Chinese Pork Jerky or bak kwa (Chinese dialect Hokkien), also known as rougan in Mandarin. It 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. Many people considered bak kwa to be the favourite local snack throughout the year in both Malaysia and Singapore. An extensive line of people normally queue up outside many popular bak kwa specialty shops during Chinese New Year celebrations. This is despite the hefty price tag during this time of the year. O
The typical recipe for marinates 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 as my main ingredient. My marinade ingredients are gluten free light soy sauce, gluten free kecap manis, gluten free oyster sauce. Plus salt, ground white pepper, sugar, fish sauce, sesame oil, medium dry sherry and five spice powder. In addition, I used honey as glazing for the bak kwa. This recipe is also corn free, dairy free, egg free, nut free and refined sugar free.
History of Chinese Pork Jerky (Bak Kwa)
The origin of bak kwa dated all the way back to ancient China, specifically the southern region of Fujian province. Because of prevalent of poverty, pork or meat was an extravagance during that time. The common practice was to preserve the meat reserved only for special occasion like Chinese New Year. Bak kwa makers will slice large pieces of pork into thin pieces. And then marinate them in sugar, salt, soy sauce and spices. Followed by air-drying 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 bak kwa to suit the local tastebuds. They cook bak kwa varieties over a charcoal fire in Malaysia and Singapore. After air-drying, bak kwa has a smokier taste and tastes sweeter as well.
Types of Chinese Pork Jerky (Bak Kwa)
There are two main types of bak kwa in both Malaysia and Singapore, namely sliced pork and minced pork. Retailers make the sliced pork variety from slicing pork pieces from a hard chunk of meat. Resulting in a lean and tough texture. The minced pork variety has more fats and is more tender. It is first made by shaping and flattening the minced pork into rectangular slices and marinated before grilling. We can easily replicate the minced pork version at home.
Traditionally, retailers sell Bak kwa pieces in the shape of traditional square sheets. But modern variations include “golden coin” (smaller circles) shape, heart shape and pig shape. They make the pig shape bak kwa using kurobuta or black pig or Berkshire pork. The thickness of commercial bak kwa sold is quite thick. However, today they are around 2mm to 3mm in thickness, so that the meat is more tender and juicier. Retailers made traditional Bak kwa with pork hind leg cut. But modern variations include using premium pork belly, chicken, beef, lamb as a key ingredient.
Modern Variations of Chinese Pork Jerky (Bak Kwa)
Other unusual meat used are duck, turkey, ostrich, emu, fish, prawn, lobster and even crocodile. Bak kwa specialty shops offer these modern variety of bak kwa. 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. Mala is a spicy and numbing seasoning made from Sichuan peppercorn and chili pepper. As well as peri peri sauce (African Bird’s Eye Chili sauce), Korean kimchi, Pineapple, Durian, Lemongrass, cinnamon, garlic, and cheese. They even make bak kwa with ginseng, 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 they add it to many other snacks and dishes. For example, fried rice, muffins, mooncakes, pizzas, pies, cookies, bread buns, burgers, sandwiches, doughnuts and banana fritters.
Consumption of Pork as Food
Pork is a red meat and comes from the domestic pig (Sus domesticus). The topmost consumed meat worldwide is pork. With indication of pig farming dating all the way back to more than 7,000 years ago (5000 BC). Most commonly, we can eat pork cooked, minced and preserved. Whereas they normally make pork mince 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. They make sausage-grade minced pork from shoulder pork and some extra loin fat added. It has roughly 25% to 30% fat compared to regular minced pork.
Nutritional Values and Health Benefits of Pork Mince
Like all meat, pork is an excellent source of high-quality protein, with all nine essential amino acids. As protein is for the growth and maintenance of your body. Pork is an extremely rich source of thiamine (vitamin B1), more than beef and lamb. In addition, pork is also a very good source of some essential vitamins and minerals. These include niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B12, phosphorus, and zinc. Furthermore, pork is a good source riboflavin (vitamin B2), choline, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), selenium and potassium.
On the whole, health benefits of pork may include:
- Help maintain healthy muscle mass;
- Improve 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.
Chinese Pork Jerky (Bak Kwa)
- 1 kg minced pork (85% lean meat and 15% fats)
For the Marinade:
- 3½ tablespoons gluten free light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon gluten free kecap manis
- 2½ tablespoons gluten free oyster sauce
- 3 tablespoons medium dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1½ tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoons five spice powder
- 120 g raw cane sugar
- 1 teaspoons ground white pepper
For the Glazing:
- 1 tablespoon Honey
For marinating the pork:
- Combine the pork and the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- Mix thoroughly until well combined and the pork is sticky.
- Cover with cling wrap and let the pork marinade for 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
For shaping and baking the pork:
- Preheat oven to 170C or 340F.
- Transfer the pork mixture to a cookie pan lined with baking paper.
- Roughly spread the pork mixture with a spatula. Then cover with a piece of cling wrap or baking paper on top and use a small rolling pin to flatten the meat to around 2mm.
- Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Then carefully turn over and bake for another 15 minutes. Let the meat cool down.
- Using a kitchen scissor or pizza cutter, cut the meat into your preferred size. I cut into 4 inch x 3 inch pieces.
For glazing and baking the pork:
- Preheat oven to 200C or 400F.
- Mix the honey and water together for glazing.
- Place the cut pork pieces onto a freshly lined cookie pan. Glaze each pork pieces with the honey mixture using a kitchen brush.
- Bake in the upper rack of the oven for 5 minutes. Taking care not to burn the meat.
- Then turn the pork over and glaze with the honey mixture again. Bake for another 5 minutes.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.