HACK: Turn Trader Joe’s CARNITAS into CHAR SIU (Chinese Roasted BBQ Pork)


Here’s a hack I came up with to turn Trader Joe’s Pork Carnitas into Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)

Looking at a half used package of TJ’s Carnitas I had in the fridge, I had an thought. Could I turn it into Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Roast Pork) ? I mean both are roasted pork. Why couldn’t I just add the Chinese flavorings to come up with some Char Siu? So I tried it out and guess what? This hack worked great! The Carnitas now tasted very close to delicious Char Siu aka Chinese BBQ Roast Pork. My wife and I thought the hack came out delicious. Here’s how I did it.

I made a Chinese sauce, grilled up a few thick slices of the carnitas, cooked it in the sauce to absorb the flavors, then spooned on more. To get that BBQ effect, I put the pan under the broiler until it had caramelized and the sauce became a thick glaze. The pork was tender, moist and full of flavor. We were amazed at how good this turned out and how much it tasted like Chinese BBQ Pork aka Char Siu.

I will be doing this now whenever I am in the mood for some easy Char Siu ! (BTW the Carnitas / Char Siu make a great topping for Ramen!) We ate the BBQ pork along side a Chinese noodle dish I made. It could be even good just on top of a bowl of rice too and with a few veggies, or any way you would use traditional Chinese Roast Pork.

Try this hack out yourself and see how easy and tasty it is!

SAUCE TO MAKE CARNITAS CHAR SIU

1 clove of fresh garlic, crushed

1/2 inch ginger, grated

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons palm sugar / light brown sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

pinch of ground cinnamon (or 5 spice powder if you have some)

1/4 teaspoon of black pepper

1 teaspoon rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar

Mix all the ingredients together in the bowl. In a cast iron or oven safe pan, grill up your Carnitas pork slices under the broiler on low, for maybe 3 minutes, watching carefully until the pork is lightly browned. Flip and brush on some Char Siu Sauce and place back under the broiler on low for maybe 1 minute checking it carefully to make sure it does not burn. Take out and turn off the broiler. Spoon any left over sauce over the pork to coat. Put the hot pan back in the oven and let it sit for 1-2 minutes for the sauce to glaze up and reduce more in the residual oven heat (again keeping an eye on it to make sure it is deeply browned but do not let it get burned) Spooning the sauce over every 30 seconds or so.

Enjoy!

Here’s a more traditional recipe making it from scratch. I made the ingredients simpler in that you can find them all at Trader Joe’s – which doesn’t sell Oyster Sauce, for example (I wish). So if you have that and other Chinese ingredients in your larder, of course add them. The CHAR SIU recipe below in Woks of Life will give you ideas.

Trader Joe’s CHICKEN / PORK GYOZA DUMPLINGS


Chicken and Vegetable OR Pork and Veg. Gyoza Pot Sticker Dumplings – Perfect for now (currently Chinese Lunar New Year) or anytime of course.

Chinese dumplings are one of my very favorite things to eat. Seriously. Over my lifetime I would not be surprised if I’ve eaten a thousand of them, in one small hole in the wall place or another, mostly in Manhattan’s Chinatown or Flushing’s. Flushing especially has become a destination for dumplings with terrific places that specialize in dumplings of all kinds. I’ve even learned how to make dumplings myself, from scratch, including at times even making the wrappers! (I usually buy them in an Asian market). However that’s too much for most people. Which is where these babies come in. When you just get a craving for Pot Stickers, you can buy these frozen Gyoza Pot Stickers that TJ carries in their frozen Asian section. They’re good! They’re cheap. $3 bucks a bag. Wow.

Now I am not going to say that these dumplings can measure up against my favorites dumpling joints. Never the less the fact is I buy these bags of dumplings all the time to have on hand in the freezer for whenever I get a dumping craving and don’t want to leave the house (which let’s face it is all the time right now in the middle of Covid-19!)

