Bak Kwa (Long Yoke Korn) – Dragon Meat for the Year of the Dragon

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Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

One of the most delectable aromas in Asian Chinatowns is the smell of Bak Kwa being roasted on a charcoal brazier in a nearby restaurant. Interestingly, there are Chinatowns even in predominantly Chinese cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Singapore where things feel more Chinese. In Kuala Lumpur there is Petaling Street or Chee Cheong Kai (Starch Factory Street, a reference to its root as a tapioca producing district), in Penang there is Campbell Street or Sin Kay (New Street), and in Singapore there is South Bridge Road in an area known as Gu Chia Chui (Bullock Cart Water, a reference to the carts that used to haul in drinking water). When it comes to buying the best bak kwa (or any other traditional Chinese products for that matter), Chinatowns are the natural choice.

No Lunar New Year celebration is complete without boxes of these wafer thin pieces of pork jerky with an unbeatable combination of sweet and salty flavors. Not to mention that most people will swear that the bak kwa from their favorite hometown restaurant has absolutely the best taste in the whole wide world. Bak Kwa means dried meat in the Hokkien/Fujianese dialect. It is known as Yoke Korn in Cantonese. Kuala Lumpur has yet another name for it called Long Yoke. No one is exactly sure how this name came about. Maybe someone dubbed it as such with an intended pun on the word Loong Yoke, which means “Dragon’s Meat” in Cantonese to justify its exorbitant price tag. Many still refer to it that way, sometimes to the amusement of others. I’m sure that approaching the Year of the Dragon, bak kwa sellers everywhere hope for some of that sheer dragon-ness to rub off on the sale of their meat products! :D

Gifts are a must when visiting family and friends during the Chinese New Year. These gifts are not your usual gifts for they consist mainly of auspicious-sounding foods like…

Kum – mandarin oranges for wealth and prosperity. This is a must and be sure to give an even number of fruits 2, 4, 6, 8 and never 3 or 5. Eight is of course the best!
Nian Gao – year cakes for careers, wealth and health to step higher
Fa Sang – peanuts for longevity
Kua Chee – melon seeds for fertility
Ha Peang – shrimp crackers for joy and laughter
Ong Lai – pineapple for prosperity
Pau Yue – canned abalone for guaranteed abundance
Ho See – dried oysters for good business
Fatt Choy – and dried see moss for good fortune

You would also do well by your mother-in-law if you presented her with gifts of bak kwa, plump Chinese mushrooms, and a big-fat ang-pow (red packet with money). Gifts must be given respectfully with both hands and accepted with both hands.

The color red is considered auspicious and gifts are usually accompanied with red packaging or a red label. Today, bak kwa is usually packaged in a red box. In the “old days” they were wrapped with wax paper on the inside and newsprint on the outside, tied with string, and attached with a red label.

Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

When opened, you will see this pile of glistening, delicious meat.

Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

Bak kwa is always well received as a gift but it can be very expensive. Making it at home is very economical and fairly simple. I have never made it before but decided to take the plunge when I saw it on Sonia’s blog, Nasi Lemak Lover. Besides it being a treat for the family, I could not pass up making some “dragon’s meat” for the Year of the Dragon. :D

It may seem like a lot of work but it is actually quite simple. It was even easier with store-bought ground meat. You can of course mince your own but do make sure there is enough fat content or you will end up with a very hard and dense bak kwa. I used the regular ground meat which has not more than 25% fat in it.

My first batch came out looking more like beef jerky as the meat was spread a little too thick. It also felt like there was insufficient fat in the meat. I made a double batch (2 pounds of meat) yielding 3 trays of bak kwa. During the pre-cooking stage, there was lots of juices left in the pan which I had to blot it up with paper towels. Still, it was very tasty.



I made some changes to the recipe for my second batch by omitting the honey to reduce the liquid content. I also replaced the light soy sauce with dark soy sauce as I did not have dark caramel soy sauce. In both batches, I did not use oyster sauce as I seldom use it in my cooking. I added a little sesame oil for flavor and fat. This time I also made sure I got the layer of meat down to 2mm thick by spreading it onto parchment paper with a butter knife and then smoothing it out with a rolling pin. I was able to make 2½ layers with just one pound of meat! I was ecstatic with the results!

