Chinese Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

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This is Kristina from late-ish Wednesday night. I just had a few friends over for a weeknight dinner party that would make any New Jersey Housewife proud. We feasted on eggplant parm, baked penne, kale salad (with homemade yogurt ranch dressing, OMG), red wine, and famous chocolate chip cookies and milk. I'm so full and happy. I'm super sleepy, but for some reason I felt like it was a good time to write. I'm also alone tonight. Reuben is away on a little business trip in Tahoe. It's weird to be alone in the apartment at night, I get spooked by every random thud and the tree branches scratching up against windows. But I'm taking advantage of my alone time. Meaning I'm going to write, stay up late, listen to annoying pop music, and binge watch crappy TV. It reminds me of the time before Reuben and I moved in with each other. Tonight, I'm catching up on Riverdale! Reuben hates it so much, but I can't get enough of it.

Have you started listening to Christmas music yet? How many times have you heard "All I Want For Christmas Is You"? Not enough? Me too.

I feel like the internet has been exploding with holiday cookies and eggnog flavored things lately. And I'm over here thinking about all the buns that I want to make. Typical. I think I'm just getting ahead of myself and jumping to my next holiday, which is Chinese New Year. I'm planning waaaaaay in advanced this year because I have big ambitions of throwing a huge Chinese New Year party in February. I envision endless and multiple dumpling options and a table covered in buns. However, both buns and dumplings take time and are pretty labor intensive. So I'm preparing and practicing 3 months early. 

Don't get me wrong, I have some Christmas cookies to share with you next week! And I'm working on a Christmas Red Velvet Cake this weekend. The holiday spirit is alive and well with me, but I'm just trying to break up the sugary sweetness with some BBQ Pork Buns!

I've ate approximately 209,248 pork buns in my life. Rough estimate. They are one of my favorite snacks and a must buy whenever I step into a Chinese bakery! When they are good, they are SO GOOD. Pork buns can be either steamed or baked. The dough should be pillowy soft. The pork on the inside should be tender, salty, but slightly sweet, and just saucy enough. Thankfully, I live in a city where every dim sum shop or Chinese bakery makes a pretty stellar BBQ Pork Bun or Char Siu Bao.

I've made my own BBQ Pork Buns a few times, but the dough was never quite right. Until now. After extensive research, I read about the tangzhong method, which is making a mixture of bread flour, milk, and water to help activate the dough and give it it's pillowy soft consistency. Reuben wanted to prepare his own Char Siu Pork for the bun fillings because he is the meat expert in this partnership. Is that a weird title? I've shared the recipe for the pork tenderloin if you want your buns to be extra homemade, but you can totally go to your local Chinese BBQ joint (the places with the ducks hanging in the window) for a pound of BBQ roast pork. It will save you a few hours. Pro Tip: order a pound or more because you're going to end up snacking on half of it before it makes it into your buns. We are going to work on another recipe using pork butt or shoulder in a few months and will share it with you soon!

I'm going to be honest with you. This is recipe takes a while. But isn't the holidays a great time to deep dive in crazy delicious but long recipes? You know you're about to plan a whole weekend decorating cookies. If I had to pick between a pork bun or sugar cookies, I'd most definitely pick the pork bun!


Baked BBQ Pork Buns

makes 12 buns

For the Pork Marinade:

3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp hoisin
1/2 tsp chinese five spice
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp chinese cooking wine (Bourbon also works!)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1.5 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp red food coloring

For the Pork:

~ 1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp honey

For the Pork Filling

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp cornstarch
~ 2 cups chopped BBQ Roast Pork

For the Buns:

25g bread flour
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 beaten egg
350g bread flour
50g sugar + 1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp oil
Egg Wash (1 egg+1 tbsp water)

To Make the BBQ Pork:

1. Whisk together all the ingredients for the pork marinade. Reserve 1/3 of the marinade for the glaze. Cut the tenderloin lengthwise. Combine the pork tenderloin and remaining marinade in a ziplock bag and let marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and place the pork tenderloin on the sheet. Cook for 10 minutes. Combine 1/3 cup marinade with ketchup and honey to make your glaze. After 10 minute in the oven, glaze the top and bottom side of the tenderloin. Cook for another 5 minutes and then reglaze. Continue to glaze every 5 minutes until the pork has been in the oven for about 30 minutes.