These TJ bagged dumpling are not at all bad for what they are, they are super convenient, and frankly at $3 a bag (about 21 dumplings) they are a steal. TJ sells both a Pork & Veg version and this Chicken & Veg version which I am reviewing here. As the pork one is not “porky” enough for me (I can make a decent pork and cabbage dumpling) personally I give a slight edge to the chicken ones surprisingly, as of course pork dumplings are way more typical dumplings. Buy a bag of both and see which you prefer. They’re both good. Now the stuffing of both versions are too finely ground up for my personal dumpling preferences. In any handmade dumpling you would usually be able to see chopped up vegetables which one can’t in either the pork or chicken dumplings.

These are a tiny bit on the blandish side but a good dipping sauce can really make up for that with some nice Asian flavors in it. My first choice is to make these in a pan as Gyoza or Pot Stickers. Pot Stickers refers to first frying the bottoms, and then adding liquid to steam them, giving one the best of both worlds texture-wise in a single bite, with the wrapper both a bit crispy/chewy plus soft. The skins on these TJ dumplings are neither too thick nor too thin but acceptable in proportion to the filling. If I make them myself they would have thicker skins, be bigger and more packed with filling. But these do fine in a pinch. I have never tried cooking these in a microwave though the package states you can make them that way. Nor have I tried making boiled dumplings with these, as also suggested on the bag. If you did boil them in a strong flavorful chicken broth they might be very good that way, especially with some spinach, kale or other leafy vegetables, i.e., a “chicken soup with wontons and greens” type soup (hmm, i just gave myself an idea to try out!)

PAN FRYING YOUR DUMPLINGS: One can boil these but personally I make these mostly as Pot Stickers or Gyoza using a well-seasoned black cast iron pan. If you don’t have one of those just use a good non-stick pan. Swirl a tablespoon or 2 of neutral vegetable oil in the pan with medium heat. Put your frozen dumplings in bottoms down, careful they don’t touch each other or they will stick together. You will hear them start to sizzle in a bit. Let them cook without touching them till they are nice golden brown on the bottom, maybe 4-5 minutes…You can check one every once in a while. You don’t want to burn them however you do want very browned bottoms, Well I do! When they are browned, toss about 3-4 tablespoons of water (or stock) into the pan and immediately put a cover on! Stand back of course as they may spit or really steam up at you. Lower the heat a little. If you have a clear glass cover that’s ideal so you can see whats going on inside but if you don’t, any cover that fits tightly will be fine. We want to let them steam until the water is just about all gone which may take about 6-8 minutes. Check when you think they are done. When they are almost ready if you put a tiny bit more oil when the water is all gone and let them keep cooking they can get a quite crispy bottom which is lovely, but this step is tricky, and optional. Anyway this is the reason these dumpling are called “pot stickers” as they do tend to stick to the pan and not want to leave it! If they are a bit stuck use a thin spatula to gently help release them, being careful not to tear the skins.

You should to eat your Gyoza right away while they are nice and hot, so timing is critical. What we do, is we get everything ready, then take just 2 or 3 dumplings at a time on our plates, cover the pan with the heat off to keep them warm and come back to fill up with a few more when we finished the first ones. That way you always eat warm dumplings. In the first picture you can see I served them with edamame and peas which were a great match with these dumplings to add in more veggies. You can serve them with a little rice too and any kind of veggie or salad. We can usually eat about 6 each easily as the Main, along with other stuff though they can be just an appetizer of say 3 or 4 each. I strongly suggest eating lots of green veggies with these. Edamame go great. If you can get Bok Choy or Choi Sum, that would certainly go well. And toss lots of chopped scallions all over these when you serve them.

Many countries have some variation of pot sticker dumplings. In Korea, “Mandoo“. In Japan they are called “Gyoza“. In China, Jiao-zi or Guo-tie.

