Pulled pork with an Asian twist

Char siu is the main flavor in a Chinese pulled pork sandwich.

Ravenous Couple
Chinese pulled pork is also known as char siu pulled pork. It is delicious when paired with Vietnamese slaw.

We've been guilty of it many times. Guilty of staring through the windows of Chinese BBQ's with our mouths watering at the red, glistening, long pieces of barbecue pork hanging by the dozens – watching each droplet of pork fat fall, as if in slow motion, from their charred tips. We would subconsciously lick our lips as the scents of five spice, soy sauce, hoisin, and charred pork fat reached our noses. And it's these primary flavors along with the sweetness of maltose that gives it that unmistakable sheen and makes char siu pork so tantalizing to the senses.

The image of Char siu (also called cha siu, char sieu, or chashao) pork hanging in the windows of small Chinese BBQ's can be seen across America and is synonymous with Chinese style barbecue. Char siu pork can be enjoyed in a variety of ways including in a bun (char siu bao) on dum sum carts, in noodle soups such as in egg noodles or ramen noodles, or simply over plain jasmine rice.

A few weeks ago, we catered a baby shower and to feed a large crowd of 40, we decided to use char siu as the main flavoring agent for a slow cooker pulled pork and paired it with a clean and crisp Vietnamese cabbage slaw. We made about 9 feet of char siu pulled pork banh mi (3 full length baguettes) along with a 5 lbs of pork shoulder and not a single trace was left.

The char siu seasoning is not that complicated and in fact, quite easy to make at home using Metlting Wok or Rasa Malaysia's recipes. Or you can buy store bought char siu sauce – Lee Kum Kee brand is a good option. We've adapted the recipe for a more managable 3 lbs. of pork, but feel free to adjust accordingly.

Char siu pulled pork banh mi with Vietnamese slaw

Printable Recipe

Serves 6-8

Pulled Pork

  • 3 lb. pork shoulder
  • kosher salt
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut in 1/4 inch rings
  • 1 1/2 cup char siu sauce (we made our own using recipes above)

Vietnamese Slaw

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 1/2 cup of rau rau (coriander leaves) coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of mint, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of thai basil, coarsly chopped
  • fried shallots
  • 4 tbs nuoc mam cham
  • optional diced hot chili pepper
  • French baguettes, toasted

Line your slow cooker with the onions. Lightly rub the pork shoulder with small amount kosher salt and pepper and place on top of onions. Brush on a generous layer of char siu sauce, coating evenly. Turn the slow cooker on low and leave on overnight or high, roughly 4-5 hrs.

In large bowl, combine the cabbages, rau rau, mint, basil and toss well. Season with nuoc mam cham to taste. For best results, allow the slaw to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving. The slaw can also be made a day ahead of time. The longer the slaw marinates, the more liquid it releases – toss well and just drain excess liquid before serving.

When the pork is done, it will easily fall apart with gentle pressure – remove the pork into a large mixing bowl and pull using tongs or forks. The pork will release a lot of fatty juices in the slow cooker which you can discard – but we like to keep a small amount to mix in the pulled pork. Now add char siu sauce, 1-2 tbs at a time and coat the pulled pork well. Don't over do it – we like to keep extra char siu sauce on the side those who want more.

Add the pulled pork to the toasted baguettes and drizzle additional char siu sauce if desired. Generously top with slaw and garnish with fried shallots.

Combining the finger licking sweet char siu with the crisp and clean slaw in a toasty baguette will have guests craving for more. Also, the slaw can be served as a side – many guests loved the fresh tart flavors of nuoc mam cham based slaw compared with the mayonnaise laden traditional coleslaw, so be prepared to have extra ready!

With 40 satisfied guests with minimal effort, this char siu slow cooker pulled pork banh mi recipe is a keeper!

Hong Pham and Kim Dao blog at Ravenous Couple.

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