My two sons were very excited at the prospect of their aunt’s and grandma’s visit last summer. They were secretly wishing, or rather, hoping, that their aunt (my sister) would be bringing along in their trip the most incredibly dreamy snack in the world – for them, at least – ie.,the savoury-sweet dried meat slices aka bak kwa.
Bak kwa is quite similar to jerky but is not an equivalent definition. While the making of jerky uses lean meat (where most of the fat must be trimmed off) and then are cut into thin strips and dried with some salt to prevent spoilage, bak kwa is made with meat preservation, ie sweet and savoury marinades and requires at least 10% of fat, and then are dried by cooking at low temperature before cutting into squares and barbecuing over glowing fire.
By the way, my personal preference is the sliced bak kwa, however, minced meat bak kwa can be made anytime in the comfort of one’s kitchen. I was amazed at how easy it was to make this most sought-after Chinese New Year snack. The most renowned bak kwa is the Singaporean brand, Bee Cheng Hiang..
The barbecue aroma of the Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa will linger in the palate from the first bite. Oh darn! It’s so addictive!
My sister hand-carried not one, but five packets of the savoury sweet meats – sliced pork, minced pork, chicken, turkey floss and crispy pork floss. My boys and I were over the moon. But… but … Wow! The price tags! I goggled at the price labels in disbelief. They cost a fortune! Thanks, sis, for the most incredibly scrumptious gifts.
6 months down the road, I wanted to relive that moment. What better time to buck up with Chinese New Year round the corner.
I went in search for Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa recipe on the Internet. Zilch! Then again, most bloggers seemed to be using almost identical array of ingredients. THE most important point to consider in making bak kwa is how much of each ingredient is used to create a well-balanced flavour and texture. That was not easy the first or second time round. I’m speaking by experience here.
I have made the snack twice recently. The first time was completely impromptu as I had 300g of very lean calf mince in the fridge, which was meant for making bolognese sauce. Lean or not, I just had to make those bak kwa. I referred to the recipe from an online newsletter Mothership.sg. A contributor posted Homemade bak kwa from scratch . It’s not the nicest looking bak kwa but it’s more the technique of execution I was looking for. The idea of leaving the oven door ajar just to dry the meat and not burn or over-cook it was a clever idea, I thought. I bookmarked the recipe and this was the result!
I followed the recipe to a tee by mathematically apportioning the measurement based on the 300g of minced meat.
I had quite positive comments from the guys. “Quite” because it was not perfect yet. Well, 300g was definitely not a lot of meat, hence, they were immediately gone from the moment the meat came out of the oven. There were two drawbacks, firstly the meat was TOO lean, and secondly, it was a wee bit salty to our liking. Everything else was almost perfect.
Once Bitten Twice Shy
I vowed to make a bigger batch with more fatty minced. I chose a mixture of pork and calf/ beef.
The original recipe used 1 kg, however I bought a bit more and increased the sweeter marinades (honey and kecap manis) by a tablespoon each.
Ingredients inspired from Mothership.sg with some modifications :
1.374 kg mix minced pork-beef
100g cassonade brown sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp mushroom oyster sauce (vegetarian)
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 Tbsp ABC kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1/2 tsp 5- spice powder
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp Borneo Wild runny honey ( which I got from one of my sisters)
(Note I did not add salt while increasing the measurements of the sweeter marinades)
Additional ingredients: water and honey for brushing . I lost count on the measurements because I used quite a lot in several rounds, brushing every single slice, both sides, on the hot grill.
1. Add all the ingredients and mix in well with the minced meat. I used a pair of chopsticks to stir until the mixture reaches a gooey consistency.
2. Refrigerate the meat mixture overnight, covered with a clingfilm. When out of the fridge the next day, you will notice the colour of the mixture becomes more deep and intense. That means the meat mixture is cured. The Belgians would call this filet américain or a Martino . LOL!
3. Spread the cured meat on a rectangular baking tray lined with a baking sheet. Cover the meat with a cling wrap and flatten it with a rolling pin, or you may use the back of a spoon.
4. Once the meat is flattened equally and thinly, transfer the baking tray to a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees Celcius. Leave the oven door ajar. All you need is to dry out the meat and not cook it thoroughly. The last thing you want is a burnt bak kwa. It takes about 15 minutes, depending on the type of your oven. At this stage, the juices from the meat will ooze. Remove the juice. I then cut the meat into desired squares and leave the meat to cool on a cooling rack.
5. At this stage, I used my own method to wrap up the grand finale. I let my oven to R.I.P for the rest of the day while I unwrapped my secret weapon.
By the way, this was a gift I chose as my Year End gift from work. We were each given a unique password to order our Year End gift online. There were a few items to choose from : For Her, For Him, For Family or For Charity. I had my 2 sons to help me choose the gift and we finally agreed on the Tristar grill-teppanyaki-hot plate. 😀
Glad that the gift came in handy ! 😉
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
As quoted from the homepage of Bee Cheng Hiang “The bakkwa is then barbecued over a glowing fire until it spatters and caramelize the tender meat in the all right place. Hot grill combined with dripping meat juice releases a sweet barbecue aroma to the already succulent meat meld together to deliver the authentic Bee Cheng Hiang Bakkwa”
And enjoy ogling;-)
Visually, the bak kwa looks really authentic if kept the next day(s) in the fridge.
Like so …
The meat became tastier and that’s when you would want to make a conclusion, ” it’s just perfect ” or “it’s okay and there’s still room for improvement”. I daresay that all my recipes are tried and tested on my blog, as my priced critics are my other half and my 2 sons. Then again, one man’s meat is another man’s poison…
The verdict: Thumbs Up, BUT, it’s still salty !!!
Okay…. Third time lucky, then 😜
I know there are many bloggers submitting their own rendition of the bak kwa in the CNY blog- hop cooking challenge, well, let’s say I’ve got the bug, too, and this snack is just one of my favourites during this auspicious occasion. Having said that, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies/ Valentine’s Day (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House
Chinese New Year is just round the corner and I’m sure every Chinese family is busy “spring cleaning” the house. I just received a message from one of my sisters that she’s dead tired cleaning every nook and cranny of the house in Kuching. No worries, sis. With the newly cleaned house, let us all hope for a new year filled with lots of good health, wealth and eternal happiness.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
I also linking this post to Tasty Tuesdays with HonestMum Live