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Chris Amirault

Char Siu Bao--Cook-Off 2

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Every now and then since December 2004, a good number of us have been getting together at the eGullet Recipe Cook-Off. Click here for the Cook-Off index.

For our second Cook-Off, we've chosen char siu bao, or steamed bbq/roast pork buns. You've probably had this dim sum staple many times, often a tough dough encasing a gummy, cloying clump of pork -- :blink:. But if you had a good one, you know how ethereal the dough and amazing the double-cooked pork can be. And that's what we're going to be making, pillows of porky perfection!

In my two previous home attempts to make char siu bao, the three distinct steps (marinating and cooking the pork; making the dough; constructing and steaming the filled buns) were fun and compelling but rife with screw-up possibilities. Questions I know I'll have include:

How does one make perfect dough? What ingredients are crucial? What sorts of tips are also crucial? (For example, I've been told by a dim sum chef that bamboo steam racks are crucial to bao, and that metal steam racks don't work well at all.)

What cut of pork, marinated in what concotion (including, essentially, shaoxing wine, aka Chinese sherry), cooked in what manner and for whom long, should we use?

Some links to get us started:

Here is an eG thread on char siu, broadly defined.

Here's a thread on evaluating roast pork buns, with a discussion of NYC restaurants.

Here's one on Wow! Bao! that expands rapidly into the tao of bao.

I'm not at home, so I don't have any reference recipes to use, but I know I'll be checking Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's Chinese Banquet Cookbook and The Chinese Kitchen (both of which were iffy, if I remember correctly), and Barbara Tropp's Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. Saveur also had a recipe in the back of the issue sometime in 2002 or 03 (anyone remember that?). What other recipes will people be using?

So let's go bao!

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I'd love to try! I've done it a couple of times before but I think my pork recipe could be improved. The cookbook I used had two recipes for the dough, one for home using yeast and flour, the other for industrial kitchens using a starter -- along with the caveat that the home version (the one I used) would not be as good. (It was good, but not *as* good as I've had elsewhere.)

Anyway, count me in.

Oh, the cookbook I used was one of the two Wei-Chuan dim sum books. I will have to check which one.

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I want ot work on my pork-filling recipe, too. The recipe I have long used is the one in Wei-Chuan's Chinese Snacks; it uses both oyster sauce and hoisin sauce. The type of filling that I would like to try making some time is sweeter and tastes as if it contains hoisin sauce and honey, but no oyster sauce.

For fillings, there's also the very deep philosophical question: diced onions or no? And, if yes, how much? Should they be completely soft or the faintest-bit crunchy? These are questions I gear I may go to my grave not having answered.

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Interesting, that sounds pretty tasty. I have a smoker now, thus easy access to BBQ pork, and I have a recipe for a good LC yeast bread, thus the wrapping. I'm in, here comes some LC Bao...

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yum!

count me in!

I have always wanted to make these, but they seemed too time consuming.....

I will be trying the version in Corinne Trang's Essentials of Asian Cuisine.

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count me in too...I'm imagining them in my freezer...anytime I want....no hordes of tourists to wade through... :biggrin:

I only like the baked honey colored ones, is anybody following a recipe for these?

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I use the recipe from Florence Lin's wonderful "Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads". I wish someone would reprint it, as the secondhand price is astronomical. Its basically a saltless semi-sweet dough. My adaptation below:

STEAMED BAO

3/4 cup warm water

1/2 ounce packaage of instant year

2 tsp sugar

->(I use a sourdough starter sponge instead, and double the fermentation times).

Mix and stand for a couple of minutes or until foamy.

2 1/2 cups flour

2 Tbs oil

Yeast mixture

Whizz in a food processor until a ball forms, then process for another minute

Transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a cylinder about an inch and a half or so across. Cut into one inch pieces Turn them on their side and roll into 3 inch rounds. Keep the dough you are not working with covered with a damp cloth.

