29 Aug / Cheater Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)
It’s that time of year again when parents all over the country are pulling their hair out trying to put together easy-to-prepare, somewhat healthy lunches for their school-age kids.
While my son loves a ham-and-cheese and peanut butter sandwich as much as the next four-year-old, he loves char siu bao (barbecued pork buns) even more.
My son’s love affair with char siu bao began when we read “Char Siu Bao Boy” by Sandra S. Yamate. It’s a delightful tale about a little boy named Charlie who loves char siu bao.
“He liked it better than candy.
He liked it better than cookies.
He liked it better than pizza.”
Charlie’s grandma packs him a couple of char siu bao every day for his school lunch. However, his friends make fun of him so poor Charlie attempts to eat “normal” lunches. Over the course of a few days, he brings a hot dog, a ham sandwich and an egg salad sandwich. “But Charlie missed his delicious char siu bao.”
Then Charlie comes up with a brilliant idea. He asks his grandma to make char siu bao for all his friends to try. After some coaxing, his friends agree to try char siu bao and whaddya know, they actually enjoy the buns!
Anyway, I thought, why not make char siu bao for school lunches? I wasn’t about to make the dough from scratch (dough scares me!) and came across a recipe for making Chinese steamed buns from refrigerated biscuit dough. I put two and two together and voilà!
Many steamed bun dough recipes I came across used both yeast and baking soda, resulting in good flavor and a soft, puffy texture. You get the best of both worlds! The refrigerated biscuit dough only uses baking powder so it won’t be as soft and won’t rise as much. The flavor and texture might be a little different from the char siu bao you buy from Chinatown. But as far as shortcuts go, I’ll be taking this one often!
Were you teased about your school lunches? Tell us about it!
Cheater Char Siu Bao
You can use either homemade (try this recipe) or store-bought char siu (bbq pork) to make the filling. If you buy the char siu, you may have to adjust the amount of soy sauce and oyster sauce– taste the mixture before you add the cornstarch.
Time: 1-1/2 hours (depending on how many buns you can fit into your steamer)
Makes: 12 buns
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Dash white pepper
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce or hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil like canola oil
2 green onions, chopped, white and green parts kept separate (1/4 cup)
½ pound barbecue pork, chopped into small pieces
2 (16-ounce) packages refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough (each package should have 8 servings)
Make the filling. Stir the sugar, white pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch and water together to form a slurry.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet or wok and add the white parts of the green onion. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds and add the barbecued pork followed by the sauce mixture. Stir to mix then toss in the green parts. Simmer over medium-low heat until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Give the cornstarch slurry a quick stir and pour into the skillet. Stir quickly to mix until the meat mixture becomes sticky and forms into a mound. The filling can be made up to 48 hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
Assemble the buns. Cut the parchment paper into 12 (3-inch) squares and set aside.
Open a can of biscuits. On a floured surface, roll one disk of dough into a circle 5 inches in diameter. (A wooden dowel is the best tool but a regular rolling pin is fine). Roll from the center of the circle out, turning the disk clockwise with each roll. Ideally, the center of the circle should be thicker then the edges. Stretch the edges with your fingers to coax it into a larger circle if you have difficulty rolling the dough out.
Place the disc in your left (or non-dominant) hand and place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle. Relax your fingers and they will instinctively curl up. The disk will naturally form a blossom with pleats.
Push the filling down with your thumb, then gather the pleats with your opposite thumb and index finger and pinch them together. Completely enclose the filling by twisting the top of the bun shut. Place on a parchment square and repeat with the remaining dough and filling. You will have dough leftover.
Set up your steamer using any of these methods. Fill the steamer pan halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat.
Place the buns in the steamer rack (tray/plate) about an inch apart. Cover and steam for 16 minutes. You may have to cook the buns in two batches. Cooked buns will have expanded and will look dry. Turn down the heat and wait for steam to subside. Lift the lid away from you carefully to avoid condensation dripping onto the buns. Remove the rack and use a metal spatula to transfer buns, still on the parchment paper, to a wire rack.
Put more buns on the steamer rack and replenish the water if necessary. Repeat as many times as needed.
Remove the parchment paper before eating and eat while warm!
If not eating immediately, transfer the buns to a plate and cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. Cooked buns can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for a month.
To reheat the buns, steam them again for 5 minutes or wrap in wet paper towels and reheat in the microwave oven for 20 to 30 seconds.