What’s cooking today: Char siu chicken skewers

What’s cooking today: Char siu chicken skewers
Tony Jackman’s char siu chicken skewers. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Sweet and salty, sticky and packed with umami, commercial char siu is a Chinese barbecue sauce traditionally used for roasting or grilling pork and other meats on forks, or skewers. But it can be more versatile than that.

Commercial brands of char siu sauce taste delicious but do contain all those worrying bits and pieces that a lot of us no longer want to consume. But if you take the generic idea of a Chinese barbecue sauce, and understand that there need not be one exact recipe for it, you can mix your own in minutes if, like me, you have a cupboard shelf full of Asian ingredients.

It needs soy, or fermented soybean paste, or both. It needs honey or other sweetness such as sweet soy sauce or Indonesia’s kecap manis (in which case we’re entering the realm of an Asian barbecue sauce, but why not). It needs some spice, and Chinese fivespice is traditional and perfect for it, and you could add a little ground ginger and garlic powder too. Brown sugar is usually added, and it needs acid, so include a good dash of rice wine or rice vinegar in it. Finally, if you want it to have that eye-catching flash of red that is typical of Chinese barbecue sauce, you’ll have to add a drop of red food colouring as well.

You really can be as inventive as you like, depending on what you have in the cupboard. I had hoisin sauce, commercial char siu, sweet chilli sauce, ground ginger and crushed dried garlic, so I used all of those. The char siu is the heart of this sauce.

Once mixed, all you need do is smother the chicken or pork pieces in it, let it marinate for a few hours, then skewer the pieces and grill them over hot coals.


3 Tbsp hoisin sauce

3 Tbsp char siu sauce

3 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce

2 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp dried crushed garlic

1 Tbsp brown sugar

8 chicken breast fillets, cut into small pieces (or lean pork)


Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small saucepan. Put it on a moderate heat and heat it till just before boiling point, while stirring. This is only to dissolve the brown sugar thoroughly. Leave it to cool completely to room temperature; you cannot drench raw meat in it while warm as it will begin to cook.

Pour the sauce into a bowl or tub, add the chicken pieces and stir to coat completely. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for several hours.

Skewer, prepare hot coals, and braai until tender. DM

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks. Share your versions of his recipes with him on Instagram and he’ll see them and respond.


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