Char Siu Bao, Chinese steamed buns filled with barbecued pork have got to be my favorite alternative wake up and smell the coffee breakfast, be it in a Chinatown coffee shop in New York, LA, Honolulu, or from my local 7 Eleven here in Chiang Mai! Steamy hot billowing white clouds of dough bursting with the aroma of barbecued char siu pork and a seriously strong cuppa java with a pinch of salt kick starts the day Asian style. Making your own char siu bao at home is relatively easy and an open invitation to get creative with seasonings and flavors added to the filling.
Char Sui pork is popular across the globe and the star ingredient tucked into the center of char siu bao steamed buns. Although traditionally grilled, char siu pork can be oven roasted and briefly broiled to produce a equally savory grilled effect. I heartily recommend doubling the char siu pork recipe as it is just as delicious thinly sliced and served with steamed rice, or tucked into a toasted baguette for a simple lunch or supper. Or try a char siu chicken!
A trip to your local Asian market, or the Asian section of some super markets, should supply you with all the ingredients you need for the char siu pork and the bao dough. Bao dough is traditionally made with snow white bleached bao flour, but if not available, use pasty flour. You will also need maltose, hoisin sauce, sweet soy sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine, Chinese five spice powder, Sichuan pepper, and toasted sesame oil for the char siu pork.
Maltose you may be wondering? Maltose is a thick syrup used in Chinese cooking that gives Peking duck that succulent glazed sheen . It is an impossibly thick gooey syrup that resembles fly paper glue for lack of a better description. If it is not available, simply substitute corn syrup or additional honey for the recipe.
It’s only fair to mention here, cook to cook, that should you ever be tempted to try cooking Peking duck at home, be forewarned! From my experience it is something you probably never want to attempt in your own kitchen unless you are a masochist. It is a lengthy and very messy affair, and you end up with an oven that looks like an incinerator. Better to make a trip to Chinatown and pick up a Peking duck that is masterfully prepared and spare yourself the grief of the roasting aftermath clean up!
Char Siu Pork: Prepare 12 hours before roasting
- 1 kilo/2.2 pounds pork shoulder
- 3 tablespoons maltose (or corn syrup or additional honey)
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground white or Sichuan pepper
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
Divide the pork into four pieces and set aside while you make the marinade.
Place the remaining ingredients in a small sauce pan over low heat, stirring once the maltose begins to melt and continuing to heat until the marinade has thinned into a dark smooth sauce. Set aside until cooled.
Place the pork in a shallow bowl and pour the marinade over the pork and turn the pork to coat evenly with the sauce. Cover and refrigerate the pork for 12 hours, turning the pork several times while marinating.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c
Bring the pork to room temperature before roasting. Line a baking pan with foil and fitted with a roasting rack. Shake off most of the marinade from the pork and set the marinade aside to use later. Place the pork on the roasting rack, adding a little water under the rack to keep the pork moist while roasting. Place in the center of the oven and roast for about 35-40 minutes, or until the pork just begins to spring back with the touch of the finger. Turn on the broiler and move the pork up under the broiler on the top rack of the oven and broil until lightly charred, turning the pork to char all sides. Keep an eye on the pork as it broils quickly!
Remove from the oven and rest 5 minutes before slicing, or dicing for the char sui bao bun filling.
Reheat the reserved marinade to a low boil and reduce by a third and set aside to glaze the sliced pork, or to add to the char siu bao filling.
Bao dough: makes 10 to 12 steamed buns
- 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ¾ cup lukewarm water
- 12 ½ ounces bao flour (or white pastry flour)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (Crisco), in lieu of lard
- approximately 4 additional teaspoons water when mixing the dough
Add the yeast to the water and set aside 10 minutes to proof; the yeast has dissolved and bubbles appear on the surface.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a stand mixer bowl fitted with a dough paddle attachment, and mix on low until combined. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Begin mixing on low until the dough looks like a rough course meal. Increase the mixer speed to medium and begin adding the vegetable shortening a teaspoon at a time and continue mixing until the dough begins to come together, adding additional teaspoons of water until the dough begins to form a solid mass; about 3-5 minutes.
With lightly flour hands gather the dough together into a ball and transfer to a very lightly floured work surface. The dough will feel quite firm and easy to work with without additional flour on the work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic and springs back slightly with the touch of a finger; 5 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Seal the bowl tightly with cling film, cover with a kitchen towel, and set aside in a warm corner of the kitchen to rise for 2 hours.
Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic; about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions and place on a lightly floured tray. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
Char Siu Bao filling:
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- ¾ cup finely chopped scallions, white part only
- 2 cups diced char siu pork
- 5 tablespoons reserved marinade
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (or cooking sherry)
- 3 tablespoons water mixed with 1 ¼ teaspoon cornstarch
Heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium low heat; add the scallions, and saute 1 minute. Add the diced char siu pork, the reserved marinade, and Shaoxing (or sherry). Stir the ingredients together and turn the heat up slightly and when beginning to simmer add the water cornstarch mixture and continue to cook at a low boil until the mixture thickens; about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Assembling the Char Siu Bao for steaming:
Prepare 12 3 inch squares of parchment.
Take a portion of the bao dough and place on a lightly floured work surface and gently stretch the dough into a 12cm/4 ¾ inch round, not unlike a small pizza round, a little thinner in the center and thicker towards the edge. Cup the dough round in the palm of one hand and add 2 tablespoons of the char siu pork filling in the center without any sauce touching the edges. Begin pleating the dough using the thumb and index finger of your free hand, drawing the dough up and around the filling as you work. This takes a little practice, but it will become routine once you have made a couple. Once the dough has nearly enclosed the filling, twist the gathered pleats together into a knot with a quarter turn at the top. Wet your fingertip with water press the knot onto the top surface to seal the bao bun tightly. Place the bao on a parchment square and cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and continue to make the rest of the buns. Set them aside to rise for 30 minutes before steaming.
Place a large bamboo steamer with lid over water in a wok and heat until the water is simmering and steam is rising from the steamer. Place 5 bao buns in the steamer, leaving ample space between each bun for even steaming. Cover the steamer tightly, and steam the buns for 12-15 minutes. Serve hot from the steamer and then continue steaming the remaining 5 bao buns.
Serve with: (optional) Chinese chile garlic sauce mixed with a little Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang) and a splash of soy sauce for dipping.
The char siu buns can refrigerated, once cooled, for later use and reheated; steaming for 5 minutes. They can also be frozen , defrosted completely, and steamed to reheat.