Dim sum tales and history later. First let’s talk fluffy steamed buns filled with yummy Chinese barbecue pork. These were made for Lin’s rare recipe challenge and I’m so glad I gave them a go. You can just do the char siu, roasted barbecue pork. It’s simple and delicious. Or join me on a baozi adventure to make yummy char siu bao, steamed barbecue pork buns! Have them as a Chinese New Year treat. Or all year around? Yes, definitely. I’ll be making them regularly, and creating baozi with other fillings I’ll show you later. 🙂
Dim sum in my heart
Char siu bao are a kind of dim sum (dian xin), which means ‘little heart’. In case you don’t know, dim sum are little snacks eaten for yam cha, a kind of Chinese brunch, breakfast or lunch served with tea in the Cantonese-speaking areas of Southern China and in Chinese restaurants all around the world.
I do love dim sum. We used to have fun ordering towers of bamboo baskets from passing dim sum carts in London Chinatown restaurants. On a visit to our village in the Hong Kong New territories I remember breakfast at a local restaurant with grandmother. Some elderly folk were reading their newspapers and casually choosing a few buns from the steamer baskets on trolleys pushed by the waiters or waitresses ambling past. It was all very relaxing. Another time after an all-nighter at the disco we ended up at a dimsum breakfast with a local party crowd (not with grandmother). At 6 in the morning I was offered tasty chicken feet, a delicacy. Um… yum yum? Okay, not my favourite but the sauce is delish. By the way, Wikipedia says dim sum meals are not for romantic couples but for groups of people. Um, okay… but I’m willing to eat dim sum anytime, anywhere and with anyone. Lol. As mum knows. We have our favourite little dim sum place in Gerrard Street and I have seen couples there. Perhaps the times are a-changing. Though of course if you go with a big group you’ll have a greater variety of delicious little treats.
Anyway, I haven’t yet found a dim sum restaurant here in Barcelona so I was very excited at the prospect of making char siu bao and having my own little stock at home (rubbing hands gleefully). Concerned at first about this three-day endeavour I now realise it’s totally worth the work. Especially after several days helping myself to a baozi from the freezer whenever I need a tasty little snack in 5 minutes (reheated in my beloved rice cooker on steam function). So don’t be daunted and here’s the recipe for you! 🙂
The bun dough is from The dumpling sisters cookbook by Amy and Julie Zhang, just slightly adapted. Their char siu pork and filling recipe was a guideline but I made major changes to the ingredients, quantities and general flavour following kitchen experimentation with four prototypes! I eliminated the hoisin, sesame oil, soya and honey in the filling sauce and doubled the quantity of original marinade to use that instead and so retain the original char siu flavour in the bun. I also added spring (green) onions as they balance out the sweetness of the meat nicely. I played around with the ingredients to my taste, so you can also do this and use oyster sauce, onion or more hoisin as I’ve seen in many recipes. I added a little more five spices powder. Oh and if you want that classic red colour add a few drops of red food colouring to the marinade (I didn’t do this).
Timings (note: I’ve also made them in 2 days – Day 1 marinate and make the starter bun dough. Day 2 cook the pork then make the filling, finish making the dough, assemble and steam)
- Day 1 – marinate the pork and chill overnight (10 minutes work)
- Day 2 – glaze and cook the marinated pork (5 minutes work, 30-35 minutes roasting/grilling); make the starter bun dough (10 mins then resting time 8-10 hours or more)
- Day 3 – make the filling (5-10mins), finish making the dough (20-25 mins then resting time 20-30 minutes before filling), assemble the buns (15 -20 mins), steam the buns (7-8 minutes per basket of 2 or 3)
Day 1 – Marination
- 400g pork loin fillet, cut along the grain into 4-5cm slices
- 2 scant teaspoons light soya sauce (8-10g)
- 4 tsps dark soya sauce (20-22g)
- 2 and a half tsp rice wine, like Shaoxinjiu (10-14g)
- 3 tsps hoisin sauce (20g)
- 1 tsp sesame oil (6g)
- scant half tsp ground white pepper, to taste
- quarter teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, to taste (optional)
- 1 and a half tsp (10g) runny honey
- 1 teaspoon (6g) tomato purée (or replace with a half teaspoon or more vinegar or Mirin for my new favourite version)
- 3 tablespoons soft brown sugar
- 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely grated
- Cut your pork into 5cm slices or a little slimmer (4cm), along the grain.
- Place all the other ingredients in a wide glass dish. Stir well to combine into a smooth sauce.
