soy sauce — Soy sauce is used as the base of the marinade and provides the main salty umami flavor.
oyster sauce — Oyster sauce is also used in the marinade to create a secondary salty umami flavor.
Hoisin sauce — Hoisin sauce gives the final salty flavor to the marinade, but with a sweeter twist. When all three salty spices are combined, the perfect blend results.
Honey & Sugar — Honey and sugar are needed for the balance of the three salty ingredients above. Honey is used primarily to coat the chicken at the end of cooking for that signature sweet and gooey glaze.
Five spice powder — This is a spice blend that typically includes cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and ginger. Szechuan peppercorns are sometimes used, which I’m not a big fan of because of their numbing effects. Five spice powder gives Char Siu its distinctive flavor and aroma.
garlic powder — Because who doesn’t love garlic?
Ground black pepper — Provides a little kick.
sesame oil — Provides a nutty aroma.
Chicken Bouillon Powder — My Vietnamese ultimate cheat.
Red coloring — Char’s red color traditionally comes from red-fermented tofu, which I’m not a fan of either. It has a funny odor and only provides a dull red color. Modern recipes rely on red food coloring, which gives char its characteristic bright red color. For this recipe, my red color comes from a spice pack (more info below) that you can find just about anywhere.
Water — A little is needed to dissolve the spice packet mixture and make the marinade more “runny”.
NOH Chinese Barbecue Char Siu Seasoning Pack
The NOH Chinese Barbecue Char Siu Seasoning Pack contains a blend of other spices and seasonings already mentioned above that provide the characteristic Char Siu flavor. But more importantly, it contains the red coloring.
The ingredients in the seasoning pack include Sugar, Sugar, Soy Sauce Powder, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder and Red #3.
If you can’t find that specific brand, you can also use Lobo Roast Red Pork Seasoning Mix, which is also widely available in Asian grocery stores.
frequently asked Questions
The most frequently asked question when I make char siu with the spice pack is:
“Can I do char siu? without the spice packet?”
The answer is, of course you can. But it will lack flavor and miss the red color. So no.
The other common question I get asked is:
“Can I use the spice pack just because it says so on the back of the pack? Why all the extra stuff?”
The answer is no. It tastes awful when using the spice pack alone. You need the extra ingredients to make it tasty.
The extra ingredients and spice pack combined make for wonderfully tasty char siu that’s pretty close to restaurant quality.