Saturday, July 13, 2013

Steamed Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

     Some days a simple idea completely explodes into a full-blown project. This was one of those days. I wanted to make a simple Chinese pork and cabbage soup. The thing is, when I have soup, I want bread to go along with it. Since this was a Chinese soup, I wanted a Chinese bread. I made the mistake of using the first recipe I found. I found a recipe for char siu bao. For thirty-plus years I just called them steamed pork buns. I figured I would give them a go. I loved them when I was a kid. Don't get me wrong, they came out great and tasted absolutely fantastic. The problem was that this recipe was a Colossal Pain In The Ass. I should have known I was in for trouble when the recipe book didn't have any pictures. What book you say? I set the Way-Back Machine and consulted my copy of The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. I didn't let small problems like not having the right ingredients or even the right equipment stop me. Some people suggested baking these, but I grew up eating them steamed, so that's how I was going to make them, at least this time. They came out exactly as I remembered. Soft and chewy, the dough a bit sweet and the filling a bit savory. Was it worth the effort? I'd say so. The wife and I ate 10 of them between us for dinner. As always, changes and notes are in blue.

Steamed Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)
via The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines
Bread Dough

  • 2 packages fast-rising yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup milk, lukewarm
  • 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound Chinese Barbecued Strips (char siu), chopped into medium-small dice (I was feeling industrious, but not industrious enough to make a separate pork dish for this. I just browned up 1/2 pound ground pork)
  • 2 green onions, chopped (accidentally used some of the green onions I needed for a soup recipe. I wound up using 4 green onions here)
  • 1/4 cup fairly finely chopped Chinese celery cabbage (Napa) (this totally didn't seem like enough cabbage. I used a full cup)
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce (none in stock. I used an equal amount of black bean and garlic paste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • pinch of salt (omitted)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (I used regular soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water or cold chicken stock
  1. Sprinkle yeast over the lukewarm water and then add the sugar. Allow to stand and then stir in the yeast (this was pretty amusing to watch. I stood there like a total dope watching the yeast foam up for about five minutes)
  2. Add the milk. Be careful that it is lukewarm or tepid, about 90F. Stir in the flour and knead until smooth (much like I always do, the recipe suggests using a Kitchenaid if available).
  3. Place the dough on a plastic countertop and cover with a large metal bowl. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, around one hour. When properly risen, punch the dough down and allow to rise another 30 minutes (be ready, this dough inflates spectacularly when it rises. I lifted the bowl after an hour and feared I would be overwhelmed with dough). 
  1. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Combine all the ingredients in a wok, except for the dissolved cornstarch and chow (stir-fry) just until the mixture is hot (I didn't use a wok. I just stir-fried everything in my non-stick skillet) Thicken with cornstarch and allow the filling to cool.
    Totally not the filling the recipe calls for.
  1. Punch the dough down and knead for 1 minute. Roll the dough into a snake about a foot long and divide the dough into 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then roll out into a 4-inch circle.
  2. Fill each bun as you roll it. Place a little more than a teaspoon into the center of the dough circle. With your fingers, gather the sides of the dough around the filling in loose folds, meeting at the top. Pinch the dough so it will hold (I wasn't terribly detail-oriented at this point. I just sort of flattened out each ball by hand, dropped in the filling and pinched it closed) 
  3. Please make note of the lack of uniformity of size and the fact that I have not laid them on the waxed paper the right way. I can say with total sincerity that I gave not a single damn regarding these inconsistencies. 
  4. Place the filled bun upside down on a 2-inch square of waxed paper and place in a bamboo steamer (not only do I not own a bamboo steamer, I didn't turn those little bastards upside-down. Totally forgot. I have no regrets. They just sat on the counter for a while)
  5. When all the buns are finished, cover the steamer with the lid and allow the dough to rise until not quite doubled in size. In about 30 minutes, the dough should spring back slowly when pushed gently with your finger (yeah, still don't have a bamboo steamer. Fortunately, the kitchen was hot and humid as hell, so I'm counting it. The dough did spring back when pushed, so it was all good.)
  6. Steam them for 15 minutes (I totally faked the bamboo steamer. I took a big pot and filled it a quarter of the way with water and brought it to a boil. I then hung my Dollar Store Chef Basket over the boiling water. Working in batches of 6, I just loaded the dough balls on their wax paper into the basket and balanced the lid on top)
    It worked, too! So there.
Good times!


  1. Frank,
    Visiting from the Super Saturday linky party. I've always wanted to make these, so I'm pinning the recipe.

    1. Thanks! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

  2. Thanks for such an entertaining introduction to and recipe for a dish I know I have to make soon! LOL No bamboo steamer here, either, but I do have a steamer system that will work at least as well as your system did, I think!
    P.S. The pictures are going to be very helpful, too. Thanks again!!!!!!!!!

    1. You are quite welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it!