Chinese Pork Jerky or bak kwa (Chinese dialect Hokkien), also known as rougan (Mandarin) is a famous customary and much-loved Chinese New Year snack in Malaysia and Singapore. Bak kwa and rougan simply means “dry meat” akin to jerky. It is smoky, aromatic and savoury and deemed to be the favourite local snack throughout the year in both Malaysia and Singapore. During Chinese New Year celebrations, you will find an extensive line up of people outside many popular bak kwa specialty shops despite the hefty price tag. Often, bak kwa are also gifted to family and friends throughout the two weeks of the festive season. The typical recipe for marinating bak kwa include salt, pepper, sugar, soya sauce, rice wine, five spice powder and fish sauce. For my gluten free bak kwa recipe, I am using pork mince and marinade ingredients are salt, ground white pepper, sugar, gluten free light soy sauce, gluten free kecap manis, gluten free oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, medium dry sherry and five spice powder. And honey is used for glazing. This recipe is also corn free, dairy free, egg free, nut free and refined sugar free.
History of Bak Kwa
The origin of bak kwa dated all the way back to ancient China, specifically the Fujian province in the southern region. Due to the prevalent of poverty, pork or meat in general was considered an extravagance during that time and common practice was to preserve the meat reserved only for special occasion like Chinese New Year. Traditionally, pork will be sliced into thin pieces and then marinated in sugar, salt, soy sauce and spices, then air-dried and subsequently cooked on a hotplate. During the migration of Hokkien people from the Fujian province to the Malay Peninsular (now called Malaysia), they brought with them this delicacy and adapted it to suit the local tastebuds. The Malaysian and Singaporean of bak kwa varieties are grilled over charcoal fire after air-drying, resulting in a smokier taste and a sweeter version as well.
Types of Bak Kwa
There are two main types of bak kwa in both Malaysia and Singapore, namely sliced pork and minced pork. The sliced pork variety is made from slicing pork pieces from hard chunk of meat and has lean and tough texture. While the minced pork variety has more fats and is more tender. It is made by shaping and flattening the minced pork into rectangular slices and marinated before grilling. The minced pork version is more easily replicated at home. Generally, bak kwa is sold in the shape of square sheets, but modern variations include “golden coin” (smaller circles) shape, heart shape and pig shape (using kurobuta or black pig or Berkshire pork). Previously, thickness of bak kwa sold commercially is quite thick, however today they are commonly made around 2mm to 3mm, so that the meat is more tender and juicier.
Traditionally, bak kwa is made of pork hind leg cut, but modern variations include using premium pork belly, chicken, beef, lamb as a main ingredient. Other unusual meat used are duck, turkey, ostrich, emu, fish, prawn, lobster and even crocodile offered by bak kwa specialty shops. In addition, vegan bak kwa made with soy, tempeh and mushrooms is also available. Other modern ingredients used to flavour the meat are chilli, lemon and pepper, mala (spicy and numbing seasoning made from Sichuan peppercorn and chili pepper), and peri peri sauce (African Bird’s Eye Chili sauce), Korean kimchi, Pineapple, Durian, Lemongrass, cinnamon, cheese, ginseng, garlic, rock sugar honey, red yeast (monascus) rice wine and smoked apple-wood or lychee-wood. Can you imagine the bak kwa craze in Malaysia and Singapore?! In fact, bak kwa is so popular that it is added into many other snacks and dishes like fried rice, muffins, mooncakes, pizzas, pies, cookies, bread buns, burgers, sandwiches, doughnuts and banana fritters.
Nutritional Values and Health Benefits of Pork Mince
Pork is a red meat and comes from the domestic pig (Sus domesticus). It is by far the topmost consumed meat worldwide. With indication of pig farming dating all the way back to more than 7,000 years ago (5000 BC). Most commonly, pork is eaten cooked, minced and preserved. While pork mince is normally made from pork shoulder (port butt) and sometimes from the trimmed pork loin. When you purchase pre-ground and pre-packaged pork mince, it is mostly 85% lean meat and 15% fat. Ask your butcher to ground fresh pork for you so that you can specify how much fat you like and you will get better quality texture of minced pork. Whilst sausage-grade minced pork is made from shoulder pork and some extra loin fat added, it has roughly 25% to 30% fat compared to regular minced pork.
Like all meat, pork is an excellent source of high-quality protein, up to 47% of your Recommended Daily Amount (RDA/RI) with all nine essential amino acids required for growth and maintenance of your body. Pork is an extremely rich source of Thiamine (vitamin B1) 98% of your RDA/RI, more than beef and lamb. In addition, pork is also a very good source of vitamins and minerals like Niacin (vitamin B3) 52%of RDA/RI, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) 30% of RDA/RI, vitamin B12 28% of RDA/RI, phosphorus 31% of RDA/RI and zinc 22% of RDA/RI. Furthermore, pork is a good source of essential vitamins and minerals like riboflavin (vitamin B2), choline, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), selenium and potassium. Health benefits of pork include: maintenance of healthy muscle mass; improved muscle performance; promote muscle growth; support healthy central nervous system; boost the body’s immune system; aid in the production of red blood cells; and assist in the production of hormones.