锅贴 
Goutié

https://www.tasteatlas.com/guotie/recipe

You always eat dumplings with a dipping sauce. One classic sauce might be Chinese Black Vinegar* with lots of julienned ginger. Or soy sauce plus vinegar, sugar, ginger and garlic. TJ sells a bottle of “GYOZA DIPPING SAUCE” which is fine if making your own sauce is too much trouble. I frequently use TJ’s diping sauce and add just add a few things to it (like Lao Gan Ma, chili sauce) If you like fresh cilantro it’s wonderful with dumplings. Something spicy to add a kick if spicy is your thing, like me. Green Dragon hot sauce for example is great with these! TJ’s Sweet Chili sauce is also lovely! I mean a bit mixed into your dipping sauce.

While I can’t say these TJ frozen dumplings compete with the best Chinese homemade dumpling places I have gone to, these are quite decent and make up a great deal with the convenience of being able to have them anytime you get a craving! These bagged ones are such a bargain for $2.99 a bag (UPDATE: now $3.49). TJ has a number of other “fancier” dumplings in the frozen section in boxes which cost a bit more but frankly I keep coming back to these cheaper bagged versions. I tried TJ’s Pork and Ginger Soup Dumplings and frankly was not impressed. Not surprising as making Xiao Long Bao is a pinnacle of the art of dumpling making. I’ve eaten them at some top dumpling restaurants like Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in Flushing, Queens (fantastic! go if you get a chance).

  • Chinkiang Black Vinegar can be found at most Chinese or Asian groceries (5-6 dollars?) If you can’t find it and don’t mind paying through the nose Amazon sells it. It’s a classic, pantry item.

SIDEBAR: In New York City if you want terrific pan fried or boiled dumplings I check out VANESSA’S DUMPLING HOUSE which I first enjoyed 20 years ago in her original tiny hole in the wall joint on Eldridge Street where no more than 4 people could fit. Her product was fantastic and word grew about her amazing dumplings which went back then for the amazing price of 5 for $1! Vanessa’s business grew and she became a very successful immigrant entrepreneur who kept expanding and improving and now has multiple beautiful places. If you eat her pot stickers or any of her many kinds of dumplings you will learn what really good dumplings taste like. They do cost more though now! Finally, if you really are interested in learning more and maybe trying your own hand to make dumplings you will find lots of great info here

https://carlsbadcravings.com/potstickers/

and if you are REALLY inspired, make these yourselves!

VEGETARIANS – TJ does have vegetable dumplings too ! (boxed, frozen)

Trader Joe’s SWEET CHILI SAUCE


RAVE

Apparently this is one of Trader Joe’s most popular products, and not without reason. I know it’s one of my favorite TJ products, on my “gotta always have in fridge” list. As the name says, this is a delicious sweet chili sauce that is pretty much the same traditional Asian sweet and spicy chili sauce you will find at any Asian grocery. It’s both sweet and spicy but not crazy spicy, with a perfect balance of the two tastes plus garlic of course. This sauce is typically served with chicken in many Asian cuisines. I had been buying Chinese brands of this stuff for years whenever I went to a special Asian grocery or supermarket but now Trader Joe’s make a version of it so even more convenient, as we put this sauce on many things though its terrific with most any chicken. If you bought a store cooked rotisserie chicken for dinner, serving with this sauce will that roast chicken 10x as tasty. What else can you use it for. Really anything… Chicken sausages? Yes. Fish? Yes (in fact you can put some on top of almost finished broiled salmon and put it back for a minute for a sweet spicy glaze). Grilled pork. Sure! Eggs? Yes. Get it? Seriously I think there is little this would not be good on, except may ice cream.

Easy dipping sauce for dumplings: a 2 tablespoons of this sweet chili sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a little rice vinegar. Fresh grated ginger if you have it. Easy. Some extra garlic wouldn’t hurt either. Now you have a sauce for all those pot sticker dumplings in the freezer. Dinner in 10 minutes.

A bottle used to sell for only $1.29. Last time I checked it went up to $1.49, not bad. I can’t live without this stuff.