Cantonese barbecue and poached meats/siu laap
As you approach these Cantonese roasteries from afar, you can easily identify them. An impressive looking window display filled with hanging cuts of pork, chickens, and even whole ducks. Some rarer items such as pigeon and geese might be available at a few locations, but compared to other parts of Asia these roasted delights are seldom found. Note, these food items are not necessarily located only at roasteries, large banquet halls typically carry them as an appetizer.
Typical items found in the roasteries:
Char Siu (Barbecue pork) - Literally fork roasted, this barbecue pork is typically prepared with long strips of marinated pork skewered onto a fork and then roasted in the oven. The marinade is a mixture of honey, five-spice powder, red fermented bean curd, dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and possibly rice wine giving the char siu a sweet and savory flavor. Usually the cut used for char siu is pork loin but there are some places that also use the pork neck for an even more fatty and delicious bite. Char siu at most roasteries are consumed with either rice or noodles (wonton noodle variant), but it can also be found inside buns à la char siu bao or even chopped up into small pieces for fried rice.
Siu yuk (Roast Pork) - Unlike char siu with strips of pork, siu yuk is usually made by roasting the entire pig with seasonings such as five-spice, salt, and vinegar giving a salty and savory flavor. The roast pork should have extremely crisp skin while the meat remains juicy and tender. Some places will also roast suckling pigs (piglet/yu ju) and due to its younger nature will have a more tender met while the skin remains crisp.
Roast duck - Note, the Cantonese roast duck is prepared differently than Peking style duck. Peking duck has air pumped under the skin to separate the skin from fat and then dried, while in Cantonese roast duck there is no inflation of skin. A wet marinade is used in the cavity of the roast duck before it is skewered shut. The marinade (duck jus at this point) is drained prior to duck being served though you’re more than welcome to ask for the juice to take home. The roast duck is typically served with plum sauce. A lot of SF Bay area restaurants have a tendency to use roast duck and call it Peking-style duck; for the most part Peking duck is more centered on the crispy skin while roast duck is more focused on the meat.
Here are some tips to look for when purchasing a roast duck. Look for a plump bird with evenly roasted, glossy skin. Avoid one that appears dry, dull, and somewhat sunken and the ducks with excess pin feathers.
White Cut Chicken - Unlike the other roasted items, this chicken is salt marinated and cooked in its entirety in hot water/chicken broth. Once the liquid hits boiling point, the heat is typically turned off and the chicken cooks in the residual heat. Due to this cooking process, the chicken’s skin will not show the typical maillard browning reactions, but remain pale white. The meat should be tender, moist, and flavourful. Note, the chicken can appear “rare” in which the meat is cooked thoroughly but the red myoglobin (not blood…) is secreted from the bones. The white cut chicken is typically accompanied by minced green onion and ginger condiment called geung yung.
Empress (Gwai Fei) Chicken - This is like a variant of the white cut chicken where there are additional herbs, seasonings, and rice wine used to give a more complex flavor.
Soy Sauce Chicken - If you can’t guess, this is another variant on chicken poaching. The chicken is poached in a soy sauce marinade and still retains quite the tender and moist meat with the additional bonus of soy sauce flavor.
Note for these poached chickens, there are often times multiple breeds of chicken available to order. The default tends to be the broiler chicken (Cornish/Rock Crossbreed) which have relatively large amount of tender meat but tends to be on the blander end (slaughter age seems to be around 6-8 weeks). Then there is the brown/yellow feathered chickens that tend to be leaner and smaller with a chewy texture, but have a much stronger chicken taste (slaughter age seems to be around 16 weeks).
- Orange Cuttlefish - Not always found in the roasteries, these cuttlefish are more of a Teochew specialty where the cephalopod are marinated and poached in master stock (lou sauce). The name of the dish is not due to the citrus fruit, but rather food coloring. The cuttlefish has a soft yet chewy texture that can be quite delicious.
Where to eat?
- Ming Kee - Their bbq/roasting master is based from Hong Kong and have a slightly different marinade from rest of the SF roasteries (the others are more Toishan based).
- Cheung Hing ([Peninsula] Cheung Hing 祥興- Cantonese eats, mostly) They have multiple locations in the Peninsula, one in San Francisco, South San Francisco, and Milbrae.
- Win’s Restaurant (https://www.hungryonion.org/t/san-francisco-outer-sunset-great-value-cantonese-roast-meats-at-a-sunset-institution-win-s-restaurant/)
A HO discussion topic:
Check out all the other topics on the regional Cantonese cuisine