Chow Siew Yoke – of Pork & Party

That’s obviously the pork, so how about the party?

In the days when Jalan Sultan looked less like an agglomeration of hipster bars and cafes and more like the picture above, we would come here at four in the morning to eat yong tau foo, assam fish, claypot loh see fun and the star of them all – chow siew yoke – caramelised, refried sweet, crispy roast pork with lashings of garlic. After a night of drinking and dancing it was just the thing to satisfy at least one of your cravings.

There was a famous club at Central Market Annexe, from which it was just a short walk to Jalan Sultan. Those who had not been lucky or just wanted to see their new date in something resembling daylight could be found here. Times were very different, licensing hours were only loosely imposed, we were young and parties more or less any day of the week and here on Jalan Sultan a number of restaurants opened after midnight and served food right until dawn broke.

This is obviously a very, very long time ago, all the clubs are gone, most of the restaurants are no more and we are definitely no longer young. The chow siew yoke of my dreams has long vanished, the stall operators retired, the children probably sent to a better life in Australia and yet the memory of this dish sticks to my mind like caramelised pork does to my teeth nowadays.

I have searched high and low for a recipe that would give the same result, but all, categorically all, have fallen far short. They just did not give me that crisp crunch of saltiness and sugar that hits the happy spot. Until, that is, I came across a 27 second long video in which a Chinese auntie showed me how to fry the siew yoke correctly! I have not been able to ever find the video again, so I may have dreamt it, but hey, I’m not complaining!

The trick (and here everyone else just got it wrong) is to fry the siew yoke in a completely dry wok at high heat until the oil comes out. Yup. That’s all there is to it. We add NO additional oil AT ALL! I was going to keep this recipe to myself, but it’s just too good not to share. The rest is truly basic and simple, but it is also very easy to mess up, because the timing is vital if you don’t want to burn anything. And so, without further ado, I give you:

Chow Siew Yoke The Marvelous !

  • 250g siew yoke (crispy roast pork)
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 5 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp thick soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp caster sugar

Mix the two soy sauces and the sugar in a bowl. It’s not essential for the sugar to have dissolved completely. As for the red chillies, some people prefer not to soak them to preserve the full heat and get a darker colour out of them, but for this particular recipe, I prefer to soak them, so I can fry them a little longer and get their full fragrance into the sauce without burning them. The choice however is yours.

Cut the siew yoke into bite sized pieces. You have quite a bit of leeway here, but try not to make the pieces too small, or they will burn, or too big, or they will not render enough of their fat. Chop the garlic roughly and cut the chillies into 2 cm segments. I keep all the seeds for the heat that’s in them, but you can remove them if you like.

Heat your wok thoroughly, drop the siew yoke into it and stir fry until the oil has started to render. Remember; Do Not Add Oil! Once you have a good tablespoon of oil in the bottom of your wok, add the chillies and stir fry for a couple of minutes, until the chillies are starting to dry up. Now add the garlic and continue to fry until it has nicely browned. You should have a fair amount of oil in the wok by now. Pour the soy sauce mix all over the pork and stir to coat evenly.

From here on, it’s a judgement call when you stop and dish the thing out. Perfection is when the pork is nicely sticky, caramelly, but the oil has not split when it’s on your serving plate. It should then start to slowly split as the dish sits there being eaten. But honestly, as long as the sauce is not too thin, The pork will be delicious no matter what!

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