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How to Make Char Siu Bao — Siopao (Steamed Pork Buns) at Home

February 15, 2010 4 comments

Char siu baos are Cantonese buns, bao, filled with a barbecued pork filling, char siu.  They can either be steamed or baked.  I personally prefer the steamed variety either as a snack or as part of dim sum with Chinese tea.  The bao filling can either be savory like char siu pork or it can be sweet like a Lotus seed bun made with sweetened Lotus seed paste.

Siopao is the Filipino char siu bao, which can be filled with pork, chicken, or even salted eggs.  When I was a kid growing up, I always enjoyed tasty siopao with a cold bottle of soda as a tasty snack after school.

How do you make homemade char siu bao?  First make the char siu or barbecue pork filling and then the yeast dough.  Place the filling inside the bun and steam them.  It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings.

Making the char siu pork filling

1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp canola oil
salt and ground white pepper to taste
2 scallions, chopped white and green parts
1/2 pound char siu, homemade or store-bought, diced (click here to find out where to buy store-bought char siu pork)
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water

Char Siu Pork and Scallions

Combine sugar, salt, white, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Add the char siu pork and stir well.  Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the pork is heated through.

Add the Shaoxing rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. Add the wine and cornstarch mixture to the warm pork and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until the mixture has come together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool at room temperature before using.

The filling may be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.

Making the yeast dough

1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour

Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.

Combine sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture.  Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour.  Keep stirring as a ragged but soft dough forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a clean work surface and knead for about 5 minutes.  You should not need additional flour if the dough was properly made.  Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic.Press your finger into the dough and it should spring back with a slight indentation remaining.

Kneading yeast dough

Place the dough in a large bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free place to rise such as an oven and let it sit for around 45 minutes until the dough has nearly doubled.  You can refrigerate the dough if you do not need it right away but make sure that it is covered well with a plastic wrap.

Forming and steaming the bao

Lightly dust your clean work surface with flour.  Cut the dough in half and roll into a foot-long log.  Cut the log into eight pieces.

Making Yeast Dough

Roll each piece into a ball and flatten each piece gently into a small disc using your palm. Using a small rolling pin (either a 1-inch wooden dowel or the end of a wooden spoon like what I used, would do) roll the edges and only the edges. There should be a small bulge at the center of the dough, which the Chinese calls the belly.

Rolling the Dough and Forming a Belly

Place a generous tablespoon of your char siu pork filling in the center of the dough, right on the belly. Wrap the filling by pressing and pulling the edges of the dough.

Making char siu bao

Gather and pull the edges up and twist the top to fully cover the filling.

Making char-siu bao

Cut 2-inch square wax paper sheets and use these to line the bottom of each bun before steaming them. Steam up to 4 buns in an 8-inch bamboo steamer. Make sure that there’s around a 1 to 2-inch space in between buns inside the steamer.  A bamboo steamer is definitely not a must; a regular steamer will work, too.

Steaming the buns

Boil water in your wok or a large pan and place the steamers with the buns in your wok or pan. Steam for around 15 minutes. Make sure that the water does not come in contact with the buns.

Steaming the buns

Remove the lid before you turn off the heat to avoid condensed water from dripping back to the buns. Continue steaming the rest of the batch.

Homemade char siu bao or siopao

You can pretty much put anything inside your bao.  You can make your own barbecue pork from pork loin and your favorite barbecue sauce.  You can even make good ol’ Sloppy Joe if you want and make it your bao filling.  But as Dennis cleverly pointed out, it has to be called Un-Sloppy Joe because it isn’t sloppy anymore. The fact that the filling is conveniently contained inside the bun actually makes baos a really cool snack.

Let me know what interesting tasty fillings you come up with for your bao.

Shopping for Char Siu in Chinatown

February 10, 2010 1 comment

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Shopping in Chinatown is always an adventure.

Chinatown San Francisco

The oldest in North America and one of the largest outside China, Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in the city.

The adventure starts once you get on the 30 en route to Stockton where you’ll be greeted by an energetic mob of Chinese ladies eager to get the best seat on the bus. It starts to feel distinctively Chinese once the bus maneuvers its way through Union Square and goes through the Broadway tunnel. And once you step off the bus at Stockton, you’ll definitely feel you have entered an entirely different world.

I had two things I wanted to buy last Wednesday: some char siu and a bamboo steamer. I was going to make my very first char siu bao, buns filled with barbecue flavored char siu pork.  The buns can be either steamed or baked but I was going to steam them so I was also on the lookout for a bamboo steamer. Crate & Barrel downtown carries bamboo steamers but I wanted to get one from an Asian store and, besides, I was certain I could get a cheaper one in Chinatown.

I intentionally did not have a solid plan on where to get the two items in my shopping list. I guess that was part of the fun. I had just one thing in mind, I was going to rely on people I meet on the street to give me the leads. So where did I start? I was a bit hungry for a snack and went straight to Golden Gate Bakery.

Chinese Sweet Treats at Golden Gate Bakery

They have the tastiest Chinese sweet treats this side of town, from yummy deep fried sesame balls to creamy custard tarts. I grabbed my flaky melon cake wrapped in a brown paper bag and a tip to go to Yee’s Restaurant a block away along Grant Avenue for some char siu pork.

Shopping for Char Siu in Chinatown

A true Chinese hole-in-the-wall with take out, Yee’s has everything from roasted duck, chicken, and goose to barbecued pork. A half a pound of char siu for less than 4 bucks was the deal of the day. The friendly butchers at Yee’s then referred me to Ginn Wall Hardware Company down the street for my bamboo steamers.  The plan was working out.

I got so excited when I saw the bamboo steamers all lined up in the store’s window display but got so disappointed when I found out that the hardware is closed on Wednesdays! After checking out five other Chinese bazaars along Grant Avenue that carried steamers that were either too big or too small, I started to get a little frustrated. I’m in Chinatown! They should have steamers in every corner, I thought. But I finally stumbled upon The Wok Shop where I got myself a sturdy 8-inch bamboo steamer. It was exactly what I wanted.

Chinatown San Francisco

With char siu pork in one hand and bamboo steamer in the other, I was ready to go home and make some yummy char siu bao. I looked up, admired the beautiful red Chinese lanterns and noticed that it was laundry Wednesday.

Laundry day in Chinatown

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Here is more information about the restaurants and shops mentioned in this blog.

Golden Gate Bakery
1029 Grant Ave between Jackson Street and Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
415.781.2627

Yee’s Restaurant
1131 Grant Ave between Pacific Avenue and Jack Kerouac Alley
San Francisco, CA 94133
415.576.1818

Ginn Wall Hardware Company
1016 Grant Avenue between Jackson Street and Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
415.982.6307

The Wok Shop
718 Grant Avenue between Commercial Street and Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
415.989.3797
www.wokshop.com

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