Please click here for Sonia’s recipe. While you are there, do check out her blog for other delicious Malaysian and Chinese recipes. Thanks Sonia for the inspiration! :)

Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)

Bak Kwa (Long Yoke Korn)

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 20 3in x 4in pieces

Bak Kwa (Long Yoke Korn)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450g) minced pork, with less than 25% fat
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Mui kwe lu (Chinese rice wine with rose)
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • ¼ tsp five-spice powder
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup (75g) sugar

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well with a sturdy serving spoon for about 2 minutes. Mixture will turn gooey. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Prepare 3 sheets of parchment paper the size of a jelly roll pan (15.5in x 10.5in). Spread a thin layer of meat mixture with a butter knife onto parchment paper. The meat layer should be about 2mm to 2.5mm thick. Leave an inch around the perimeter of paper clear of meat for easy handling. Place a large piece of shrink wrap over the meat. Using a rolling pin, roll over meat to smoothen and even out the spread meat. Remove shrink wrap. Repeat with the other two sheets of parchment paper. The third sheet will be about half filled. Transfer to jelly roll pan and bake in a 250°F (120°C) oven for 15 minutes.

The partially cooked meat should be nice and dry**. When it is cool enough to handle, cut pre-cooked meat into 6 slices. Increase oven temperature to 425°F (220°C). Transfer meat and parchment paper to a broiler pan this time and grill for approximately 5 minutes. Meat burns easily at this stage. Adjust time accordingly. Remove from oven. Flip slices of meat over with a pair of thongs. Return pan to oven for another 5 minutes.

Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

Notes

**If meat layer is too thick, juices may ooze out. Blot with paper towels if necessary.

http://www.rotinrice.com/2012/01/bak-kwa-long-yoke-korn-dragon-meat-for-the-year-of-the-dragon/


This concludes my series of Chinese New Year posts. I hope you have enjoyed them and will try out some of the dishes listed here. Please click on the picture to get to the recipe.

Hup Toh Soh (Chinese Walnut Cookies)Chinese Peanut CookiesShanghai Style Pancakes and Peanut CreamCrispy Taro CrunchLeng Chee Kang (Sweet Lotus Drink)

Poached Pears with Snow Fungus and Red DatesChinese HotpotLotus Root and Peanut SoupChop Suey Soup (Chai Boey)Yee Sang (Raw Fish Salad)

Chinese Dumpling (Sui Kow)Warm Jicama and Cabbage SaladFive-Spice Roast ChickenHainanese Chicken RiceSzechuan Pepper Roast Chicken


After the feast on New Year’s eve (on Sunday, Jan 22, 2012), I am finally ready for a leaner, healthier diet with a decent exercise regime. These past two months of feasting has taken a toll on my figure. ;)

Happy Lunar New Year!

Wishing you all a very HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS YEAR OF THE DRAGON!

Biren

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37 Responses

  1. This looks so good. I love finding out about all these celebrations and the auspicious-sounding foods and customs. I really want to try it. I like how you showed the first batch that was too thick. Sounds like we should be able to make it ourselves now!

    • Biren says:

      It just requires a little care and patience when spreading the meat on the parchment paper. All the best Lyndsey! I would love to see yours when it’s done. :)

  2. mycookinghut says:

    I am a big fan of Bak Kwa! Have never tired making them, now I think I need to get my hands on!

  3. Ruby says:

    Great post Biren! I know my kids will love the name too – my son, who graduated from ‘Knight School’ (a 1/2 hour session at a local castle), will be able to tell everyone that he slew a dragon. He’ll be the coolest kid on the block! ;-) Happy New Year!!!

  4. DongXing says:

    Biren, You must have read my mind. I was salivating about this when my husband rang from Malaysia to tell me that he is eating this at my parent’s house. I was so ENVIOUS as I had not had this for nearly 5 years. I truly enjoyed your step by step instructions and I will be making this very soon. I am so glad you’d posted this! Here’s wishing you and your family Xin Nian Kwai Le!

    • Biren says:

      Xin Nian Kwai Le DongXing! I do hope you get a chance to try the recipe. It is easier than it looks and I have a feeling I’ll be making it every now and then. Both batches are gone now, even the thick ones and my boys have requested for more. :)

  5. Cynthia chua George says:

    Hey Biren,
    Gung hei fatt choi !
    I read your recipe on the long Yoke and didn’t realize that it was simple to make. I’m definitely going to try making a batch. I do not have chinese rice wine with rose, will regular Chinese rice wine work?