- Pour half the marinade sauce into a small container and reserve in the refrigerator to make the filling sauce on Day 3.
- Place your slices in the remaining half of the sauce in a wide glass dish and massage with your hands so the sauce starts penetrating the meat (it becomes dark and a little red). Cover the dish with plastic film and chill in the fridge overnight. The next morning turn over and massage again.
Day 2 – Roasting
- 400-800g/ml water
- marinated pork
Glaze – stir together:
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- half a teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F (static, non-convection oven) or 200°C/400°F (fan-assisted).
- Pour a shallow layer of water (1cm or more deep, 400-800g/ml) in a roasting tin or deep baking tray. Place a roasting rack or wire cooling rack in the tin and put the meat on the rack separated out with 2.5cm/1inch between each piece (reserve the remaining marinade sauce). Place the tin (with the rack on it) in the middle of the oven.
- Roast 10 minutes then brush the pork with the reserved marinade. Turn over and brush the other side.
- Lower the oven to 180°C/350°F (static, non-convection oven) or 160°C/320°F (fan-assisted) and roast 15 minutes more (8-10 minutes if the pieces of meat are small). Be careful not to over-cook the pork as it becomes dry. The timings vary according to how thick your pork is and your oven. Your char siu should be a little charred (black edges) on the outside and cooked but tender inside (with only the very slightest tinge of pink). If you’re not sure cut down the middle of a piece to check.
- Once the pork is cooked change the oven setting to ‘grill’ and put your pork higher in the oven so it’s grilled. Brush half the glaze on one side and grill 3 to 5 minutes till there are little bubbles of sweat.
- Turn the meat over and repeat for the other side. Allow the meat to cool 20 minutes before cutting and tasting.
- Reserve the liquid in the tin under the roasted meat. When it’s cool use a spoon to skim off any lumps of flat floating on top then pour into a container. Store in the fridge to use in the filling on Day 3.
Day 2 (late evening) – starter dough
- 180ml/g water (at 37-43°C/99-109°F) – mix 130ml cold water with 50ml boiling water (check the temperature with a thermometre to be sure)
- half a teaspoon active dried yeast (if you use fast active dried yeast you only rest the starter for 1 hour – not overnight)
- 320g (2 and a third cups less half a tablespoon here in humid Barcelona) low-gluten/low-protein flour – the Dumpling sisters suggest a substitution: 220g plain flour and 100g cornflour
- 1 tablespoon granulated or caster/superfine sugar
Please see my illustrated baozi (steamed bun) dough recipe page for instructions.
Day 3 – Char siu filling
There seems to be a trend for finely chopped fillings in baozi. But I remember when I was young (!) char siu bao had slices of meat so you could really taste the roasted pork instead of it lying hidden in a lot of sauce. I tried both methods and love slices but please choose whichever you prefer. It’s all delicious.
- 220g/7.75oz chopped or sliced roasted char siu meat, to a thickness of about 5mm, to taste (all the pork you roasted less about 1 inch/2.5cm or a little more)
- 1 and a half tablespoons finely chopped spring/green onions, to taste
- A little oil for frying the spring onions
- 1 and a half tablespoons/15g cornflour/cornstarch
- 200ml/g of combined marinade, sauces and water. Combine the marinade sauce reserved on Day 1 with the marinade sauce/water from the tray/tin under the roasted pork; if necessary add water to bring your liquid content up to 200ml/g.
- Fry the chopped spring onions in the oil till softened and lightly browned.
- Whisk the cornflour into the 200ml/g of liquid/sauce until the mixture is smooth with no lumps.
- Heat the mixture in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a plastic spatula/spoon or whisk until it thickens.
- Allow to cool.
- Stir in the chopped or sliced char siu meat and spring onions. Your filling is now ready! Taste it to check if you want to add soya sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce or honey. It’s okay if the filling tastes quite strong as the bun dough will balance it out.
Day 3 – Bun dough
- your risen starter dough (tripled in size and frothy looking) – made on Day 2
- 40ml/g water (sparkling mineral water is good if you’re not using the ammonium bicarbonate)
- a quarter teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate
- 1 tablespoon and half a teaspoon (17g) baking powder (add a quarter teaspoon/2g baking powder if not using ammonium bicarbonate)
- 180g/1 and a third cups less half a tablespoon low-gluten/low-protein flour
- 100g/half a cup less 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 15g/1 tablespoon lard (melted and cooled) or vegetable oil (light cold-pressed olive oil works, though with lard the dough is a little easier to handle)
Please see my illustrated baozi (steamed bun) dough recipe page for instructions.