3. Remove the pork form the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before slicing into the meat.

4. Enjoy! Make sure to reserved about 2 cups for the bun fillings.

To Make the BBQ Pork Buns:

1. In a small bowl whisk together 25g bread flour, 1/4 cup milk, and 1/4 cup water until smooth. Heat a small sauce pan over low to medium heat and cook the flour and milk mixture, stirring continuously, until thick. It will take about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let cool. You got your tangzhoug!

2. Combine lukewarm milk (I microwave the milk for 30 seconds) with 1/4 tsp sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let proof for 5-10 minutes. You should see a few bubbles develop on the surface.

3. Whisk together the yeast mixture with the tangzhoug and beaten egg until combined.

4. Attach a dough hook to your standmixer. Sift together bread flour, sugar, salt in the bowl of your standmixer. Add in your yeast mixture and knead on medium high speed for 10 minutes. Add in butter a little bit at a time. The dough should be smooth and elastic.

5. Pour oil into a medium-large bowl and turn it to grease the sides of the bowl. Add dough into the bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to proof in a warm place for 1-2 hours. If it is a little cold, I like to place my dough in the oven while it is off with the door left slightly open.

6. While the dough is proofing, preparing your filling. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the rest of the filling ingredients and allow to cook for another 5-8 minutes until thickened. Set aside in a bowl and allow to cool.

7. Lightly flour your work surface and turn out your dough. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. I like to cut it into wedges, scone style. Roll one wedge into a small bowl. With a small and lightly floured rolling pin, gently flatten the dough ball until you have a 3-4" diameter disc. Fill with heaping tablespoon of pork filling. With the dough in the palm of your hand, carefully pinch the bun closed. Pinch and twist the bun in a counter clockwise direction.

8. Place the formed buns, pinch side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. I used a 9x12 pan so that they touch and look more like dinner rolls. You can also use a larger baking sheet and spae them farther apart.Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for another hour in a warm place. The dough should double in size.

9. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush the tops of the buns with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown! Enjoy!

dough recipe was adapted from Betty Liu's Furikake Milk Buns recipe!

Vietnamese Style Pork Chops and Coconut Rice

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Hey! Happy hump day, guys! We are going to make it! 

Quick Unimportant Updates: Reuben and I watched Ratatouille over the weekend and it was wonderful! Next Food Network Star is back on and my desire to try out/practice has been reignited. I think Giada would be into me. Russell Sage tapped out on Naked and Afraid XL and the the women who watch this show (is it just me?) rejoiced! Ever since Reuben started @beermeatsbread, we've been collecting the beer cans in a nice clean bag and handing them over directly to the sweet old asian ladies/gentlemen that collect cans. You should do it too! It makes them so happy and their happiness will make you so happy!

My Love Hate Relationship with SF Update: Lately, I've been really overwhelmed/overstimulated by downtown San Francisco. My new work commute and new office location is a lot more "active" than it was before. The bus I take now is more cramped with a constant flow of people squeezing on and off. I walk right through the tourist center downtown to get from my bus stop to work and there are so many crazies! There is woman at my bus stop that hisses at everyone. And ugh. The smells. This past week alone (it's only Wednesday) I've see some nasty (I mean real nasty) things doing down on the block my new office is on. I'll spare you the details. I don't know if I'm just being a wimp or if anyone else who works downtown feels this way, but it's just a lot! I cry a little inside when I have to leave the safety of my Inner Richmond apartment... jk... but sort of.