    • Biren says:

      Kong Hei, Kong Hei! Yes, isn’t it amazing that the recipe is so simple? My boys absolutely love it and have requested that I make more. I can see myself making this quite often. :) Please go ahead and use Chinese rice wine. I started using rice wine with rose recently and like it better. It is the only type I have in my pantry currently and so I used that. Do let me know how yours turned out.

  6. PolaM says:

    Wow! I have to try this! I agree with you on the smell of roasting meat in china town and want my house to smell like it for a couple of hours!

  7. Hi Biren, I’ve seen many bloggers made this pork jerky. This is very expensive during CNY and the price has gone up to S$42 or more per kg. I think I’ll make this myself next year.
    Gong Xi Fa Chai! 恭喜发才!

    • Biren says:

      My mom says it cost about RM55.00 to RM60.00 per kg in KL. It is definitely much, much cheaper to make it at home.

      Gong Xi Fa Cai!

  8. I love the Chinese New Year traditions, Biren! Love how your pork jerky turned out…so crisp, shiny, and delicious. I could eat several of these crispy treats! Yumm!
    You must be so busy preparing for the holiday, it really is so exciting:DDD
    Gong Xi Fa Cai!

  9. Jeannie says:

    Oh my! that is my ultimate favorite CNY snack, I could eat every day and not get tired of it….wishing you a year filled with joy peace and good fortune, Gong Xi Fa Cai!

  10. mjskit says:

    What a perfect ending to a fabulous series! I can see I missed a few so I’ll have to go back and check them out. Thanks for sharing the information on the traditional gifts and gift giving. I’m a huge beef jerky fan and use to make my own for our backpacking trips. I am definitely interested in these Bak Kwa and will be giving them a try! Thanks for sharing such a huge piece of your culture!

  11. Janine says:

    i totally love the sound of dragon meat, considering I’m born a ‘dragon’ hehe.

    Have a great chinese new year!!

  12. I really enjoyed reading this post!! I love that you made your own pork jerky!! Sorry… dragon meat. :) Really great job and tutorial. I also loved reading the lucky foods given at Lunar New Year!! I’m so going to make sure I have all the lucky foods… I can use some extra luck. :) Well done. Have a great weekend! ~ Ramona

  13. They look so much better than the store-bought one!
    Happy Chinese New Year!

  14. Gertrude says:

    The bak kwa looks really good. Too bad I don’t have time to make any this year. Wishing you and your family Gong Xi Fatt Cai!!

  15. tigerfish says:

    Bravo to homemade bak kwa! :D

    Gong Xi Fa Cai.

  16. Hyosun Ro says:

    I’ve never had this, but they certainly look delicious! Thanks for the introduction to the Chinese New Year gifts tradition. I really enjoyed reading it.

  17. I’ve not had this either, but it looks delicious with such wonderful rich color! I’m wishing you a happy year of the dragon too!

  18. Health Bee says:

    Happy New Year Biren. What a great post and a wonderful recipe! Can’t wait to try it out. :-)

  19. Happy new year biren! hoping you had a great day yesterday! I loved this post of yours~

  20. Happy Lunar New Year Biren! What a great post and I bet my oldest son would get a kick out of making this jerky :)

  21. Zoe says:

    Gong Xi Fa Cai!

    This is brilliant! I’m very inspired by your Bak Kwa post! I will make my own Bak Kwa for the next Chinese Year!

  22. kristy says:

    Hey Biren, ‘gong xi fa cai’ to you & your family too! Whoa, how cool is that you’re making your own bak kwa at home. No need to wait till you come back here to have them. haha… And some more very fresh & delicious. Slurp… Sure you’re now having a great time. Enjoy & have fun!
    Blessings
    Kristy

  23. Meg says:

    Hi, thames for sharing. Can you tell me how do I stop the edge of the meat from curling up when I precook them ? I had difficulty in taking them out to cut, yours look so neat & flat like a piece of paper. Can u pls help. Thank you

    • Biren says:

      I am not sure why the edges of your meat curl. I wonder if it is because they are too thick or too dry. Try spreading a thin even layer on the parchment paper.

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