Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chinese Steamed Buns (Char Siu Bao)

Steamed buns remind me of the first Christmas I spent with Jason, which was also the first time I'd eaten steamed buns. We drove 12 hours over icy roads to get to his parents' house, but it was totally worth it. Not just for the steamed buns, of course, because I had a fantastic time with his family, but these pork-filled beauties are so tasty it may well be worth driving 12 hours to get them. That first time, Jason's mom, Lily, made them with leftover ham from Christmas, and they were super tasty. On later visits, she showed me how to make them with diced pork ribs—totally different yet equally delicious.

This recipe is versatile, and you can make adjustments if you don't have one of the seasonings. Or you could add something new, if you think it will complement the seasonings. It does take some planning, since you'll need to make the ribs a day in advance. You could make it all the same day, but you'd have to start pretty early. Plus, if you make them the day before, you can have ribs for dinner that night, and steamed buns the next! For the dough,  I use packaged steamed bun mix from our local Asian food market. I guess I could try making it from scratch, but they are delicious as they are, so why bother? You will also need waxed or parchment paper for this recipe, as well as a bamboo steamer, which you should be able to get for under $20 at an Asian food market.

Ingredients for the ribs (alternatively, you could just use leftover ribs from another meal):
1 1/2-2 1/2 lb. package of country-style pork ribs (I prefer boneless)
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons cooking sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated (or 1/2 teaspoon powdered)

Place in a baking or roasting pan and cover with foil. Roast at 300 degrees until tender, about 2 hours. Check occasionally to make sure there's a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Add a bit of water if necessary. Remove from the oven and chill. When you're ready to get started on the buns, remove the fat from the ribs and chop up the meat, in about a 1/2-1/4 inch dice. Alternatively, find someone else to do this part for you, because it's greasy and time-consuming.

Mix up the steamed bun dough according to package directions, reserving two tablespoons of the dry mix (or whatever the package says) for your filling. The dough has to rest for about 15 minutes, as I recall.

While the dough is resting, season your filling. If you are using leftover pork ribs that you did not make specifically for steamed buns, bump up the seasonings a bit. This is also a good place to be creative--I never season them quite the same.

Ingredients for the filling
Diced pork ribs
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sherry
1 tablespoon hoisin
2 tablespoons Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
black pepper to taste
Dry mix, according to package directions (if you forgot to reserve some, add an equivalent amount of corn starch)

Mix all filling ingredients together.

Assembling the buns
Cut waxed or parchment paper into 4-inch squares. Roll dough into long log, and cut it with a knife to divide into 12 equal pieces. Sprinkle a bit of flour down, and roll a piece into a circle, about 4 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. If you can manage to make it thinner on the edges than in the middle, fantastic.

Now would be a good time to start heating water for steaming the buns. In a wok or large pan, heat 3-4 inches of water over medium high heat. When water starts to boil, turn it down so it's just at a simmer.

Place about two tablespoons of filling, or as much as you think will fit, in the middle of the circle. Dip your finger in water and run it around the edge of the circle. This will help the dough seal. Grab one edge of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and pull it up to the center of the bun, folding it to one side at the top. Continue around the circle this way, sort of "pleating"the bun as you go. If it doesn't look great, don't worry--it'll still taste great, and the dough puffs up a lot when you steam it anyway. The important thing is to get the dough to connect in the middle, even if it isn't completely sealed.

Place finished bun on square of paper, and put it into the bamboo steamer. Continue making the buns until you've filled up the steamer. The buns shouldn't touch each other. I have a two-shelf steamer and put three buns per shelf, so they cook in two equal batches. When your steamer is full, put the lid on and place it over the simmering water. Cook for 20 minutes. You'll know they are done when they look fluffy and delicious. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.

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