Lap Cheong is one of the oldest known cured sausages (dating back to 580 BC – but is still not the oldest!) and is very popular is the southern regions of China like Fujian and Guangdong, as well as Hong Kong and typically made in the winter when the outside conditions are right. Houses hanging waves of lap cheong outside like a massive curtain must have been an amazing sight across the centuries. Many houses would hang these outside to cure when the forecast was for no rain (typically measured by sticking one’s head out the window and knowing the signs for the season). In the UK imported versions are poor due to the preservatives, dyes, and artificial flavour enhancers as well as and lower quality control from mass producers, and if you have ever had tried to smuggle the real deal in you can’t get it passed Customs in many countries as you can’t bring such meat goods in personal luggage.
As a “sausage” it is used as both a dry snack as well as an ingredient added to dishes with sticky rice ,fried rice, dim sum, congee, or just garlic and chili – and when stir-frying Lap Cheong, it is unnecessary to use any oil as its own fat will render it golden crisp, much like bacon.
It is characterised by being a striking bright bold red colour with larger fat pieces and is sweet and salty and is used in other Chinese dishes as a topping or flavour enhancer as well as being used as a snack sausage. With it being made so heavily domestically it seems all families have their own recipe with many variations across regions. Some even call for MSG (monosodium glutamate) to be added, some don’t – some use a Hong Kong Rose Wine, some suggest other Chinese alcohols like Rice wine, Chinese rose wine – all of which are not readily available or cost prohibitive. So I’ve had a play with many of these and found using a clear and fairly neutral alcohol like vodka or white rum perfect. (Gin was a failure! I think the botanicals in the gin mess with the flavour profile). This also can be done in a domestic fridge, replicating the low winter temperatures outside – a domestic fridge operates at 3-4C.
This version is a sweet sausage that is incredibly addictive on the snacking front and I’ve kept to the main principles of being a striking red, contrasting fat cuts and using alcohol during the curing process. The striking red colour is normally achieved using red yeast powder but this is fairly expensive as its imported and you can’t just buy small quantities given the small amounts used. Given it is a flavourless addition I found something equally good and a fraction of the price and more readily available from health food shops – beetroot powder!
If you have the time, I would recommend also candying the pork fat 24 hours prior to making the sausage – this is done by blanching the diced pork fat in boiling water for a couple of minutes to remove any impurities, let it cool, and mixing with plenty of sugar in a tub and leave overnight in the fridge – then briefly wash and dry before use. This is not essential but I find it helps round out the sweetness in this sausage as well as providing a sweet chew to the larger fat cuts – something the Chinese love as a texture.
1kg pork – a rough 50/50mix of shoulder and belly pork, aiming for around 25-30% fat content overall. Cut the fat runs from the belly and dice these separately. (See below if you want to candy the fat
65g of sugar
1 tsp of red beetroot powder or red yeast powder
30ml of clear alcohol (vodka or white rum) but you could use any spirit you like as long as it is >30% alcohol by volume.
20ml light soy sauce
30-34mm hog casings or any narrow casings.
[OPTIONAL] TO CANDY THE FAT
1.Blanche the chopped fat in boiling water for a minute to remove any impurities.
2.Immediately cool in iced water and pat dry.
3.Pat dry and put in container with white sugar and toss it so the fat is covered in sugar.
4.Pop in the fridge overnight.
5.Next day, gently wash the sugar from the fat and pat dry.
This candied fat has a sweet flavour, as well as be firmer, it also assists the look of the final fat pieces in the sausage by making the translucent and pearl like after curing.
1.Coarsely chop or grind the pork (8mm plate), separating the fat from the belly pork, looking for pork pieces around the size of a petit pois (very small pea) to garden pea size. This gives the sausage more bit and chew and how the traditional Chinese like it.
2.Dice the fat into manageable chunks of similar size or use the candied fat you prepared above. It is important for the texture and look for the fat to be diced, and fairly sizeable/noticeable.
3.Mix in the salt and sugar and mix for a minute or two.
4.Mix in the soy sauce, alcohol, and beetroot powder and mix the sauce thoroughly through the meat and fat mix.
5.Put it into the fridge. Covered, for 6-8 hours (or even overnight) before packing into casings. I use 30-34mm hog casings as these are fairly robust compared to using smaller 20-22mm sheep casings. Remember we are making a cured sausage here, not a fat wide salami.
6.Tie/truss your sausages into 20-25cm lengths.
7.Prick them all over with sterilised pin or needle or clean cocktail stick.
8.Now hang in a warm area, away from direct sunlight for 2 days.
9.After this you can either pop these on drying rack and put in the fridge for 3 weeks (3-4C), turning them occasionally, or pop into a cooler area 9-11C for 2 weeks.
10.They will lose around 25%-35% weight during this time (remember there is a lot of large fat pieces here that have no water to lose), the high alcohol and salt doing its job on any bad bacteria.
11.These are then ready believe it or not, and can then be vacuum packed or stored in the fridge ready for use. There are plenty of recipes that call on Lap Cheong as an ingredient but we enjoy them as a snack sausage, that also goes amazingly well with crisp beer.
More information and pictures of the process here : How to make Lap Cheong Recipe - Chinese cured sausage