I have spent the last week practising steamed buns, so I could post a recipe today that would befit Chinese New Year and today’s inauguration of the Year of the Monkey. These buns, or bao (pronounced ‘wow’ and not to be confused with that most irritating of insta-abbreviations/acronyms ‘bae’ – ‘babe’ or ‘before anyone else’, according to the teen, also a word for poo in Danish) are quite the thing at the moment, their little stuffed muppet-mouths popping up all over the place, on street food trucks, in cool Soho restaurants and in the latest cookbooks.
But when, yesterday morning, I thought I ought to do a bit of background research into these pillowy delights, I discovered they aren’t Chinese at all, but in fact derive from Taiwan. DOH. Still, they tasted terrific and were a big hit with my troop of baboons so I’m going to write about them anyway.
Gong hey fat choy!
Bao two ways
My sis-in-law recently made for us Nigella’s pork buns (from Simply Nigella, her new book) and they were so good, I thought I’d have a go myself. However, when I checked the recipe, Nigella only tells you how to make the filling, not the bun itself. For these, she says, you must go to a Chinese supermarket. Sod that, I thought, I’m not getting on a train just to buy buns. Always up for a culinary challenge I decided to have a go at making them myself. How hard could it be? Not hard at all, as it turns out. I tried out two different recipes, from Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook which I thought were a little sweet and, much better, a recipe in the Telegraph from bake-off winner John Whaite.
I decided against Nigella’s pork recipe in the end because it involves overnight brining and who can be arsed with that, and it uses the fatty belly, which I couldn’t stomach, having developed a strong aversion to animal blubber following my recent run-in with those short ribs. She also ditches the skin, missing an opportunity for crackling which is nothing short of sacrilege in my book.
Instead, I used pork shoulder, which is still quite fatty but most of this is in a single layer under the skin so can be easily identified and removed. It was also on spesh at Ocado, so it was about two thirds cheaper than my butcher, who I’m still a bit narked with following the short rib debacle.
For my second batch, I made a salmon filling which I marinated in a Yakitori-style sauce. Again, totally off-message in terms of country (Japan), but delicious nonetheless.
For the bao buns
Makes about 10 buns
- 250g strong white bread flour
- 25g caster sugar
- 2g salt
- 2g baking powder
- 3g fast-action yeast
- 75ml warm water
- 75ml milk
- 8ml sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
- Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix to combine. Then turn out onto a floured or oiled work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until you have a smooth dough.
- Return dough to the bowl and leave to rise for about an hour, or until nearly doubled in size.
- Cut dough into 10 equal pieces (or more or less depending on how large you would like your buns to be) and roll each piece into a ball. On a floured work surface, roll each ball out into an oval with a rolling pin – about 13cm long, 8cm wide. Brush with oil then fold over into half moon shape.
- Cover shaped buns with clingfilm and leave to rise for another 30 mins.
- Line a steamer with greaseproof paper (you can brush this with oil too) and steam the buns in batches over a pan of gently simmering water for 15-20 minutes, until puffed up. You can test one for doneness to give you an indication of how long you need to cook the others. It should be airy not doughy.
For the Chinese pulled pork
Enough to feed a whole barrel of monkeys
- 1.5kg boneless rolled pork shoulder
- 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp Chinese five spice
- 1 inch piece of ginger finely grated (don’t bother peeling first)
- 1 cup water
- generous pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (fan).
- Put the pork in a smallish roasting tin and, avoiding the skin, rub with one tbsp of the hoisin, then rub over the grated ginger and five spice. Mix the remaining hoisin into a cup of water and pour around the joint (I nicked this idea from Nigella). Season the skin with salt then place in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 140°C (fan), cover the tin with a double layer of foil and braise the pork in the oven for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is soft and falling apart (if it is still tough keep braising until it’s not).
- When the meat is cooked crank the temperature back up to 200°C (fan), remove the foil, baste the flesh of the meat with the hoisin juices and return to oven for 30 min to crisp up the skin.
- Remove the pork from oven and take off the crackling (if it needs a bit more crisping up return the skin to the oven on a clean baking tray for another 10 minutes or so), then scrape the top layer of fat off the joint and discard. Shred the flesh, removing any obvious bits of fat (I then tossed the meat in the sticky pan juices once I’d poured away the fat but only do this if you’re sure it is not burnt otherwise you risk ruining the whole lot).
- Serve in the buns with extra hoisin, shredded spring onion, batons of cucumber and roughly chopped coriander. Chop up the crackling and sprinkle over the top for some crunch.
For the yakitori salmon
Enough to fill about 6 buns
Yakitori is actually skewered meat – usually chicken, which is basted with a salty-sweet sauce. I omitted the skewers – and indeed the chicken – and cooked this in a pan. The sauce is adapted from a recipe I picked up on a Leith’s cookery course many moons ago and would also work well with chicken or pork.
- 2 salmon fillets (I used the lightly smoked kind because that’s what I had in my freezer)
- 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 4 tbsp rice wine (I used Shaoxing but you could use sake or dry white wine)
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- Cut the salmon into chunks (of about 3cm).
- Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl and marinate salmon for about 30 minutes.
- Heat a couple of teaspoons of oil (sunflower or sesame) in a small frying pan.
- Remove salmon from marinade, then fry on each side until nicely caramelised. This won’t take long – about 2 minutes in total.
- Pour enough of the remaining marinade into the pan to coat the salmon pieces and fry for a couple more minutes until sauce is reduced and sticky. The fish should still be moist and deep pink inside, not leeching that white stuff which means you have overdone it.
- Flake the salmon then wrap in the buns with the same garnishes as the pork, but replace the hoisin with sweet chilli sauce and maybe leave out the crackling.