I ate Chinese steamed buns on New Years Day quite unexpectedly.
My husband and I had a lazy morning before finally deciding we were hungry enough to leave the house in search of food. To be on the safe side, we called our favorite neighborhood joint to check on the wait for brunch. Forty five minutes, they told us on the phone.
Given that their bloody marys and biscuits are good enough to make nearly any wait worth it, we scrambled to get dressed and drove with haste up the street. Moments later, we found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. Pleased as punch, we walked through the door…and that’s when things went awry.
As soon as we entered, the hostess informed us that the wait list was full all the way until closing time and they were no longer seating people. Sadly, we walked away with heavy hearts and empty stomachs — and I’ll admit, on my behalf anyways, a fair amount of bitterness.
But our despair melted away when a new inspiration hit, dim sum!
So instead of eggs Benedict and chicken fried steak, we feasted on Shanghai dumplings, bean curd rolls and a pile of perfectly steamed Chinese broccoli. We were stuffed fifteen minutes later (the curse of being hungry at dim sum) but I didn’t want to leave until we got a plate of char siu bao, steamed buns with a sweet pork filling. While they aren’t my most favorite dim sum treat, it always seems borderline blasphemous to leave without eating at least one.
That evening, as I ate the last leftover bao, I decided that making my own would be my first culinary adventure for 2015. Over the years I’ve made a lot of dim sum at home, but I had never attempted the bao.
It ended up being a two-part project because I started by making the BBQ pork from scratch. This took two days (allowing the pork to marinate overnight) and was an absolute success. I will be using that recipe again and again, I can guarantee you.
The next part of the project was a bit more involved. To make the buns, I first had to make the dough, and then make the filling, and then stuff and steam them. Even though it seemed like an arduous task from start to finish, it was actually fairly simple and I was done within two hours. (It might have been less daunting if I hadn’t decided to start making them at 10pm — one of those days I’ll learn to resist the call of late night cooking.)
Anyways, without further ado, here’s my “bao in the making” photoshoot:
Make the steamed bun dough and the filling. I used the recipe and techniques found at this link from Fine Cooking. There’s also a link to a video tutorial which is especially helpful for bao beginners.
After the filling has been made and chilled and the dough mixed and rested, it’s time to get stuffing!
Once they are stuffed and the edges have been pleated, set the bao on a small square of parchment paper in a bamboo steamer.
When you’re finished stuffing (this recipe will make about 16 buns), get a large pot of water boiling and set the bamboo steamer over it. In about 15-20 minutes, the buns will have steamed to perfection, opening slightly almost like a flower in bloom.
Then it’s time to dig in — which I did with a vengeance, even though it was nearly midnight. I find it absolutely impossible to resist dim sum goodies, no matter what time it may be!
The first bite sent me over the moon. I did a happy dance and then made my husband eat one as well. We both agreed — they tasted legit! I certainly won’t win any awards for my steamed bun “pleating” skills, but they were delicious, mainly due to the spot-on flavor of the filling.
I admit I was a little hesitant of the recipe at first because it called for ketchup. I got a little snooty (‘hmph, that’s not authentic’) but, as explained in the video, it’s mainly for color and (if you didn’t know) apparently ketchup was invented in China — though I doubt it bore much resemblance to the current American condiment. So, I figured, why not? It can’t hurt.
And it certainly didn’t. The pork filling was just sweet enough, not cloyingly sweet like I’ve tasted before, and had nice depth of flavor from the oyster sauce. The meat stayed tender and the buns themselves were juicy without being sloppy. I was really, really happy with the final result and will continue to use this recipe as well for future projects.
The dough recipe was decent though I’d like to try a few other recipes as well (I’ve seen some that call for yeast which might make a for a more pillowy texture). This batch was a teeny tiny bit on the tough side, but I didn’t hear any complaints from taste testers.
In fact, I fed these to some of my dim sum savvy friends and everyone agreed they were fabulous. So, project char siu bao was a success and I’m happy that I can already cross something off my culinary do-to list for 2015.
Maybe my new year was meant to start with dim sum all along!