Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bao Tze (Chinese Stuffed Buns)

Char Siu Bao Tze with Stir Fried Broccoli

My master's advisor at Clemson made us special dumplings a couple of times a year. At the beginning, they took some getting used to for me to eat them. However, I grew to like them a lot. After leaving, I learned that he was from the region in China in which the dish was a specialty and that most Chinese had never made them. Once I could no longer get them, I wanted to be able to make them. I searched the internet and asked all four of the Chinese folks in our lab but nothing turned up, other than learning they were a regional specialty. I wonder if some people realize that loss after having east Tennessee barbecue. Nothing else quite compares and its only made by a select group of people. Anyway, sometime in the last year, I searched for the bao tze again. This time, I found recipes online! Woohoo! I was ecstatic. After reading through the recipes, I learned that it was a lengthy process but not all of it is hands on and there were various spots to stop and restart the process. Feeling reassured, I picked up ingredients to make them.

Chinese stuffed buns can be filled with many items. The recipe I chose was for pork...but due to confusion in the recipe which resulted in restarting the filling despite reading ahead of time, chicken was used in the final product. The main difference here is that chicken cooks more quickly and is tough so your cook time can be decreased. Bonus!

The recipe I used came from recipezaar. I modified the recipe slightly and will share that below. Further, be warned that some of the recipes do not list tasks in a logical order for completion. Be sure to read through them first. I'm listing this recipe in the order of completion...just in case you're not into reading much more than the ingredients and time before getting started. ;)

There are 3 key parts in chinese stuffed buns: the meat (or marinated ingredient, tofu if desired), the filling (combining the meat/marinated ingredient with a couple other ingredients to make a tasty sauce), the dough (which is yeast based and must be allowed time to rise). I'll start with the meat. After the meat is completed, it is best to begin the dough. The filling comes together quickly so while the dough rises, the filling can be completed in plenty of time.

Step 1: Meat (or other marinated ingredient) (Char Siu) 

3 c. water
1 lb boneless skinless chicken or deboned pork
4 cloves of garlic (minced, I used a microplane to speed up the process)
1 tsp. fresh ginger (minced)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce (international section or Asian grocery)
2 Tbsp. sherry, mirin, chinese wine, or sake (you can find mirin and sake in the international foods sections of most grocery stores or feel free to try a Asian grocery for a lower price)

(optional) 1 tsp. chinese five spice powder (also in international section or Asian grocery)

Note: some people really do not like chinese five spice powder, this may not be the first place to try it. I really like it but have friends who don't so if you're making this for a crowd, you may want to skip it.

How to prepare the meat:

1) Combine all ingredients (except the meat and water) together.

2) Place the meat in the marinade and marinate 3 hours or overnight.

3) a) roast in an oven at 350 F (turning halfway through cooking) in a pan with water
b) Place in a crockpot with 3 c. water. Cook in the crockpot on high for ONE hour, followed by 3-5 hours on low. You want the meat to be done and flake away when you touch it with a fork.
c) You could also cook the meat on medium in a covered pot on the stove. This would likely speed up the process but requires more monitoring but cooking it slowly should yield a more tender filling.

Step 2: Dough

How to:

1) If you refrigerate your yeast, let it come to room temperature. You can either sit the container out or scoop the amount you need into a bowl and wait about 10 minutes to let it reach room temperature. I recommend the latter.

2) Place the yeast and sugar together in a medium sized bowl. Add the warm water. Stir the yeast, sugar, water mixture until the yeast and sugar are dissolved. Allow the yeast mixture to sit for 10 minutes to proof. (Proofing is a way of making sure your yeast is active. Active yeast will bubble after a few minutes and appears frothy after about 10 minutes. If your yeast does not become frothy, its dead and you need to stop by the store for fresh yeast.)

3) Place flour and salt in a bowl or bread machine. Add yeast mixture and mix well either by hand or with a stand mixer with a dough hook or let your bread machine mix it for you. If mixing by hand, mix until all is homogeneous and forms a ball.

4)Place in an oiled bowl, covered with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 15 minutes. (This is a good time to prepare your filling.)

Meat Combined with Filling

Step 3: Filling (Completing the Char Siu)

1 1/2 c. of meat (char siu chicken or pork or whatever you want to marinate) (You can buy char siu pork in the grocery store in some locations.)

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chili paste (or garlic chili paste) (I use the garlic chili paste with the rooster on it)
  • 4 scallions, chopped finely

How To:

1) Chop the meat finely.

2) Saute the ginger in the peanut oil for four minutes, stirring constantly.

3) Transfer the ginger to a bowl and add all the rest of the ingredients, including the meat. Stir together well and let cool.

A Single Assembled Bun

Step 4: Stuffed Bun Assembly

1) Take the dough after it has risen and divide it into into 25 balls. Flatten them and place a small portion of filling into the center of each pancake-like piece of dough.

2) Pinch the edges of the dough toward the middle to close them into a ball shape.

3) Lightly oil parchment or wax paper and place the balls onto the surface to rise. I placed them 9x13 pans so they could be covered. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes, until the balls double in size.

4) After allowing the buns to rise, they are ready to be steamed. You can either use a bamboo steamer or if you have a double boiler, that works too. To prevent the buns from sticking to the surface, place lettuce, cabbage leaves, or wax paper into the the steamer. Set the buns into the steamer by hand.

5) After the buns steam 10 minutes, remove them. I recommend using salad tongs for this process. If you used wax paper, feel free to remove the whole piece and replace it with another to save time.

6) It will take several runs of steaming to cook them all. Once they are cooked, you can either eat them or place them in freezer bags.

7) After freezing, they can be removed, and resteamed for 10 minutes to reheat.

Pile of Finished Buns

A View of Inside the Bun

We ate the bao with the stir fried broccoli (posted as last week's double take). The steamed buns were awesome! Kyndra, Ruthann and I loved them. They were spicy and a great first run. We ate them plain or dipped in hoisin sauce or soy sauce.

I edited the recipe above to reflect changes that should help them be even better in the future. The main issue was that we had a little too much dough per bun. Instead of 16 buns per the recipe, we recommend 25. Per the recipe, there were a bit big and the ratio of dough to filling could be optimized by using less dough each and flattening the dough to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch. The dough should be just thick enough to work with your hands. Another issue was confusion of the recipe which is hopefully alleviated in my version. If you test it and find it confusing, let me know and I'd like to make it clear enough for anyone to use.

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