Recipe: Bak Kwa (Chinese Meat Jerky)
Author: Wendy Zheng
Photographer: Cam Lam
I’m usually a strong proponent against putting sugar in savory foods as the underlying cloying sweetness frequently overpowers the more nuanced salty, spicy, and sour tones of a dish. However, the addition of sugar in bak kwa (Hokkien) or 肉干, a Chinese meat jerky flavored with five spice and soy, is crucial as it is the key ingredient for rounding out the recipe’s numerous sources of salt, and achieving the dried yet tender texture of the jerky. Buying one pound of bak kwa from a store in New York can run you an average of 22 dollars since it’s usually given as a gift at events like Lunar New Year, so set aside an afternoon and save over 20 dollars by trying out this simple, yet scrumptious bak kwa recipe! If you do decide to make it, make sure to let it cool down slightly before eating as the texture will get chewier and less sausage patty-like as it rests.
For pork mixture:
1 lb ground pork, at least 20% in fat (I bought mine from Park To Shop on sale for 99 cents a pound! Definitely worth it to pick up ground pork in Chinatown for the greatest value)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine
1 cube of fermented tofu
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp five spice
½ tsp chili flakes
⅓ cup white sugar
1 tbsp honey mixed with 1 tsp water
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix everything for the pork mixture vigorously with chopsticks for 3-5 minutes. The ground meat should eventually become a pasty consistency that sticks together when stirring. This is crucial in getting the right texture for the bak kwa, so make sure not to undermix. When in doubt, mix for a little bit longer to ensure that you have a homogeneous consistency.
Divide the pork mixture evenly between two half sheet-sized pan pieces of parchment paper. Shape the pork mixture into a rectangular shape so that when rolled, it retains the rectangular shape
Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of each pan. Using a rolling pin, flatten the meat mixture until its between ½ cm to 1 cm thick. The thinner the meat, the faster it will cook and the chewier the final jerky will be. Once you’ve reached your desired thickness, remove the plastic wrap.
Transfer the parchment paper to a sheet pan and place in the oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, remove the extra juices collected on the parchment and flip the meat slab. If the meat slab is too large to flip, cut the pieces into quarters to make them more manageable.
Place the pans back into the oven for another 15 minutes.
Raise the temperature of the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and apply the honey and water mixture to each side of the jerky, baking for 5 minutes each time between turns. Make sure to keep a close eye on the jerky as it can easily burn at this stage.
After three rounds of glazing and baking, take the jerky out of the oven and apply sesame seeds while it’s still hot. Cut into bite sized pieces and enjoy!