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Chinese New Year is an overwhelming experience in Penang, Malaysia. At night, fireworks shoot up from busy roads and explode over shophouses. Hundreds of thousands of colorful lights brighten Kek Lok Si Temple on the hillside. Lions & Dragons dance in the street, moving with the rumbling of drums and the deafening of firecrackers.
During the day, the roads are clogged with cars and motor bikes. Families moving from one house to another, visiting with loved ones while munching down pineapple tarts, love letters, almond cookies, peanuts, melon seeds, and endless other homemade and store-bought snacks. Then washing it down with cans of shandy and Tiger beer.
In the commotion of my first visit to Reese’s extended family during Chinese New Year, I was quickly introduced to everyone, and handed a fistful of cash-filled red packets called ang pao. Before I could start on the snacks and celebrate my new found fortune, I was hurriedly escorted to the poker table where the aunties and cousins taught me a lesson of what goes up, must come down. My fortune was extinguished in less than an hour.
With an empty stomach and a pocket full of empty ang pao, one uncle came over, rested his hand on my sunken shoulder, and gave me a red box that was already opened. He asked me try it. I could smell the strong aroma of charcoal grilled meat. I took out one of the squares, and took a bite. It was sweet, smoky, savory, chewy, and insanely delicious. It was my first taste of Bak Kwa 肉干, but with that piece, I became an instant convert, joining the millions of Chinese in Malaysia & Singapore willing to wait in long queues under the hot sun, just to have an excuse to gorge on the gourmet barbecued pork jerky at the start of Chinese New Year.
Now that we’re back in Minnesota, we’ve been creating our own homemade version of Bak Kwa to ring in the New Year. It’s actually easy to make, with just some ground pork (or ground turkey, if you prefer), a few Asian sauces and ingredients, and a high quality five spice powder like our Penang-style Chinese Five Spice.
With the sweet and citrusy elements in our Penang Chinese Five Spice blend, it will give homemade Bak Kwa an absolutely enticing aroma and flavor that will remind many of you of your favorite Bak Kwa back in Penang, and hook the rest of you who have yet to try Bak Kwa, to join in this annual tradition.
Once the Bak Kwa is roasted, then glazed and grilled, enjoy a square or two while it’s still hot. Keep the rest for snacking on over the next few days. They’re great for breakfast too with a side of eggs, or in a simple sandwich for lunch. To balance out your Bak Kwa binges, always follow them up with a cup of green tea, and another Chinese New Year essential – Mandarin oranges.
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Bak Kwa Na Lai!Print
Chinese New Year is an overwhelming experience in Penang, Malaysia. At night, fireworks shoot up from busy roads and explode over shophouses. Hundreds of thousands of colorful lights brighten Kek Lok Si Temple on the hillside.
- 1 lb of ground pork (or ground turkey)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp of Season with Spice’s Penang-style Chinese Five Spice
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp shoyu (or soy sauce)
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tsp red miso paste (optional)
- Dashes of white pepper
- 2 tbsp honey
- In a large bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients, and stir until the sugar and miso paste are mixed in well. The marinade will be thick. Add in the ground pork, and stir to combine well. Allow to marinade overnight in the fridge, or for at least one hour before cooking.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Lay parchment paper on a large rectangle baking sheet (use a baking sheet with an edge height of at least 1 inch, since the ground pork will release juices when roasting). Transfer the marinated pork onto the parchment paper and lay another piece of parchment paper, or plastic wrap, onto the pork. Use a rolling pin to flatten the pork, and spread it into a rectangle shape that is almost the size of the baking pan. Make sure the pork is rolled thin since it will thicken up after roasting. Carefully remove the top parchment paper (or plastic wrap), and shape and flatten the pork one final time with a spatula to ensure the entire piece is the same thickness, especially the edges. You want the pork to cook evenly.
- Place the pan in the oven and roast the pork for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and spoon out the juices from the pan into a small bowl. The juices are a mix of the marinade and pork fat, which we’ll use later as a glaze. Next, carefully flip the pork over, and place the pan back into the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.
- Remove the pork from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes while you prepare the glaze.
- In a small bowl, stir together 2 tbsp of honey with 1 tbsp of the juice you had spooned out from the baking pan*. Then cut the pork into one serving size squares, and baste generously on both sides with glaze. You can either return the pan to the oven and broil a for a couple of minutes on both sides (keeping a close eye on it to prevent it from burning), or cook the square pieces over the stove on a cast iron skillet (or grill it on the BBQ) for just a quick minute on each side to lightly blacken the edges and give the bak kwa a nice crispy outside.
- Keep the marinade-pork fat mixture for cooking with later. Just add some to the pan when cooking eggs, or mix it in to a stir fry. It will add an amazingly sweet & savory flavor to whatever dish you decide to cook it in.
- Store the extra bak kwa squares in the refrigerator inside an airtight container. You can eat it cold later, or just heat it up on a frying pan. Have it for breakfast with eggs, add it to a sandwich for lunch, or just snack on it anytime of the day like you’re in Malaysia or Singapore during Chinese New Year.
- Serving Size: 8-10 square pieces