Batter Licker

March 8, 2012

chinese barbecue (char siu) pork cowboy steak

The night before Valentine’s Day, Jay and I got more intimate than usual – with a pig.

That might sound gruesome and not in the least bit romantic, but I still feel like I’m under some sort of meaty love spell weeks after we eagerly watched Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats skillfully butcher the whole pig and explain the perks of each cut and his use-the-whole-animal philosophy during San Francisco Beer Week’s Butchers and Beers event.

Clearly, I’m my Great Depression era grandmother’s granddaughter; I’m a sucker for reducing, if not eliminating, waste. I get an intense thrill out of embracing resourcefulness and the creativity that inevitably plays a role in finding uses for less popular animal parts, apple peels, and vegetable scraps.

Perhaps it’s needless to say in this context, but once the Butchers and Beers silent auction benefiting The Food Pantry came to a close, we walked home with the bones and offal – and a large hunk of pork known as a cowboy steak.

Hilarious-and-ironic-to-me story from the auction: while waiting patiently to increase our bids, I overheard two guys in front of me whine “ewwwwwwww” when they came across the offal bid card; they were much more enamored with the super popular and trendy pork belly.

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The cowboy steak, also known as a thick-cut, bone-in rib eye, was a gorgeous slab of meat. It was also H-U-G-E, especially to someone like me who normally buys only half a pound of meat at a time. Just look at how it compares to the size of my fist!!

I had intended to have some friends over for a feast, but my hypothetical plans did not materialize within the time frame I had hoped they would. So rather than let the meat sit around until the next social occasion, which would likely mean subjecting the precious cut to a bit of frostbite, I planned several weeknight meals around it.

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I wanted to do something to the pork that would allow it to shine and stay true to the simple charred preparation brought to mind by the very name of the cut, but I also wanted to ensure it would be versatile for the sake of several subsequent nights’ worth of dinners. With those intentions in mind, char siu – or Chinese barbecue – seemed like it would be a great fit.

A simple marinade (omitting the crazy red food coloring that supposedly makes the meat look more “appetizing,” and reducing the sugar overload down to a more balanced level), followed by roasting and basting the meat until glazed and charred, did the trick.

That night, I sliced up a few beautiful pieces to serve with fried egg-topped rice and a simple lettuce, cucumber, and pickled carrot salad tossed with a quick and easy Vietnamese dressing.

The next night, I greased a pan with some of the pork fat, then fried up some chopped leftover pork and vegetables and tossed them with scrambled eggs and a drizzle of sriracha for an Asian-influenced breakfast-for-dinner. Over the next few meals, the pork got paired with black refried beans and sauteed greens, and even thrown inside very spicily sauced enchiladas verdes that benefited greatly from the slightly sweet pork.

All in all, those weeknights were pork heaven – and that’s coming from someone who is not typically a pork fanatic, or even much of a meat maven these days.

Chinese Barbecue (Char Siu) Pork Cowboy Steak
Serves 6 to 8, or perhaps a few more depending what else you serve it with

A cowboy steak is just another term for a thick-cut, bone-in rib eye. Of course, the marinade would work equally well on other cuts of pork – or other types of meat for that matter; just be sure to adjust the cooking time appropriately.

4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. 5-spice powder
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
1/3 c. honey
3 Tbsp. rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
5 1/2 lb. bone-in pork cowboy steak (rib eye), fat trimmed

Stir all ingredients together (except pork steak) until well combined. Pour marinade over pork, ensuring all sides get coated. Cover pork tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours (or overnight), flipping pork 2 or 3 times.

Remove pork from fridge 1 hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 475F, and place a rack in the upper third of the oven. Transfer pork to a roasting pan (on top of a roasting rack if you have one; I do not), and reserve the marinade. Roast the pork, basting it with the reserved marinade every 10 to 15 minutes, until pork looks glazed, is slightly charred, and registers 145F when an instant-read thermometer is poked into the middle of the steak, approximately 1 hour. Remove pork from oven, and allow meat to rest for 20 minutes.

Cut steak across the grain into thin slices. Serve warm or at room temperature. I’ve served a few slices with a fried egg over rice and a simple lettuce, cucumber, and pickled carrot salad tossed with the simple fish sauce, lime and fresh ground chili paste dressing from this Vietnamese salad. The pork is also excellent with roasted vegetables.

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