Char siu bao – Chinese steamed pork buns

Char sui baoChar siu (see my recipe from last week) on its own is wonderful stuff. Chopped, cooked into a sticky, savoury, meaty mixture and sealed inside a light steamed bun, it becomes something really, really special. It’s a dim sum staple; a filling, moreish little bun of scrumptiousness.

When we’re in Malaysia, my very favourite breakfast is one of these buns. It makes a splendidly fattening change from muesli. Once you have a strip of char siu in the house, the buns are very simple to assemble. They’re also a doddle to reheat – just steam for ten minutes – and they freeze like a dream.

If you made the braised pork with accompanying buns, you’ll recognise the dough recipe here. The method is slightly different, in that you’ll be stuffing your buns before steaming. To make about twenty buns you’ll need:

1 fillet of char siu (about 10 oz)
2 tablespoons lard
4 fat cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
5 teaspoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soya sauce
2 teaspoons light soya sauce
4 fl oz water
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pack instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
½ tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 tablespoons sugar
8 fl oz lukewarm water
20 oz white flour

Filling method
Cut the char siu strip into tiny cubes with a knife and fork, and blend the vegetable oil and flour in a cup. Fry the garlic in the lard until it starts to turn colour, add the onions and cook until they are translucent. Pour in the sugar, sesame oil, soya sauces and water and bring up to a simmer. Add the chopped meat, stir until well-coated, then add the oil and flour. Continue to simmer for 30 seconds, then transfer to a bowl and chill.

Buns method
Mix the yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar, two tablespoons of lukewarm water, half a tablespoon of salt and three tablespoons of vegetable oil in a teacup, and let it stand for five minutes.

Place the flour in a bowl and pour the yeast mixture into a depression in the centre of the flour. Add 8 tablespoons of castor sugar and 8 fl oz lukewarm water to the mixture and stir the flour with your hand until everything is brought together.

At this point the dough will be very sticky. Don’t worry – just knead for ten minutes or so, and it will turn smooth and glossy. Don’t add extra flour to get rid of the stickiness. The action of kneading will make the protein strands in the dough develop, and the stickiness will vanish on its own. You’ll know that your dough is ready when it has become smooth, and does not stick to the bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.

Knock the dough down again, and take an egg-sized piece in the palm of your left hand. Stretch it and squash it on your palm until you have a disc about the size of your hand. Still holding the disc of dough, put a teaspoon and a half of the chilled filling in the centre of the disc, then gather the edges to the centre and pinch closed. Put the pinched side of the bun on a square of greaseproof paper. Leave the filled buns in a warm place until doubled in size.

Steam the buns over boiling water for ten minutes to cook. Once cooked, the buns can be eaten hot (or cold in a packed lunch) – just steam again to reheat. The cooked buns will freeze well; they’ll also keep in the fridge for a few days.

6 Replies to “Char siu bao – Chinese steamed pork buns”

  1. There are few things more indulgent on this planet than pork char siu buns! I had never heard of them until about four years ago when I had my first one and it was love at first bite! The sweetness of the dough is so surprising the first time you try them, but it works so well with the sticky pork. Mmmm. Thanks for the recipe!

  2. Ive been eating char siu bao since i was a young girl. There the best suprise your mouth could ever taste try and taste 4 your self you wont eat only one or two and iam sure you’ll have more in your life. DLANA C WONG

  3. I make wonderful char siu bao, but I am not happy the way the bao looks. I would love to know how to make it “Burst/bloom open” like the ones serve in the best dimsum restaurant in San Franciso.
    Mine looks like the pictures posted here, no offense.
    Anyone out there can tell us how to make the way the restaurants do?

  4. Hi Anon – I know what you mean! In Malaysia, a bun which bursts open like you say is said to be ‘smiling’. You need vast amounts of raising agent, plenty of steam and some good luck to get this result (and I’m afraid it’s just not going to happen with a yeasted bun like this – you’ll need an entirely different recipe). Lily Ng at Lily’s Wai Sek Hong has some pretty successful smiling buns – they’re not filled, but they look awesome.

  5. I make awesome ones I must say! but I can't make them look like the ones in the Dim Sum place that "blooms"
    Anybody knows how to do that?
    I checked online for years, no luck.

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