Assembling your char siu buns
- Weigh your dough and divide into portions of 40-58g. 57-58g for 14 big buns with lots of bread. I prefer smaller buns with thinner dough (also easier to fit into my steamer basket), so my balls were 40-41g each, making 20 buns. If you don’t have a digital weighing scale divide your dough up into 14 to 20 roughly equal balls.
- Cut 14-20 squares of baking paper about 7 or 8 cm (2.75 or 3inches) squared.
- Flatten each ball and roll out to 9cm/3.5in diametre, keeping the centre part thicker (to better hold the meat) and the outer edges thinner, if you can. Cover the dough wrappers or buns with plastic film as you make them.
- Put a heaped tablespoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper. Place a wrapper in the palm of your left hand (or resting on your fingers) and with your right hand pinch 7 or 8 pleats (folds) at the top.
- Place the bun on a piece of baking paper then pinch the top pleats together with your fingers so they come together (some recipes suggest twisting). If your pleats were not very tidy this is your opportunity to shape and pinch nicely, with clean fingers so the dough stays nice and white – sometimes difficult! 🙂 Anyway they’ll taste great even when a bit messy.
- Rest a little while (the baozi and you). After you’ve filled your baozi you can steam them immediately, but I’ve discovered that if you let them rest at least 20 minutes before steaming they won’t rise any more but they do seem to come out fluffier. Note: If you’d like the dough to be thinner and ‘neater’ then after pinching turn the bun upside-down and place on the baking paper square.
Steaming your buns
You can use various contraptions for steaming your buns, but the bamboo steamer basket works best or even just using the lid. It can be on a wok, double boiler or rice cooker with steam function.
First make sure the steam is coming up strongly (low steam and heat gives you flat buns). Then place the bamboo steamer basket over the steam to heat up. The buns will double in size so have a space of 2.5 to 5cm (1 or 2 inches) between each bun. After a few minutes add the buns and quickly cover with the bamboo lid. Steam 7 to 8 minutes. Do not take the lid off for the first 5 minutes.
WARNINGS AND NOTES:
- The bamboo basket and buns must not touch the water in the wok or steamer.
- The buns need space and a good strong steam to grow. These are two of the most important things to achieve fluffy buns.
- If you steam for too much time you might see little yellow dots on the buns (apparently also caused by the baking powder not being incorporated well) but they don’t affect the taste or texture. If this happens try to steam the next buns for a little less time.
Eating and storing
Char siu bao are best eaten hot or warm. They make a delicious snack or breakfast. They also freeze really well – steam them, allow to cool then wrap the individual baos well in plastic film. You can store in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a month or two. Reheat in a steamer (you don’t need the bamboo basket now) for about 5 to 8 minutes. Eat immediately. Delicious.
According to Wikipedia yam cha (drinking tea) has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road. They needed a place to rest so teahouses were established along the roadside. When it was discovered tea could aid digestion, owners began adding various snacks.
Which brings me to my French cousin, head chef and owner of her 1-michelin-star restaurant in Paris who opened a little take-away side business selling delicious steamed buns just last year. It’s called Yam ‘Tcha boutique. Funny how life is full of little coincidences and connections. Now I finally understand why she adores steamed buns. Hers have a very thin layer of dough with great fusion fillings like stilton and cherry or curry. Great inspiration for my steamed buns – the ole’ rustic country cousins. 🙂
Adaptations – making your life easy
You can buy some char siu from a restaurant then do the dough and half the quantity of marinade to make the filling sauce with juices from your char siu. You can also fill steamed buns with your leftovers. With its delightfully rich flavour my boeuf bourgignon was perfect in these buns.
The Baking Hermit told me minced pork baozi are also delicious and there must be loads of ideas for savoury fillings. I might also post recipes and ideas for sweet baozi at some point. How about you? Any ideas or favourites?
Challenges and parties
So thank you again Lin for a great Rare recipes challenge! Hope you all visit to see the other scrumptious recipes.
Lin also has a cake challenge for February which I’m obviously very excited about. Yay!
Please help yourselves to a yummy char siu bao or two or three. A lovely change from sandwiches or a fried breakfast. And a break from sweet cakes! 🙂
Thank you for making it this far down an epic post dear reader! Hope you’ve enjoyed it and are inspired to make steamed buns with whatever filling takes your fancy. Farewell for now and see you soon! Happy baking, steaming and eating! 🙂 x