Bak Kwa or BBQ meat jerky or Rou Gan 肉干 is something that Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese will never miss during Chinese New Year. It is immensely popular there and wikipedia describes it as a sweet-salty dried meat product similar to meat jerky, originating from the Fujian province in Southern China. That's not surprising, as that was where most Chinese immigrants from Singapore and Malaysia hailed from.
Being a 3rd generation Chinese immigrant, I grew up in Singapore munching Bak Kwa every Chinese New Year. CNY would never be the same without Bak Kwa (and pineapple tarts). Never have I ever thought of making Bak Kwa until I moved overseas few years ago. I remember making it once in the year 2010 when I first started this blog and it's been 4 years since I last made it.
So here is my version of Bak Kwa. I first tried a chicken version, by using minced lean chicken meat. But the minced meat was so lean that it just didn't taste juicy enough. Partly because I wasn't quite confident of the grilling, it didn't really turn out the way I wanted. Not willing to give up so easily, I tried a few days later using some mixed minced pork and calf meat.
Here is how my 2nd batch of Bak Kwa looked like. I was so happy with the results that I called them "Bee Chin Pang Bak Kwa" (美真香肉干). My friend said that the real Bee Cheng Hiang 美珍香 may sue me for infringement of copyrights, LOL.
Some take-away points from this 2nd batch.
1) It is imperative to know your oven very well. Try grilling a small piece to test out the temperature, oven mode and timing. It's worthwhile to spend the extra time to test out a small piece than to let the whole batch of minced meat end up being charred, just because you follow the timing and temp blindly without adapting it to your oven. Note that it is not necessary to use the grill mode, you may use the normal fan mode too, the grilling temp can vary from 200C to 240C, depending on how hot your oven is.
2) Always choose minced meat with some fats. How to know if the meat is fatty? The more white specks there are in the minced meat, the more fatty it is.
3) Try not to use raw minced meat that has been frozen. Because after being thawed, it will exude more moisture than fresh minced meat. And don't wash your minced meat before baking, just marinate it without rinsing the meat. It is however Ok to freeze meat that has been cooked but not yet grilled.
4) Watch the oven very closely during grilling, do not go for long toilet breaks unless you enjoy eating charred meat.
5) You may remove the bak kwa as soon as it starts turning charred at the sides even though the meat may still not look dark enough. The meat will continue to cook a little after you remove it from the oven and the colour will turn darker.
6) If you use minced chicken, the colour will be lighter than minced pork or beef and the meat will be leaner, meaning less juicy. You can either add more colour by adding dark caramel soya sauce such as kecap manis (which is actually not salty) or adding hoisin sauce/oyster sauce/char siew sauce for colour and flavour.
7) If you intend to use a greater or lesser amount of meat, do re-calculate the surface area you need to spread the meat over. The meat needs to be spread very thin, and it is 13 inch by 13 inch (or 33 cm by 33cm) for 450g of meat. It is ok to use a tray or baking pan of another dimension, just make sure the surface area is sufficiently big and the meat is as thin as possible. If it is too thick, it will end up as luncheon meat/spam instead of bak kwa/meat jerky!
8) The purpose of using rice wine or dry sherry is to remove the porky smell. You may omit it for religious or allergy reasons. You may also use XO or brandy or whiskey for extra ummph factor.
9) The grilling can be done not just in an oven, it can be done in a non-stick wok on a stove too. In fact both the drying out and grilling can be done completely in a non-stick wok as shown HERE in my facebook, in fact I did it during my first batch. It can also be done in a rice cooker as shown HERE in my blog.
10) After the 1st bake, pls remember to drain off excess liquid flowing from the meat and line with a fresh sheet of baking paper, otherwise it will be too wet and it will take much longer to grill to perfection.
11) If you find your bak kwa hard and rubbery, it could be that your oven temperature is too high or your meat is too lean. This happened to me when I first baked my chicken bak kwa, the meat was too lean and it was not tender and juicy. But when I changed it to minced pork + calf meat, the bak kwa was nice and tender due to sufficient fats.
12) Please allow for at least 24 hours for the full taste to develop, do not finish eating all the bak kwa right after grilling. They will taste better the next day and even after a few days! Many people have been advised to keep bak kwa in the fridge and reheat it in the microwave or oven just before eating. Actually this is not advisable as the bak kwa will tend to lose its juiciness and turn dry, according to an article by Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost blog.
Ok, these are the take-away points I picked up after trying a few times. Don't be afraid to try and re-try until you get the hang of it. I don't enjoy smelling like a bak kwa after each attempt, but I do enjoy eating my homemade bak kwa and sharing some with my friends! :)
Recipe adapted from Nasi Lemak Lover, Bake for Happy Kids with thanks!
Ingredients for marinade
450 to 500g minced meat, preferably with 10% fats (I used mixture of minced pork+calf meat)
100g fine sugar
1/2 tbsp fish sauce - omitted
1 tbsp light soya sauce, Lee Kum Kee brand
1 tsp dark sticky soya sauce, ABC kecap manis
0.5 tbsp dry sherry or chinese rice wine (you can use brandy or XO too)
1 tbsp hoisin sauce (you can use oyster sauce or char siew sauce)
2 tbsp runny honey
1/8 tsp chinese 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp salt (or 3/4 tsp)
a dash of pepper
1) Using fresh minced meat, add all the ingredients in a big bowl and use a pair of chopsticks to stir in one direction (for 3 min) until the meat sticks together and resembles a gooey paste. Keep it covered in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight. (The purpose of mixing is so that the meat will stick as one piece after the first step of drying out at 160C.)
2) Line a 13 inch by 13 inch baking tin or baking tray with greaseproof baking paper and spread the marinated minced meat thinly with the back of a spoon or rubber spatula. Then cover with clingwrap and use a rolling pin to roll it thinly and uniformly. (You may wish to spread it with your finger but I find the rolling pin a better tool. Note that for my 2nd batch, I used only 300g so the pan I used was also relatively smaller.)
3) Preheat the oven to 160C. Remove the clingwrap and place it on the middle rack to bake for 15 min. The meat is ready when it is dry to the touch, it appears to be cooked and can be lifted as one complete piece. Remember to drain the excess liquid emitted from the meat, otherwise your bak kwa will be too wet and it will take a long time to grill. (After this step of cooking and drying out the meat, you may wrap the meat in greaseproof baking paper, keep them in ziploc bags and store them in freezer to grill in the future.)
5) When the desired temp is reached, place them on the middle rack of the oven. Grill at 220C fan-forced for 7 min. Flip them over and grill for another 5 min or until the meat turns slightly charred at the sides. (Note that the original recipe stated 240C grill mode (top heat only) for 10 + 7 min, but I am using 220C normal fan mode, not the grill + fan mode, and I did it for 7 + 5 min. The temp and timing varies based on your oven temperament, so pls try grilling a small piece first to be sure. )
6) Remove the grilled bak kwa onto a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely, before packing in between sheets of greaseproof baking paper and storing in airtight containers.
|This photo is taken under the lights of my kitchen stove and with camera flash in my dimly lit kitchen.|
I am submitting this post to "My Treasured Recipes #5 - Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)" hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House.