Monday, February 15, 2010

Char Siu Bao: Chinese BBQ Pork Buns


Happy New Year.  Last Sunday was Chinese New Year and in celebration of the Year of the Tiger, I decided to make a couple dim sum staples since I figured I could make them better than most of the dim sum places in Chicago.  I have yet to find a place in Chicago that can come close to comparing to some of the places in California and even Houston for that matter.

I was originally only going to make Chinese spare ribs in black bean sauce, but the smallest amount of spare ribs I could find at the market were 3 pounds.  No biggie.  Chinese people love pork, and there is no shortage of pork-related dim sum dishes.  I’d been wanting to try make bao (is the plural baos?) for a while now, so I figured with the extra pork in hand that this would be a nice opportunity to make steamed char siu bao: Chinese barbeque pork buns.  I’ll save the baked version of char siu bao for another day.

For those who haven’t had Chinese barbeque or are too intimidated by the hanging pigs, chickens, and ducks in the front of Chinese barbeque places: please do yourself a favor and try it.  Order some barbeque pork, roast pork, roast duck, and soy sauce chicken from the takeout counter and you won’t regret it.  A lot of Chinese barbeque places don’t allow you to order barbeque when you sit down at their restaurant and only serve it as take out.  So for anyone in Chicago, I beg of you, please skip Sun Wah’s sit-down restaurant and try their barbeque next time you’re thinking of going there.  It’s actually pretty good even when put up to California standards.

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For the buns, I pretty much followed the recipe found here.  You’ll notice that the measurements are by weight, so I was glad that after reading Ruhlman’s Ratio, I bought a digital scale for the kitchen.  I’m a big fan of cooking and certainly baking in units of weight rather than volume as it’s much more precise.  You may also notice the use of “Hong Kong flour.”  I’m pretty sure if you see recipes calling for “Hong Kong flour” you can substitute it with cake flour or any other flour with a low percentage of protein.

As this was my first time making any type of bread, I was pretty scared I was going to screw something up.  Anything that calls for the use of yeast has always freaked me out for some reason.  I always have the feeling that I’m going to somehow kill the yeast thingies and they won’t do their job.  After kneading for a good 10 minutes, I left the dough alone to (hopefully) double in size.

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Unfortunately, after an hour the dough had barely risen, but I was impatient and wanted to eat some char siu bao ASAP.  I portioned the dough into ten 70 gram balls, rolled them out, and stuffed them with the Chinese barbeque pork that I made overnight.  I was pretty lazy when it came to making the pork.  All I did was throw the spare ribs into a crock pot with some char siu sauce, green onion for aromatics, and a little of my endless supply of homemade stock.  Surprisingly, the pork came out really good considering the amount of effort involved.

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I’m still trying to figure out the best way to seal the buns, because I found the method of folding the sides up and twisting to not be 100% fool-proof.  On a few of my buns, it was really hard to get the dough to seal even with the twist.  These pesky buns that wouldn’t seal very well ended up opening up during the steaming process, leaving a sad pool of water inside of them from the condensation dripping down into them from the steamer’s lid.


Overall, though, I was very pleased with the results.  I can honestly say they were as good if not better than most steamed char siu bao I’ve had.  The bun itself was super fluffy and super moist.  Sometimes the buns can be dry to the point where you can’t take more than one bite of bun before reaching for a glass of water to help it go down.  This usually happens during the first or last bite of the bun, when only the bun part is left.

Knowing how to make the basic bao dough also opens up a lot of options.  Traditionally speaking, barbeque pork buns and custard buns are the most popular.  But I can use bao dough for Vietnamese-style banh bao filled with traditional Vietnamese fillings, for flat buns to be eaten with roast duck or pork belly (a la David Chang), or even for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.  And yes, I did try eating it with PB&J and it was pretty amazingly awesome.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ugly Fruit


One of the many reasons why I love Marketplace On Oakton is its varied selection of extremely fresh produce.  It’s so nice being able to get things like gai lon, pea shoots, snow pea leaves, jicama, yuca, taro root, lemongrass, and other such “ethnic” produce without having to drive very far and without having to pay extreme Whole Foods prices.  Lemongrass at Marketplace On Oakton = $1.49/lb.  Lemongrass at Whole Foods = $4.99.  I really hate Whole Foods.

I’ll admit that Marketplace On Oakton pales in comparison to something like a 99 Ranch that I grew up on in California, and H Mart down the road another 10 minutes has a wider array of Asian produce.  However, 75% of the time Marketplace On Oakton will have what I need, and since it caters to Asians, Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, and Desis, it gives me a chance to try things I’ve never tried before.


One such thing I’d never tried before was ugli fruit.  When I saw the sign reading “UGLY FRUIT” I knew I had to try one.  I’m much too immature to ignore a sign like that.  To my dismay and delight, the fruit was misspelled on the sign.  I was bummed that something called “ugly fruit” didn’t exist, but “ugli fruit” was close enough and I love seeing typos in public.


Pretty much everything aside from the taste of the ugli reminded me of a grapefruit; the size, the rind, and the fibrous walls were very similar to that of a grapefruit’s.  I don’t think I ate it at peak ripeness, as there were still green blemishes on the rind and the flavor was pretty muted, but it sort of did taste like a cross between a grapefruit, an orange, and a tangerine as Wikipedia describes it.  I’m glad I was able to try a new fruit, but the ugli fruit’s identity crisis didn’t appeal to me.