Bak kwa—also known to many as rou gan—is a snack that has gained worldwide popularity. What it is is essentially a thin sheet of barbecued pork that boasts sweet, smoky and savoury flavours.
An essential snack and one we see in almost every household during the Lunar New Year, many of us indulge in this sinful treat without fully knowing what goes into it and how it’s made. Ever wondered how bak kwa gets its signature smoky flavour, or how it achieves its thin yet robust structure? Here, we delve into how bak kwa is made—the traditional way.
MINCE OR SLICE, THEN MARINATED
Bak kwa exists in two forms—either it is made using minced pork or sliced pork. The type of pork that’s used varies as well. Generally, choosing meat with higher fat content results in more flavourful and succulent bak kwa whereas those with a lower fat content will probably taste just as good sans the excess grease.
The only key difference between sliced and minced bak kwa is the texture. Minced bak kwa is generally softer and easier to tear apart and bite into whereas its sliced counterpart often comes with a bit of chew.
The pork undergoes several hours of marination in a mixture of ingredients with the common culprits being sugar, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and herbs and spices such as ground pepper—of course, this varies depending on who makes it.
SMOOTHENED OUT ONTO A SHEET
Once marinated, the flavourful mixture is spread out carefully onto a rattan sheet using a spatula or a roller to achieve the desired size and thickness.
ROASTED IN A CHARCOAL OVEN
After the meat has been marinated and smoothened out onto a rattan mesh, the individual slices are then placed inside an oven where they are cooked through and through. This process is also what imbues the smoky flavour into the meat.
This process usually takes slightly over an hour. After which, what you get is a bright red sheet of meat jerky that has been evenly dried, smoked and properly cooked.
GRILL IT OVER CHARCOAL FOR THE SMOKY AROMA
Alas, the final process would be grilling the meat over charcoal—the most crucial and essential step to ensure a that there is caramelisation of the meat jerky as well as a slight char around the edges, resulting in a more intensified smoky fragrance—the signature taste of a bak kwa.
The meat is flipped over several times over the charcoal so that it is evenly cooked, yielding the most succulent, juicy bak kwa pieces.
Ideally, the burnt bits are removed to make it more presentable (and less cancerous). Voila! fresh bak kwa is made.
Thank you to the good folks at New Eastern Kim Tee for giving us an insight on how traditional bak kwa is made.