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BBQ Pork Buns Two Ways

cha shui bao

The steamed, BBQ pork-filled bun, cha siu bao, is like the gateway drug of dim sum. They’re easy to find, inexpensive, and even the worst of them are satisfying in their own way. If you didn’t grow up in an Asian household, there’s a good chance it was the first dim sum you ever had, other than a greasy take-out eggroll. Like I said, they’re the gateway drug. Before I had ever ventured into xiao long bao, har gau, or even the fairly mundane shiu mai, and before I ever dreamed of owning a bamboo steamer of my own, I was hooked on cha siu bao. I see them in the windows of Chinese bakeries and can’t help but go in. When we go for dim sum, it’s the one thing that everyone (except the vegetarians) seems to agree on.

Cha siu‘ or ‘char siu‘ refers to the method of preparing the BBQ meat, typically pork. ‘Bao‘ means “bun”. And it turns out that, if you’re comfortable making a very simple yeast dough, they’re easy to make.

bao

To celebrate Chinese New Year with the Perfectly Edible gang, we made pork buns two ways. First, the traditional, stuffed steamed bun — the little pillow of crack-like BBQ pork addressed above. Then, using the second half of a batch of cha siu, we made the clamshell-style pork buns popularized by David Chang of Momofuku in New York. Now, Chang didn’t invent the clamshell pork bun, as he and everyone else will rush to tell you, but it’s undeniable that he is the reason for the global food-crush on them at the moment. And he makes a damn fine pork bun, so credit where it’s due.

Although Chang includes a recipe for the Steamed Bun dough in his book, Momofuku (page 81), I used the recipe for Basic Yeast Dough in Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More (page 92) for both styles of bun, and it came out perfectly. I also substituted 1 package of active dry yeast for the instant yeast Nguyen calls for, without any trouble.

cha siu bao ingredients

Basic Yeast Dough
- makes 16 medium sized buns -

1 envelope active dry yeast
3/4 C lukewarm water
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
12 1/2 oz. (2 1/2 C) all-purpose flour*

1. Put the yeast in a small bowl with the lukewarm water to soften for 1 minute. Whisk in the oil.

2. Combine the sugar, baking powder, and flour in the bowl of your food processor, and pulse two or three times to combine. Turn the processor on, and pour in the yeast-water-oil mixture in a slow, steady stream. Continue mixing for about 20 seconds, until the dough starts to come together and form a ball. Run the machine for another 45 to 60 seconds. The dough should be in a large ball now.

3. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm, draft free place to rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled.

Note: While you’re waiting for the dough to rise is a perfect time to assemble your filling, if you haven’t already.

Char Siu Pork Bun Filling
Flavoring sauce:
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 pinch salt
1 pinch of white pepper
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tsp. oyster sauce
1 Tbsp. water

Filling:
2 tsp. canola oil
2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 lb. char siu pork, diced (storebought, or made with the fantastic recipe on pg. 224 of Asian Dumplings)
1 Tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp. water.

1. Mix all ingredients in the flavor sauce except the sugar together. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Heat the 2 tsp. of canola oil for the filling in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the pork, stir, and add the flavoring sauce. Cook for about two minutes, until pork is heated through.

3. Add the rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. Add the mixture to the skillet with the hot pork and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. The cornstarch will thicken the sauce and the whole mixture will start to stick together.

4. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using.

Assemble the Pork Buns

1. Divide the Basic Yeast Dough into two even portions. Cover one half in plastic wrap while you work with the other to prevent it from drying out.

2. Roll the dough into a 12″ log, then cut it into 8 even pieces.

3. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, then flatten with your hands to about 1/4 inch thck.

4. Using a wooden-dowel style rolling pin (or a large cooking chopstick, or a plain wooden dowel about 3/8″), roll each of the flattened disks of dough out to about 3 1/4″ in diameter, leaving a 1″ belly in the middle, so that the middle is thicker than the edges. This creates an even thickness on the top and the bottom when you fill the bun. For a more detailed explanation, see Nguyen’s explanation in the LA Times: How to roll out dough for bao.

5. Cut parchment paper into 3″ squares, 1 for each bun.

6. Place a rolled-out piece of dough in one hand, cupping it slightly. Scoop about 4 tsp. of the filling onto the dough, pressing gently, and keeping 1/2″ to 3/4″ clear all the way around. Use your thumb from the hand holding the bun to press the filling down while pinching the top of the bun closed with the other hand. It may take a few tries to get it right, but it’s not difficult at all. There’s a great explanation on page 52 of Asian Dumplings

7. Place each finished bun on a parchment square, pleated side up, on a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or kitchen towel while making the remainder of the buns. Let the tray sit in a warm dry place for 30 minutes for the dough to rise again.

8. Put the buns in a steamer with at least 1 inch between each bun, and between the buns and the sides of the steamer. Cook for 15 minutes. When done, the dough will look dry. Remove from steamer and cook on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

Clamshell Pork Buns

Make the same Basic Yeast Dough recipe above and divide into 16 even pieces. Roll each piece out to 1/4″ thick — there is no need to leave the “belly” in the middle of the dough. Brush one half of each disk with canola oil, fold it in half, and place on a 3″ square of parchment. Put each of the buns on a tray, cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel, and set aside to rise for half an hour. After half an hour, steam the buns as above for 6-8 minutes. They don’t take as long as the filled buns.

Serve the clamshell buns with sliced BBQ pork, hoisin, sriracha, scallions, cucumbers, kimchee, or whatever else sounds good.

*On her blog, Asian Dumpling Tips, Nguyen recently posted a comparison of using different flours for the bao dough, to see which gives the purest white: How to Make Steamed Chinese Bao White?. Definitely worth checking out. We used Gold Medal AP flour, and everything came out great. Normally, I have King Arthur AP or Whole Foods AP, which is manufactuered by Giusto’s, both of which may have too high a gluten content for good steamed bao dough.

    4 Comments

    1. EricaV says:

      Ahaha “the gateway drug”, how true! They are the reason I’m obsessively Googling recipes for filled, steamed things of all kinds.

    2. Teena says:

      Hi there! I was wondering if you know if it’s ok to make these ahead of time, like the day before, for a party? Do they get stale very easily?

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