cheap man’s chashu


what is chashu?  chashu is a sliced meat that you can add to ramen, says the foreigner who has lived in japan for a little while.  it is supposed to me thin and melty and soft, he says.  it sits on top of the soup patiently waiting because you should always save the best for last, he says.  but in actuality, like many things that are desginated as “traditional” japanese food, chashu is a food imported from a magical (not so) faraway land.

chashu, or more accurately char sui, is a particular style of cantonese barbequed pork.  honestly, it is incredible.  but its use and preparation are a far cry from how it has been implemented in local japanese cuisine.

culinary anthropology lessons aside, the japanese style of char sui, which will henceforth be referred to as chashu in this recipe, is also almost always made from pork.  unless you are a cheapskate.  which i am.

so without further ado, if you want to make a delicious sliced meat to go with soup, serve on fancy hors d’oeuvres, or just eat with your hands because you can’t wait, boy do i have a recipe for you (that won’t break the bank).


you’ll need:

  • a few whole boneless chicken thighs
  • breast meat (optional)
  • oregano
  • basil
  • thyme
  • parsley
  • olive oil
  • red (or white) wine vinegar
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • a quarter of an onion
  • string
  • aluminum foil
  • a steaming tray
  1. put saran wrap on your cutting board, and place a chicken thigh skin side down.  cover it with one more piece of saran wrap.  take a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, a thick glass bottle, or some other heavy nigh unbreakable object and pound the bejesus out of the chicken.  it should be about a quarter of an inch thick when you are done with it.  repeat for your remaining thighs.
  2. whip up a marinade.  olive oil, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, salt, black pepper, red wine vinegar, and some finely minced garlic do make an amazing marinade.  but to say that that would be the only way to make this dish would be a lie.  a marinade similar to that of japanese shogayaki is also excellent in this situation, and as i write this hundreds of other marinades are floating about in my skull just waiting to be used.  i’ll leave it up to you.  just remember, think it through.  don’t just throw a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and hope it’ll turn out okay.
  3. add your abused chicken thighs and let them marinate for six to twelve hours.  in the meantime, find something to keep yourself occupied.  read a book.  listen to some jazz.  i don’t know.
  4. cut a eight to ten 6 inch-long pieces of string and set them aside.
  5. when you are finished with your book, take out your chicken thighs one at a time and place them on a large sheet of aluminum foil.  if you elected to include breast meat, put some in a straight line about an inch from the edge of the flattened thigh.  alongside it, make a line of minced onion and garlic.
  6. here’s the tricky part.  roll up the thigh, and starting from the ends, fasten it tightly with one piece of string at a time.  a good system is to lay the roll on top of the middle of a piece of string, and then pull the ends of the string up and around the top of the roll, tying a knot at the top.  trim any excess string, it’ll just get in the way later.
  7. once all of your rolls are tightly and delicately fastened, add a bunch of spices to a dish.  honestly, salt and black pepper are more than enough to do the job, but if you want to make your already exquisitely fancy meat into restaurant quality, feel free to use the spices from your marinade.  make sure that you use only dry spices, because this will become a crust for your chashu.  gently roll each piece of fastened chashu across the plate and try not to make too big of a mess.
  8. wrap them in aluminum foil.  make sure there are no holes or incisions in the foil.  wrap each roll in two sheets of foil, once along the length of the roll and once along its width.  twist the ends shut, and wrap once more with a few pieces of string to keep the whole package in place.
  9. with pork chashu, you can broil without any seriously problems.  with chicken chashu, you can also broil (if you want an inedible, dry, unappetizing log of meat you can use as a doorstop when you are finished).  so instead, let’s steam.  add about 2 inches of water to the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven, and place your aluminum-wrapped masterpieces on a steaming tray.  cover with a lid and let them steam for an hour.  don’t leave the house, you will probably have to add water every now and again as it runs low.
  10. once finished, delicately lift the chashu out of the steamer, place it on a metal tray or a plate, and put it in the fridge.  in the refrigerator, the juices and fats will have time and the appropriate temperature to set, making your chashu even more tender and succulent.  you can take it out after two to three hours or so.
  11. unwrap, and reserve the remaining juices as a sauce if you can.  slice slowly and as thin as humanly possible with an insanely sharp knife.

serves 2 people far too much chashu to eat safely

goes excellent with:

beer.  any slow roasted, piping hot cut of meat is in desperate need of a cold beer to accompany it.  that’s just my opinion.

ramen.  sliced thin and perched atop a beautiful bowl of noodles, this chashu will be right at home.

crackers.  i may have mentioned in the intro to this recipe that cheap man’s chashu is an ideal choice for preparing hors d’oeuvres that really wow dinner guests.  the resulting meat, if cut it with a sharp enough knife, will be perfectly round medallions with layers of color throughout.  a piece of this chashu sat atop a cracker, gently nestled on a few leaves of spinach (maybe garnished with a piece of buffalo mozzarella and a green olive) would probably be enough to have your average dinner guest formally request to move in with you.

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