I've talked about this before, but I'm an easily over stimulated person and I have to really work on including daily routines and rituals into my life that calm and center me. SF stresses me out. I juggle a lot of random passions and I don't want to give up any of them. I try to be a good friend/girlfriend/daughter/sister/niece/cousin. I hate disappointing or saying no to anyone. A lot of times, I feel like all these things pull me into every direction, but I just want to stay wrapped up in my blanket... alone. Sometimes, my emotions get the best of me, but I try my best to keep my mind balanced and in check. Although, this overwhelming feeling is the reason why I paint and cook. It's how I focus my thoughts and relax. Chopping vegetables and watching watercolors move on paper is so cathartic. Mental health and wellness is so so so so so important and I wish more people made maintaining their own mental health a priority!

If I told you mental health included making pork chops, would that make you take it seriously? 😜

Just a little perk! These pork chops are juicy and pack a flavor punch after some sweet caramelization in the pan. But, the unexpected star of this plate is the coconut rice. It is incredible! I want to take a nap on a bed of this coconut rice and never take the bus downtown again! For real though, this rice plate is I'mgoingtoinhalethis good. It's just like those giant meat and rice plates you get from your favorite Vietnamese place. I'm sure this will be on my dinner menu rotation if we move out of SF into the rural Ohio countryside. Aaaa the dream.

Make a pork chop, paint some flowers, dance your pants off, run 10 miles, watch Say Yes to the Dress, do what you got to do to keep your mind in tip top shape!


Vietnamese Style Pork Chop and Coconut Rice

serves 4

Step:

1. Start by making your coconut rice. Add rice to the bowl of your rice cooker or pot and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Add coconut milk, water, brown sugar and salt to the rice and mix to combine. If cooking in a rice cooker, cover with lid and simply press "cook" and wait until it pops to "warm". If cooking in a pot, bring the pot to a boil and then cover with lid and reduce to a simmer on low heat. Cover and allow to cook for 40-45 mins. In both instances, once the rice is done cooking fluff with a fork of rice paddle and cover again to sit for another 20 minutes. The rice will still seem really wet, but after 20 minutes it will be light and fluffy.

2. While your rice is cooking, mix together shallots, garlic, brown sugar, fish sauce, dark soy, rice vinegar, and black pepper.

3. Season your pork chops on both sides with salt and poke them with a fork to help the marinade soak in. Transfer pork chops to a gallon size ziplock bag and pour your marinade into the bag. Seal bag and allow the pork chops to marinade at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

4.  Heat up oil in your skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Once hot, add your pork chops in to the pan. 2 can normally fit. Sear on one side for 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove pork chops from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

5. Serve pork chops with coconut rice and some refreshing thinly sliced cucumbers!

Bonus step : sear some green onions in the skillet with the leftover oil and pork drippings and serve with the meal... so good!

For Pork Chops:

4 - 1/2" Pork Chops

1 finely chopped small shallot

3 finely chopped garlic cloves

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp black pepper

salt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cucumber thinly sliced 

green onions - optional

 

For Coconut Rice:

2 cups Jasmine Rice (my fav)

1 - 13.5 oz can coconut milk

3 cups water

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp salt

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

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Happy Chinese New Year Eve! Gong Hay Fat Choy! Chinese New Year is tomorrow and I hope all of you find a way to celebrate. Whether you celebrate by getting some Chinese take out or by going out for a 12 dish meal with your friends and family, Saturday is a day to share good food with good people. My favorite activity!

Since I've been living in San Francisco for the last 3 years I haven't actually been able to spend Chinese New Year with my family for a while. Oh, how I miss Cho family and my grandma's insanely delicious fried sticky pork dumplings, she only makes them this time of year, bah!. I try to overcome my intense homesickness by inviting a bunch of friends for a Chinese feast and by eating my weight in dumplings. 

If there is anytime to make your own dumplings it is Chinese New Year. Homemade dumplings are not weeknight dinners, unless you want to eat at 1am. You make dumplings for special occasions, if you have an anniversary, if your eldest child and only daughter comes home after a long stint away. My dad makes potstickers just the way I like them, thick skinned and doughy. Let's be honest, the wrapper just subtly flavored by the filling is the best part of dumpling! When I was little I would only eat the skin and pass the meatball filling to my mom or grandpa, my favorite are the Har Gow skins mmmmmmmmmmm. Even when I made these dumplings last weekend, I begged Reuben to just to give me a bite of his wrapper if the dumpling fell apart. I'm not really sure what's going to happen once I have a mini-me that will most likely only want to eat the dumpling skin too... hopefully she will be a better person than me.

