Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cantonese BBQ Pork Bun

Daring Cooks: Baked Char Sui Bao

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious! 

It's surprising when one word triggers an unexpected flood of memories, snatches of forgotten conversations, a slide show of images... scenes from the past. Bao was a trigger word for me. These buns are infrequent treats in my everyday life, so the December Bao Challenge brought a poignant flashback to adventures with a special friend. Colleen, an experienced downtown shopper,  guided our long ago excursions through Seattle's International District. I can almost smell the odd, intriguing fragrances of crowded counters in the old Uwajimaya, and the tempting aromas wafting out of countless restaurant kitchens. Through closed eyes I can still see flocks of brilliant neon-orange BBQ ducks hanging in shop windows; pan after pan of bao and other treats displayed in bakery cases on King Street; stacked crates of intriguing produce. A background murmur of unfamiliar languages swirled around us as we roamed and shopped. Today eye-riveting color comes from a dozen 20-foot dragons that curl around lampposts in the district: years ago it seems there was a kaleidoscope of color everywhere. 

Sigh! this recent bao activity was a tamer, less colorful adventure without the enthusiastic presence of Colleen.  

The Char Sui, aka BBQ pork, was a major hit with my taste tester. Left undefended, it might have disappeared quickly as RL filched a slice or two each time he strolled through the kitchen. Just doing a quality check, right? I set out the typical Chinese restaurant small dishes of red sauce, hot mustard and sesame seeds alongside a plate of sliced pork for snacking purposes. It worked, those slices disappeared quickly and helped to keep both of us away from that cooling bowl of prepared, chopped filling. 

The final product of baked bao, aka buns, were eaten with a little less enthusiasm. Too much snacking on the BBQ pork, perhaps? Or too little filling in my bao? Our post-challenge critique concluded that: 
  1. The Cantonese BBQ pork, all by itself, was a major success.
  2. My filling/wrapping technique needs work to balance the ratio of filling to dough. Several buns were eaten for the filling with the dough discarded.
  3. These bao were too breadlike and overcooked by a minute or two. Steaming would produce a softer, fluffier texture. I'll try steaming next time.
  4. Asian bakeries needn't fear any bao competition from my kitchen, not this week. 

Cantonese Barbecued Pork
recipe adapted from  The Far East Cookbook , Cavendish Books, Canada

Pork and Marinade Ingredients:

1 (1 to 1.5 lb) pork tenderloin, cut in half lengthwise
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons hot water
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring

Marinating the Pork
  1. Put the pork strips in a medium glass or ceramic bowl (a ziplok bag works well too).
  2. Put the brown sugar in a small bowl, add the hot water and stir until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients. Set aside to cool slightly, then pour 2/3 of the liquid over the pork. Reserve the remaining liquid to baste the pork during cooking.
  4. Turn the pork over a few times to coat it evenly with the marinade. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning over several times during this period.
  5. Lift the pork from the liquid, allowing the excess to drain off.
Cooking Method: Oven Baking the Pork
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil - don't skip this step or you will never get the caramelized sugar off of the sheet! Put a metal rack on top of the foil.
  3. Place the pork on the rack and place in the oven on a middle shelf.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, basting and turning occasionally.
  5. Raise the oven heat to 400 F and cook an additional 20 minutes, until cooked through.

Baked Char Sui Bao (Cantonese BBQ Pork Bun)
recipe as provided by the Daring Cooks December 2011 Challenge

Filling Ingredients for 12 buns

12 oz char sui (BBQ pork) finely diced
2 green onions, finely diced
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan.
  2. Add diced pork to the pan; stir and add green onions and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add soy sauce and sesame oil to the pork mixture; stir fry for 1 minute.
  4. Mix cornstarch and chicken stock together until cornstarch dissolves; add to the pork mixture.
  5. Stir well; cook for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.
  6. Remove pork mixture from the pan and place in a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.
Dough Ingredients (for 12 buns)

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet) dried yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups AP flour
1 egg (medium size - slightly beaten)
3 tablespoons oil
1/ teaspoon salt
Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with a dash of water

Directions for the Buns:
  1. Place the sugar and warm water in a bowl; mix until sugar dissolves. Add yeast and leave it for 10-15 minutes until it blooms.
  2. Sift flour into a large bowl. Add yeast mixture, egg, oil and salt; stir to mix. Use your hands to bring the flour mixture together.
  3. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and slightly elastic.
  4. Place in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 to 2 hours depending on room temperature.
  5. Once dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide into 12 portions; shape into round balls.
  6. Use a rolling pin to roll a ball into a 2-inch disk. Then pick up the piece of dough and gently pull the edges to enlarge to a 3-inch diameter disk. The dough will be slightly thicker in the center.
  7. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the dough circle. Gather the edges and seal the bun.
  8. Place the bun, seal side down, on the baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough.
  9. Once all buns are complete, brush surface with egg wash.
  10. Place in a preheated oven of 390 F for 15 minutes or until golden brown.


  1. I am so glad you had fun and enjoyed! Thanks for taking part.

    Your buns look wonderful and I am envious of the colouring of yoru char sui!

  2. Mmmmm. They look delicious. My mouth is watering here!

  3. You bao looks glossy and lovely - am glad that the filling at least worked perfectly for you!

  4. I loved your descriptive Chinatown Seattle reminiscence, and the bao look perfect.

  5. I love these little pork buns. They are my favorite dish when we go for Dim Sum in San Francisco (no dim sum that I know of around here).
    Yours turned out perfectly.
    I'm trying to decide if I should try them with southwest flavors. What do you think?

  6. Thank you all for the positive comments. Bao are pretty cute little packages for anyone who loves bready things.
    @Monkeyshines - we really loved the sweet/sour/salty/tangy flavor of that pork filling
    @Claudia - some memories make the present day sweeter
    @Sandy - go for it! bao dough is more forgiving than a typical empanada pastry, and fusion bao sound intriguing.

  7. Dee - My husband LOVES char Sui Bao! We usually get ours at the little place across from Pike Place Market. I am going to try this filling recipe and see what I can come up with for a good dough to steam... look for a post around Chinese New Year.

  8. @MaryMiller - I'm looking forward to your bao post later this month! Meanwhile I'll keep checking your healthy eating tips for 2012.


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