Chinese New Year is a tricky time for me. It is a completely carb-laden festival and most meals have hidden and not so hidden carbs. This year helper D asked if I was going to make pineapple tarts – I seriously considered this but even if I made a low carb shortcrust pastry, each portion of pineapple filling would add up to 9 carbs per tart…given that I try to keep to Dr Richard Bernstein’s guidelines on low carb diet of 6g carbs at breakfast and 12g carbs for lunch and dinner, a single tart would mean that I would probably be able to eat only 1 1/2 tarts for either lunch or dinner! 😳
So I decided to attack another bastion of Chinese New Year – Bak Kwa or Chinese barbecued beef jerky. This is a really important part of Chinese New Year and most people would gift packets of Bak Kwa as a high value gift. Bak Kwa is a sweet meat jerky and contains an astounding amount of sugar. So using sugar substitutes would make this workable.
I had pottered around and tried several recipes before. The first round wasn’t baked long enough and did not hold up well when I tried to do the final sear on a hot cast iron grill pan. I had also put too much five spice powder the first time round and was surprised the next day to discover that kid#1 had done his vacuum cleaner act and inhaled all the failed samples in the fridge. I was encouraged to give it another go.
The second round was more successful. This recipe used the oven and starts off with a slow bake that cooks the ground meat to form a neat layer that can later be sliced and roasted at very high heat. Because this is a low carb recipe there is no glaze (most home made Bak Kwa recipes use maltose) and therefore there isn’t a caramelization that one often sees in regular Bak Kwa. Nevertheless, this was a nice approximation of the original unhealthy version.
There are a couple of tricks to this recipe – the ground pork should be a little fatty and should not be over-minced so as to give a luscious chew and not be too dry. The final high heat roasting also needs the pork slices to be flipped over several times. This can probably be done alternatively over a high heat cast iron pan if you want a slightly burnt and crusty finish. Still, this looked and tasted almost like the real thing, and we should be ready to go into the New Year well-armed with low carb alternatives to CNY goodies!
Low Carb Bak Kwa
- 1 kg pork (I usually get this at the butcher’s and ask for more fatty meat and only minced once)
- 1 cup sweetener (I used Monkfruit sweetener)
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp Chinese wine (hwa tiao chiew)
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp five spice powder
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- Mix the dark soy sauce, chinese wine, sesame oil, fish sauce, pepper and five spice powder together. Mix together with the sweetener, then mix through the pork mince well. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight.
- Turn the oven on at 150 deg C.
- Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone mat.
- Cut out 2 pieces of baking paper that fits the size of the baking tray. Place about 1/3 of the pork mince in between 2 pieces of baking paper and roll out carefully to be about 1/2 cm thick in a rectangular shape.
- Place the pork mince on baking paper into the baking pan. Peel off the top layer of baking paper. Repeat #4 and #5 with another 2 trays.
- Place a tray of pork mince into the oven for 20 minutes, then remove. Repeat the same for the other trays.
- With kitchen towels, dab away any liquid that may have oozed from the meat. Then, with a pizza cutter or a knife, slice the large piece of ground meat into 6 pieces. Gently separate the pieces of meat so that there is a little space between them.
- Bring oven temperature up to 225 deg C, then place the baking tray into the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the tray and flip over the pieces of meat. Bake again for another 5 minutes.
- Finally flip over again. Bake for the last 2 minutes and be very careful at these stage where the meat is most likely to burn (different ovens may have different roasting effects).
- Remove and set on a rack to dry out a little and cool down. Keep in an airtight container or eat immediately.