Alright, before you start to judge my dumpling forming skills, I just want to state that I am by no means a dumpling making expert. I'm an expert dumpling eater and I know what a great dumpling tastes like. My DPM (dumpling per minute) is not very fast and fancy shapes are still a little beyond me. One day I will be as fast and precise as the people at Din Tai Fung. Until then, I am working on it! I took this experience to experiment with different forming techniques: Half-Moons (first photo), Mo Mo Style (second photo), pleated Half-Moons, and Wanton style. Not every dumpling is ready for their picture to be taken, but even if they were ugly they tasted great and we ate them the second they came out of the steamer. For your first time, try making the half moons so you get comfortable with the texture of the dough and the motion of forming.

These pork and cabbage dumplings are super classic and relatively easy to make. It just takes a bit of time and patience. So get all your ingredients, put on some Motown, and get rolling! Happy Weekend!


Steamed Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

makes 24 large dumplings or 36 small dumplings

Dough :

2 C all-purpose flour

3/4 C just boiled water

Filling : 

2 C chopped Napa Cabbage ( about 6-8 whole leaves)

1/2 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp salt for cabbage

1 1/2 inch piece of minced fresh ginger

1/2 C chopped scallions ( whites and greens)

1  LB ground pork

1/4 tsp of black pepper

1/4 C water

2 Tbsp soy sauce ( light not dark )

1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp sesame oil

Make the filling :

  1. Salt the chopped cabbage with 1/2 tsp of salt and let sit for 15 minutes, the salt will help bring any moisture out of the cabbage. After 15 minutes, rinse under water and squeeze out any excess moisture in paper towels or a cheese cloth.
  2. In a large bowl, place ground pork, ginger, scallions, and cabbage. Use a large fork or your hands to mix until it starts to come together.
  3. In a small bowl, stir in your remaining salt, black pepper, water, soy sauce, rice wine, olive oil, and sesame oil. Whisk together and pour into pork mixture. Mix your filling until it becomes cohesive and your ingredients look evenly disrupted. Let stand at room temperature for 30 mins to allow the flavors to develop. This can be made 1 day ahead.

Make the Dough/Dumpling :

  1. In a large bowl, place flour and make a well in the middle. Pour just barely boiled water into the middle and mix with a wooden spoon. The hot water will help make your dough more pliable and easier to work with. Mix with a spoon until all the moisture has been incorporated. Your dough will still seem a little crumbly. Put your dough on a lightly floured surface, knead for 2-4 minutes until it becomes a smooth-ish round ball. Place in a ziplock bag and let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Once your dough has rested, take out of the ziplock bag and knead your dough again for 10 seconds. Divide the dough in half. Keep 1 half in the ziplock bag so it doesn't dry out.
  3. Roll out the other half into a 1" think rope. Divide the rope into 12 equal pieces for large dumplings or 18 for smaller dumplings.
  4. With a small rolling pin, roll out each piece into 3" discs. If the dough starts to stick just sprinkle some flour on your surface and the rolling pin.
  5. Place 1 Tbsp of filling (you can adjust based on the size of your wrappers) in the middle of the wrapper, fold in half to form a half-moon and pinch the edges to close. Repeat with each wrapper.
  6. Repeats steps 3-5 with the other half of dough. If you have leftover filling, save it because it's really delicious pan fried and with rice!
  7. Once all your dumplings have been made, you can either boil them or steam them. If you're going to boil, boil dumplings for 4-5 minutes until they float. If you're going to steam, line your steamers with cabbage leaves and arrange your dumplings on top and steam for 8-10 minutes. Tips on how to setup your bamboo steamer.
  8. Let your dumplings cool for a few minutes and then enjoy with some soy sauce and red chili flakes!