate the chicken for at least two hours, or ideally overnight, to allow the flavours to fully develop.

2. Baste the chicken with the remaining marinade during grilling (or baking) to enhance the flavours and keep it moist.

3. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat to achieve that perfect charred exterior.

4. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute, resulting in a more tender and flavorful bite.

By following these tips, you should be able to create Char Siu Chicken that rivals the flavours of your favourite Chinese restaurant.

Char Siu Chicken Recipe (Serves 4)

Char Siu Marinade Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5 Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon of dark Soy Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese Rice Wine
  • 2 teaspoons of salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of hot water 
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 4-5 cloves of finely chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 star anise
  • 3cm piece of fresh ginger peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of honey
  • Optional – 1 tbsp fermented red bean paste (or red food colouring)

Bring together the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Place 2 large chicken breasts (or 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs) in a ziplock bag or dish, add the marinade and leave for 2-24 hours – the longer the better for enhanced flavour.

Grilling Method

  • Take chicken marinade out of the fridge about 30 minutes before grilling
  • Set up a charcoal or gas BBQ for medium-high heat
  • Remove chicken pieces from the marinade and reserve leftover marinade
  • Bring the remaining marinade to a boil in a pan on the hob then leave on a simmer while you grill the chicken
  • Set the chicken pieces directly on the hot grills
  • Cook the chicken on the BBQ grills for around 6-8 minutes a side (chicken thighs take a little less time than chicken breasts – 4-6 minutes a side)
  • Brush the chicken with the reserved marinade and cook for a further 1-2 minutes a side until a delicious sticky crust forms
  • Slice & serve with rice

Whatever method you use make sure that the internal temperature of the chicken is 165F or 74C – use a meat thermometer to check.

Oven Baked Method

  • Take the chicken marinade out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you cook it
  • Preheat oven to 190C or 375F
  • Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and place on a wire rack
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes
  • Meanwhile put the remaining marinade in a pan on the hob bring it to a boil in a pan on the then leave on a low heat to simmer
  • After 30 minutes remove the chicken from the oven and brush on the chicken on both sides liberally with the marinade
  • Let the chicken bake for another 10 minutes or so until a sticky glazed crust forms
  • Slice & Serve with rice

Conclusion: Why Char Siu Chicken is a Must-Try Dish for Asian Food Enthusiasts

In conclusion, Char Siu Chicken is a must-try dish for Asian food enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates the unique flavours of Cantonese food. From its origins in Cantonese cuisine to its widespread popularity across the globe, Char Siu Chicken has become a beloved staple in Asian cuisine that is a wonderful balance of sweet, savoury, spicy and tangy notes.

If you enjoyed this article or tried out this recipe at home feel free to share it on Social Media or leave a comment below.

This Youtube video helps you to see and reproduce the whole process.

If you would to take things up a notch try smoking Char Siu pork in the smoker to add lots of smoky levels and nuances. You can smoke Char Siu chicken also but just remember it won’t take as long as the more traditional pork dish.

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