Put 2Tbs of filling in the centre of each round, push and pleat them closed. Put them on individual pieces of baking parchment in a steamer basket. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to double in size in a warm place (about an hour for conventional yeast, maybe 3 hours for sourdough). They will double again when steamed, so allow room.

Steam over high heat for 20 mins. Transfer to a dry towel to cool. Warning: Resist the temptation to eat straight away from the steamer as the filling is very hot!

BAKED BAO

2 Tbs warm water (100F)

1/2 oz package dry yeast

1 Tbs sugar

Mix, let stand until foamy

(I use sourdough starter instead)

2/3 cup warm milk

4 tbs melted butter (or corn oil)

2 eggs well beaten

2 1/2 cups flour

Whizz altogether with the yeast mixture in a food processor: process as steamed buns, except egg-glaze and bake at 350F for 20 mins.

CHAR SHAO BAO XIAN: Roast Pork Filling

2Tbs cornstarch

4Tbs water

stir together

I Tbs corn oil

1 cup hand chopped onions

2 cups Char Shao (chinese roast pork)

2 Tbs light soy sauce

1 Tbs sugar

Pinch salt

Pinch white pepper (I like lots)

1.4 cup hand chopped green onion/scallion/spring onion

Heat the oil in a wok. Add the onions and cook stirring constantly until soft and translucent - 3 mins. Stir in the pork, 2 Tbs water , the soy, the sugar, salt and pepper. Stir fry until hot. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir fry until it thickens and is translucent. Add the green onion and stir in. Let cool to room temperature before use.

Filling will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Buns will keep in the fridge for a few days, if allowed to, or for a couple of months frozen. Steam or microwave to reheat.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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I guess I'll ask some basic questions: who's planning to steam, and who's planning to bake their bao?

And does anyone have a never fail, perfection-itself dough recipe?

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As I've never made these before I'll steam them. But if these turn out to be half as good as I think they will be I'll try them baked.

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I've never had these steamed, always baked from the chinese bakeries in Boston's chinatown, sweet, plump, melt in your mouth pillows of dough and pork.

Yum! Am looking forward to trying these.

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I'd prefer to steam them. Oh, my recipe was also out of "chinese snacks". They have a good baked dough recipe but it's just too rich for my taste (they chinatown kind as well as the homemade kind). I would be into trying the commercial method steaming dough out of that book, as the home version was already quite good. It looks like it is just a basic starter (leavel some dough out overnight, that kind of thing).

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I followed a recipe from Mai Leung's Dim Sum and Other Chinese Street Food for my first attempt this weekend. The dough is subjected to several stages of fermentation (I used sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast). It calls for cake flour, lard, and baking powder (in the final rising). Very nice, but time consuming.

Today I made a batch of Florence Lin's food-processor dough. Not as flavorful as the first one, but much quicker and easier. I even used the corn oil called for in the original recipe, resisting all temptations to substitute lard. :laugh:

Both were steamed.

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I followed a recipe from Mai Leung's Dim Sum and Other Chinese Street Food for my first attempt this weekend. The dough is subjected to several stages of fermentation (I used sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast). It calls for cake flour, lard, and baking powder (in the final rising). Very nice, but time consuming.

Today I made a batch of Florence Lin's food-processor dough. Not as flavorful as the first one, but much quicker and easier. I even used the corn oil called for in the original recipe, resisting all temptations to substitute lard.  :laugh:

Both were steamed.

When sourdough starter is used, would that not give a very different flavour to the bao?

I love sourdough bread but can't imagine how it would taste in char sui bao. :huh:

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When sourdough starter is used, would that not give a very different flavour to the bao?

I love sourdough bread but can't imagine how it would taste in char sui bao. :huh:

Me, either. Even the idea of a pre-ferment leaves me scratching my head.

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I am going to steam them as I have never eaten them any other way....

