Bak Kwa: Beat the queue and DIY!
By Text by Stefanie Chao. Images by Esther Ng @ Makansutra - Tuesday, Feb 03, 2015
Everybody’s perennial favourites crowd the ever-adored snack table each New Year. Love letters, Kuih lapis, dozens of cookies to nibble on, pineapple tarts…at least three to four variations of the smoky pork jerky (bak kwa or 肉干), the list goes on! For the latter especially, the queues to purchase it start forming round the block, with buyers as patient as those who are queuing for the release of the latest smart gadget!
What if you were to start making your own to serve your guests this festive season then? The tantalizing smell of freshly grilled and own made bak kwa will surely wow, thrill and impress your buddies and family. The Makansutra test kitchen conducted a few experiments to define and refine the different types of meat, texture and recipes that work best for a DIY Bak Kwa.
First, the type of meat used has to be tender and flavorful. This brings不见天猪肉, otherwise known as “pork that never sees the sky”, into the picture. While this Confucius-sounding term may seem confusing, it simply refers to the parts of the pig that are never exposed to the sky. The best parts would be the area between the shoulder and even at the collar (use for “glass char siew, which will render a bak kwa tender and flavorful because of the combination of fat and flesh. Most of the fats are used during this twice-cooked bak kwa recipe, so one shouldn’t be too alarmed. We did two variations of using ready-minced meat and hand-chopped meat. The former yielded a product that was close to commercial bak kwa that aided the task of slicing, whereas the latter yielded a very rustic bak kwa that was chunky in texture which feels very home-made and comforting.
Next, the flavoring of the meat comes into question. While that sweet and salty bak kwa is delicious, it is also rather rich and cloying. So, inspired by the famous Kim Peng Hiang Pineapple bak kwa at Kembangan, the kitchen team decided to incorporate a fruity accent in the meat mixture to cut through the heaviness to which yielded satisfying results. Very finely cut dried orange peel (橙皮) can also be added into beef bak kwa as they complement each other beautifully. One can choose to purée the pineapple and stir it into the meat, or grate it coarsely and press it atop the meat mixture for citrusy hints to the meaty equation.
In conclusion, the Makansutra kitchen found out that the process of home-made bak kwa is not difficult where even novice cooks can handle it with ease. Just don’t agree to take on orders where you may you wind up spending the New Year camping by your grill instead of digging into delicious treats!
600g of 不见天猪肉（roughly minced at the butchers, OR cubed, then hand chopped till desired texture is reached)
25g maltose (麦芽糖）
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp puréed fresh pineapple OR 1/3 cup coarsely grated fresh pineapple
1 tsp thick dark soy sauce
1/3 tsp chinese five spice powder
1/3 tsp ground white pepper
Dash of powdered red food coloring (optional)
2 tbsp puréed fresh pineapple mixed with 2 tbsp maltose
1) Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 9×13 inch tray with waxed paper.
2) Place prepared meat in a deep bowl and stir in the sugar and maltose. The coarse grains of the sugar will help to break the proteins of the meat down, yielding a sticky texture after a good amount of mixing by hand, for 3-5 minutes. However, it is the actual “hand mixing” and the muscle power that will really help to tenderize the meat.
3) Add in all the other seasonings, mixing well each time till fully incorporated. If using puréed pineapple, stir it in. If opting for the coarsely grated pineapple, leave it till the last step. Spread the mixture out as evenly as you can, on the lined tray- not too thick nor thin.
4) Bake this for 30 minutes till cooked through. It is important to let it cool completely before slicing, to let the juices absorb back into the mixture.
5) If using the coarsely grated pineapple, sprinkle it evenly over the meat spread after first 23 minutes of baking, (remove the meat tray to do so), pressing lightly so it adheres to the mixture.
6) After 30mins, Crank your oven to the highest setting, or set up your charcoal grill for a more authentic smoky bak kwa sensation. Slice the bak kwa into squares. Glaze generously with the pineapple maltose mixture before grilling it under the highest point in the oven, or over a charcoal fire, till suitably charred and fragrantly caramelized. (Serves one round of visitors as sample nibbles, or one very greedy cook! )