Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Chinese Dishes – Pigs Cheeks, Rose Liqueur and Char Siu

Whilst in Foshan in China Nick encountered a fantastic meal which had pigs cheeks on the menu. The last I time I cooked with pigs cheeks was to make brawn so I was interested to see what the Chinese do with them. Apparently old English dishes of pig's trotters, ox and pig cheek are making a comeback here in the UK with upmarket stores and restaurants are selling huge quantities of cheaper traditional cuts in a new twist on 'recession chic'.

Celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver have led shoppers to think again about using cuts of meat and recipes which were popular in more austere times. While the savings are significant, advocates of the revival of this 1950s approach also argue the food tastes better. Marks & Spencer launched a new range of 'forgotten cuts' last autumn and Waitrose has seen sales of trotters soar since it began offering them over a year ago.

Pig cheeks are are rich in flavour and has a marbling of fat that keeps it moist and makes it fall apart when cooked low and slow. They are often used in sausages in the UK but in Italy pig cheeks are cured like bacon to make Guanciale. They are rubbed with salt, ground black or red pepper and cured for three weeks. Its flavour is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate. Guanciale is traditionally used in dishes like pasta all'amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara and is a delicacy of central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio.

I have found a Char Siu recipe using pigs cheeks that can be used on a BBQ, which seems a good idea for this time of year. One of the ingredients used is Chinese Rose Wine which is very fragrant and gives the dish a special flavour, although I am not sure “wine” is the correct name for it as it is 54%!

Apparently the Chinese were the first to use the rose in cooking by making preserved rosebuds. Chinese were cooking with flowers thousands of years ago and flowers are important ingredients in the cuisine. However, flower cuisine didn't become popular until the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). It first became popular among the nobility, especially women who used flowers to improve their complexion. It is said that Wu Zetian, the only female Emperor in Chinese history, ordered servants to collect hundreds of flowers, mix them with mashed rice and make them into bai hua gao (hundred-flower cake).

Various flower cuisines were invented, including cakes, soups and dishes. Cookbooks such as "Shan Jia Qing Gong" by Lin Hong in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) gives 15 flower recipes. Apart from adding scent and flavour, some flowers are rich in nutrition, including vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients. Other popular medicinal flowers include osmanthus, chrysanthemum, plum blossom, lotus, hibiscus, lily, jasmine, magnolia, peony, Chinese redbud, evening primrose and Chinese cymbidium (orchid). They can be lightly fried, deep fried, steamed, dressed with sauce and made into soups, congees and snacks.

The Chinese Rose Wine is called Mei Kuei Lu Chiew and is predominantly a cooking wine. It's made from sorghum wine and distilled with rose petals, sugar and salt. It's clear coloured, slightly salty and has a very subtle rose fragrance. There is no way I am going to be able to source it over here but there is an alternative that I could use which is Liqueur de Rose.

Liqueur de Rose is made by Maison Briottet, a family business, founded in 1836. Originally, the family were primarily negociants of Burgundy wine, involved with ageing, blending, bottling and selling the wines. Following the development of the blanc cassis aperitif (white wine with Crème de Cassis), the company focused its activities on producing fruit crèmes, liqueurs, brandies and marcs de Bourgogne.

Pig Cheek Char Siu

1 lb sliced pig cheeks
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2tbsp sesame seed oil


2 tbsp maltose
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese Rose Wine
pinch white pepper
3 drops red colouring (optional)
½ tsp five spice
1 tsp sesame seed oil

Add all ingredients in the char siu sauce in a pan, heat and stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from pan and cool.

Marinate the pig cheeks with 2/3rds of the sauce and the chopped garlic overnight. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame seed oil to the remaining char siu sauce. Keep in the fridge.

The next day, heat the oven to 375ºF and roast the char siu for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and thread the char siu pieces on metal skewers and grill them over the barbecue. Baste with the remaining sauce until the char siu are perfectly charred. Slice the char siu into bite-size pieces, drizzle the remaining char siu sauce over and serve immediately with steamed white rice.


Pam said...

From hearing my parents and grandparents speak of coping through the Depression, they used whatever was available on their farms; however, I don't remember them ever talking about pigs cheeks. I'm sure my Dad would've loved that! It really sounds good but I have no idea where to find them.

That's interesting also with the flowers and the Chinese and I'm surprised that magnolias are edible. I always learn something new every time I visit here! Thanks for the info!

tasteofbeirut said...


I read your post with intense fascination; not that I am going to rush and get me some pig cheeks (?) but I am so interested in the Chinese section dealing with roses and cooking with flowers!
I will try to pursue this when I make it to Lebanon as we also cook with flowers, albeit more modestly (geranium leaves and roses)

lostpastremembered said...

I am with taste of beirut... I love the part about flowers and food and the empress of china... wow. Where can we find this book? I have had the Briottet peach and it is magnificent... now to try their rose... for some reason the salt in the CHinese version is bothering me..that and its sorghum base... i am going to try this pork dish... it sounds so elegant, Sue!! Thanks for the wonderful post.

Hampers said...

Thanks for sharing the recipe of Pig Cheek Char Siu. Will give it a try with my favourite wine Viogner and see if it tastes well.

Sue said...

I like the idea of using edible flowers too! I have used nasturtiums before in salads (the leaves are slightly peppery). I will have a look at this as it sounds a lovely idea!

I also agree about the salt in the Chinese version of the dish - without the authentic Chinese liqueur/wine the taste in my version will definitely be altered.