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I had vegetarian Baos at Hon's WonTon in Vancouver. I used to make them at home but gave up pork. Do any of you know where I can find a vegetarian or poultry recipe that will still taste like the real thing (or as close as possible?). I would think tofu would not be the right consistency, but maybe turkey thigh meat? :blink:

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I had vegetarian Baos at Hon's WonTon in Vancouver.  I used to make them at home but gave up pork.  Do any of you know where I can find a vegetarian or poultry recipe that will still taste like the real thing (or as close as possible?).  I would think tofu would not be the right consistency, but maybe turkey thigh meat? :blink:

I've made green pork baos using fake lamb that I got from the freezer section of a Chinese grocery. There are lots of fake meats now in the Asian stores, and some of them are pretty good.

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I plan on baking mine, as my dough recipe might not work in a steamer, and I don't own a steamer or a steaming basket anyway.

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I had vegetarian Baos at Hon's WonTon in Vancouver.  I used to make them at home but gave up pork.  Do any of you know where I can find a vegetarian or poultry recipe that will still taste like the real thing (or as close as possible?).  I would think tofu would not be the right consistency, but maybe turkey thigh meat? :blink:

If you eat turkey i'm sure it would be easy to adapt any recipe. I would personally leave some skin in there to get an interesting texture. If you want it to be vegetarian, I have made vegetarian char siu bao using seitan -- I used to fry slices of seitan until golden, then dunk into boiling water to get rid of most of the oil. Then shred and sauce appropriately for whatever filling. The texture comes out nicely that way, kind of chewy/meaty with some crispy edges, similar to BBQ. Looking back, I would be interested in trying to season the gluten more before kneading, to get extra flavor in there.


Edited by Behemoth (log)

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to take advantage of my accidental double post -- Nullo, instead of a steamer you can balance a plate on an upside down custard cup inside a pot. & fill with a little water. Works great. I'm just sayin'.


Edited by Behemoth (log)

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I am going to steam them as I have never eaten them any other way....

The latest craze in Indonesia is to deep fry freshly steamed bao -- the bao develops a thin, crisp shattering-upon-bite shell with fluffy steamed pastry and luscious meat/veg filling within. I haven't found anything like it here in the States.

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I don't have any Chinese cook books so I'm searching online for one that looks good. I will compare them to jackal's. I assume we are making the bbq pork also? mmmmmmm

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When sourdough starter is used, would that not give a very different flavour to the bao?

I love sourdough bread but can't imagine how it would taste in char sui bao. :huh: 

Dejah (and snowangel), using a starter doesn't necessarily make the dough noticeably sour. If you use a shorter fermentation the bacteria don't have time to develop a pronounced sour flavor. The dough just has a more complex flavor than if you used a commercial yeast.

Behemoth commented that the recipe using a starter (probably just a sponge aged overnight) might be more flavorful. Jackal10 also mentioned using a starter in place of yeast. The Florence Lin recipe he used calls for regular packaged yeast in the original - the sourdough starter was his addition. The Mai Leung one I referenced uses packaged yeast for the first two fermentations and baking powder for the final one. Like I said, the recipe is elaborate and time-consuming.

I believe that it's common for restaurants to use a bit of starter carried over from previous batches to leaven their dough. Over time the starter or "mother" will take on a more complex character, even if it's originally from a commercial yeast.

All three recipes that I found in my cook book collection (Lin, Leung, and Charmaine Solomon) are aimed at home cooks in western kitchens. I wonder if packaged yeast is an adaptation for the sake of accessibility. I know one thing: even if it's not authentic, the dough made with starter tasted better than the yeast one. :biggrin:

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When sourdough starter is used, would that not give a very different flavour to the bao?

I love sourdough bread but can't imagine how it would taste in char sui bao. :huh: 

Dejah (and snowangel), using a starter doesn't necessarily make the dough noticeably sour. If you use a shorter fermentation the bacteria don't have time to develop a pronounced sour flavor. The dough just has a more complex flavor than if you used a commercial yeast.

Thanks, edsel. I'll have to try the starter method. I have always just used the baking powder method for steamed baos.

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I'm going to use a recipe I found which is from "Madame Wong's Long-Life Chinese Cookbook". The buns will be steamed. Not sure when we will start though.......

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