Barbecue Pork Bun/Char Siu Bao (Cantonese)/Char Shao Bao(Mandarin)
It was a best-seller at our restaurant Barang when we had our all-day yum cha specials. It wasn’t unusual to find a group of Aussies tucking into our BBQ Pork buns late into Friday and Saturday nights past 9pm, washed down with their cappuccinos! Only at Barang.
One of my favourite yum cha dim sum I’ve grown up with, Barbecue Pork Bun—as it is called in Australia remains my personal favourite and a must-order at a chinese yum cha restaurant. It’s also known by other names, the ‘Char Siu Bao’ (Cantonese;best ordered in any yum cha restaurant), Char Shao Bao (Mandarin), or its other English name, ‘Roast Pork Steamed Bun’. The method of slow-roasting pork tenderloin to its piquant chargrilled form makes the ‘char siu’ component of its name.
When I was a kid my parents would take my brother and I to the ‘kopitiam'(Asian coffee shop) for breakfast on weekends at Joo Chiat Place or somewhere in Katong in Singapore where I’d drool hungrily at the hot steamers of steamed buns on display: chicken baos with half an egg yolk in them, lotus paste (lian rong) buns, red bean (Dou Sha) buns,Lo Mei Kai (steamed glutinous rice) and steamed sweet sponge cakes like Ma Lai Ko (Malay cake). You could guess my usual pick. Though I toyed with the idea of the rest, I’ll usually have my fave–a giant ‘char siu bao’ with an equally gigantic glass of steaming hot milo. A bite and a slurp till it was done and dusted and my dad gave me the thumbs up for eating so well. As for the sweet baos? I was spoiled rotten and got them in a takeaway box for afternoon tea later!
Until today it fills me with great nostalgia to make this well-loved bun. I hope you have lovely memories of it like I do and will enjoy a taste of home too.
You can either use ready-made roast pork tenderloin or cook up some with the marinade recipe here. I’m not particularly crazy about the red colouring used by char siu vendors and would usually use red liquid colouring for added colour vibrance if need be. Some Asian chefs I know have let me in on a few trade secrets: that it’s possible chinese rose wine and maltose sugars are some secret ingredients used in char siu-making that give it its unique aroma and wonderful sticky sweet syrupy texture. I haven’t yet sampled those but shall try it one of these days and let you know!
As for the steamed bun texture, the dough is a slightly dense yet pillowy, soft bread texture once steamed as it uses a unique leavening combination of yeast with baking powder. Many steamed ‘bao’ or buns are made the same way using this basic recipe. However this dough recipe is different in texture and should only be reserved for savoury bao. It uses a low gluten or low protein flour. The sweeter versions of custard, lotus paste or red bean steamed buns are more refined, smoother in texture and use a slightly different recipe with a different flour and call for a longer dough ‘resting time’.
By all means, you can substitute chicken for pork (which I’ve done here in the photo below), if there’re those in your family who don’t care much for pork. I’ve included the pork recipe as it probably has more appeal and so that it stays true to its origins.
These buns are great for making ahead to freeze. When our family craves a dim sum breakfast or tea snack once in a while, they are a delight at a moment’s notice and go straight from freezer to steamer. Simply steam for an additional 5 minutes than you would when they are made fresh. For all those who miss Asia like we do, may this bring you a little comfort and joy, perhaps nostalgia even. Best enjoyed with some fragrant chinese tea.
Barbecue Pork Filling Ingredients:
2 tsp sugar
1 TB peanut oil
sprinkle of sesame oil
light soy sauce to taste
pork tenderloin fillet diced finely ( or ready-made roast pork diced)
3 spring onions (scallions) sliced finely
5 cloves garlic, minced
2” knob of ginger, grated
some red food colouring, if desired
1 tsp cornstarch, mixed well with a little water
Seasoning Mix: (marinade pork tenderloin and grill in a 180 degree oven for about 10 min)
1 TB Oyster sauce
2 TB hoisin sauce
1 TB Sugar
2 tsp 5-spice powder
Directions for barbecue pork filling:
Marinade the pork with the seasoning mix, then grill in a 180 degree oven for 10 min or shorter once pork is slightly chargrilled and cooked. Do not burn.
In a wok, heat 1 TB peanut oil and stir-fry the spring onions, garlic and ginger till fragrant. Add the chargrilled pork, a sprinkle of sesame oil, 2 tsp sugar and more seasoning or soy sauce to taste if desired. Add about 450 ml of chicken stock and the shaoxing wine. Cook for 3 minutes then thicken liquid with cornstarch. The final texture should be sticky and moist. Add red colouring if desired. Leave to cool completely in a bowl.
Dough for steamed buns:
600 g low-gluten flour
1 tsp instant dried yeast
1 TB Baking powder
115 ml Water
Combine dough ingredients to form a smooth dough and leave dough to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface. Roll into a long cylindrical log shape.
Using a metal dough cutter, cut and divide into about 16-18 pieces.
Form a ball with each cut dough piece then roll it flat into a thin round-shaped skin. Spoon some filling onto the centre of the round-shaped skin. Enclose filling by gathering and pinching the edges to form a ball again, with a tight twist at the top of the ball.
Place ball doughs (pinched side up) onto a steamer lined with parchment paper already pre-cut into squares.
Steam over boiling water for 5 min or till cooked.