Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Barbeque Pit, For Brunch: Char Siu Bao (叉燒包)

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Anyone who's a fan of Cantonese style dim sum knows about the glory of Char Siu Bao, the delicious yeast-raised Barbeque Pork Buns. Part pastry, part richly-flavored meat, and all flavor, these little packages deliver a punch of savory flavor wrapped inside a pillow of sweet dough.

Thanks in part to restauranteurs such as David Chang of Momofuku Ko in New York, Char Siu Bao have exploded in popularity across the country in the past few years -- on a recent trip to Los Angeles, I even spied them in a convenience store. Few people realize just how easy these are to make; after today's post, I'm sure you'll want to make them part of your regular brunch (or dinner, or party appetizer, or midnight snack) rotation.

Let's get right to it.

Char Siu Bao
Makes 20 Buns


6 Cups Flour
2 Envelopes Fast-Acting Yeast
1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil


1 Pound Chinese Red Pork (or Pork Tenderloin)

1/2 Cup Scallions, chopped
1 Cup American Barbeque Sauce (of your choice)
1/4 Cup Molasses
1/4 Cup Oyster Sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese Cooking Wine (or White Wine or your choice)
1 Tablespoon Ginger Powder
1 Tablespoon Allspice Powder
3 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds
1 Tablespoon Chinese Sesame Paste (or Tahini)
1 Tablespoon Chili Oil
1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Vinegar (or Balsamic)

Bamboo Steamer
[Editor' Note: If you can't get Chinese Red Pork (easily available in your local Chinatown, and even some Trader Joe's have started carrying it), don't fret. You can use a 1 lb. Pork Tenderloin, which almost any supermarket will carry. Preheat your oven to 425, and sear your tenderloin, whole, in a cast-iron or heavy pan until brown. Brush the loin with a mixture of two Tablespoons Honey and two Tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until internal temperature is 145 degrees.]

Start by making your dough. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, confectioner's sugar, and baking powder) in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat your milk and water on the stovetop until just lukewarm. Don't let it get too hot, or it'll kill your yeast.

When warm, remove the milk/water mixture from the heat, add in the oil, and stir the liquids into the yeast.

After the dough comes into a shaggy ball, use your hands (coating them with flour before) to work the dough into a smooth ball. The dough will be very stiff.

Once the dough is smooth, quickly rinse out your bowl and rub it with a light coating of oil. Return the ball of dough to the bowl, and turn it with your hands, coating it with the oil.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let rise, in a warm place, for about an hour.

Get your red-roasted pork. Like I said, if you can't get the real stuff, approximate your own. This isn't rocket science.

Slice the pork thinly, and then several more passes over it with your knife. It should be coarsely but evenly chopped.

Meanwhile, it's time to start making the barbeque sauce. Combine all of the filling ingredients. Yes, there are a lot of them. I've provided what I think is the closest analog to the traditional preparation, if not through the most traditional methods. This is your chance to experiment and make the recipe your own. A little fresh ginger might be nice, as might some chopped cilantro. I've even made these with a dollop of apple butter added to the mix. Let your imagination (and your palate) guide you.

Once you've created your sauce, add in your chopped pork.

Meanwhile, by now, your dough should have risen to twice it's original size.

Pull a 2-inch cube of dough off from the dough ball, and flatten it out in the palm of your hand. The dough should be of even consistency, thin, and without tears.

Place a heaping Tablespoon of the pork mixture into the center of the dough.

From here, bring the four corners of the dough up to the center, being sure not to let any of the sauce or pork leak out. Once you have gathered them together, pinch the dough and twist, sealing the bun and providing the distinctive shape.

Repeat this process until you have a tray full of buns. The dough tends to dry out quickly, so if you have some spray oil (PAM, or the like) lying around, you may want to give the finished buns a little spritz every once in a while during the process.

Layer the buns in a bamboo steamer over boiling water. Use lettuce leaves (or parchment paper, or whatever else) to separate the dough from the bamboo. Steam in batches (and serve each batch hot from the steamer) until finished. The final product:

These are, truly, little parcels of happiness -- few things lift the gloom of endless rain outside like a happy little these steam-filled treats. It may sound a little complicated, but it's remarkably easy in practice. Combine a bunch of stuff in a bowl to make dough. Wait. Combine a bunch of stuff in a bowl to make sauce. Add pork. Wrap one in the other. Bingo. These are meant to be devoured, not described in florid language. Go and make a pile of them appear...and then disappear, just as fast.

By the way, I apologize for the quality of the photos; winter has made it next to impossible to shoot pictures while it's still light out. To that end, a thank you to all of you who have remained patient with me over the last few weeks -- the closing months of the year are always a busy time for those of us whose lives revolve around a university, and, as a result, side projects have a tendency to suffer. There is another reason for my tardiness, however -- we here at Burning Pasta are currently working on a truly grand and exciting project related to the website, but one that, sadly, has occupied a great deal of time. We promise we'll be better about the weekly posts. If everything goes well, we may have more concrete news on the project by Christmas -- if not, shortly after the new year.

Thanks for sticking with us -- we'll see you next week with a sassy little cocktail that's a little old school, a little new-wave, and all about intoxicating you, both literally and figuratively. See you then.

Music: South Pacific -- "Honey Bun"

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