President Obama was hosted to Vietnamese Bun Cha Noodles by Anthony Bourdain in May 2016, and so I had to find out what is Bun Cha (pronounced “boon keat”).
I found this video on YouTube (you can hear the pronunciation at about the 10 sec mark).
There were many other recipes which you can Google, but I’m not sure the flavours would translate to the Singaporean palate.
But I did like the caramel “marinade” featured in the video. I could use that. Another recipe replaced the caramel marinade with Kecap Manis, which reminded me that Kecap Manis is mostly caramel. I could save the work of making caramel.
It seems like the key flavours of the barbequed pork slices is caramel and shallots.
And it is barbequed. Like Char Siew.
I think I like char siew. I do not dislike it. But my “problem” with char siew is that there is no distinctive or signature flavour of char siew. Well, maybe sweet is the distinct flavour.
There is a signature colour – red. Which can be simply achieved with food dye. (It is properly achieved with red fermented beans… which may still be red because of colouring.)
So if char siew is basically sweet, red, barbequed meat, how is it different from bak kwa?
And if both char siew and bak kwa is red, sweet barbequed meat, bak kwa wins by being more flavourful.
So, it seems to undiscerning me, that bun cha may simply be a variation of char siew.
Or I could be over-generalising. They are similar in that both are barbequed with a sweet marinade.
Anyway, recently (late 2016, early 2017), I was at a Vietnamese restaurant and was excited to see “Bun Cha” on the menu. Then I realised it was made with grilled beef, because that restaurant was “halal” certified.
So I didn’t order it.
Anyway, I have been experimenting with marinades to get a sweetish barbecue marinade that is close to char siew marinade. And I think the closest approximation for me, (or one I like) is just hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and Hua Tiao chew (Chinese Wine). If you don’t have hoisin sauce, you can approximate it with honey, five spice powder, black bean sauce, and vinegar. Add your favourite heat (cayenne, chilli, sriracha) if you like.
I’ve tried including the fermented red bean curd, but it does not seem to contribute to the flavour much. Again, could just be my undiscerning palate. So I’ve decided to do away with it.
Char siew should be sufficiently fatty, and tender. So the best cuts of pork is either the “wu hua rou”, or the “bu jian tian” cuts of pork. Personally, I like the “bu jian tian” cut.
This cut, being very fatty, is already very tender, so for my my Bun Cha-inspired dish, I would marinate this in a very sweet marinade – hoi sin sauce, hua tiao chew, and sesame oil for fragrance. And maybe soya sauce for savouriness. How long? At least an hour. Overnight is my preferred marination time for everything (what this means is that I marinate the meat after Z is asleep, and then leave the meat in the fridge until the next day when i have time to cook it.)
We could get straight to grilling/barbequing the meat, but with tougher cuts (like ribs) I like to wrap the meat in foil with the marinade, and slow roast (150 C) for a few hours (2 – 3). I hope this allows the marinade to be absorbed by the meat, but the slow roasting also tenderises the meat. At 3 hours, the meat comes clean off the rib. At 4 hours, it is falling off the bone. But “bu jian tian” is not ribs and is already quite tender. So this slow roasting may not be necessary, unless you like your pork really tender.
Which I do.
Slow roasting will also render out some fat and collagen (I think).
So I slow roasted the pork for about 3 hours at 120 C. I had spiral-cut the roll of meat (and marinated it with hoisin, salt, hua tiao chew, and a dash of sesame oil. There may be others – cayenne I think. Anyway, I was going for sweet and tender. After three hours, I let it cool and refrigerated it (see above).
The next day, I unrolled the meat, cut it into strips, basted it with more hoisin and hua tiao, and broiled it for about 20-30 minutes, turning it at the halfway mark.
There was a lot of collagen and fat, which I boiled in a big pot of water for the noodle broth, and then added the kway teow (similar to Vietnamese pho, but wider. I thought it was a little thick, (in addition to being wide) and not as delicate.
Bringing it all together, the kway teow, the broth (needed salt/soya sauce), fish cake, and the pork.
If this were bun cha, I should have the dip, but it’s not to a Singaporean’s taste, and I doubt we would appreciate it for the amount of work. So I skipped that.
The pork was very good.
The noodles, not remarkable. It wasn’t bad, but truly nothing to remark on.
I think I need to do a better broth.
BBQ-ed pork was not exactly char siu, but it was good.