Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Steamed Barbecue Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao) – Sweet, Steamy Memories

In younger, leaner times, I’d often rely on the delicious, inexpensive calorie bomb that is the steamed barbecue pork bun. They were twice the size, and for a few bucks you could get very full…for about 30 minutes, and then you were starving again. Nothing a Mission-style burrito couldn’t fix.

Anyway, the filling was chopped Chinese-style barbecue pork mixed with some kind of mysterious, gelatinous red sauce, which was significantly sweeter than what I’m doing here. 

That’s probably why they don’t seem to come out quite the same as I remember. I probably need a lot more sugar, as well as copious amounts of MSG. Having said that, I was pretty pleased with my insides, but as usual I encourage you to freestyle. 

Here’s a link to a fairly classic pork bun filling recipe, in case you want something slightly more authentic, and since it looks just like the stuff I mentioned above, I might give it a try next time. But, regardless what you fill yours with, I really do hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 12 Steamed Barbecue Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao):
For the dough:
3/4 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
2 cups *self-rising flour
For the filling (this made more than I needed):
2 cups chopped Chinese-style barbecue pork, or other barbecued pork product
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup hoisin sauce, or as needed
salt (soy sauce) and cayenne to taste
2 teaspoons white sugar, optional

*If you don't have self-rising flour, you can use 2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon fine table salt.


Unknown said...

Chef John, I think I have the answer to your memories of the cha siu bao filling being a bit sweeter and gelatinous in the buns of your youth.

The answer is in your link to the baked version of cha siu bao.
IT'S THE ONIONS...and the juice and bits from the barbecued pork used in the commercial filling.

In a commercial kitchen a lot more onions are used, but cooked down first with the scraps and juices of the barbecued pork. Basically minced [rice sized] onions are put in the drip tray used to make the barbecued pork with all the gelatinous drippings. Kind of like the onions reduced in the Fond in western cooking. Then even more raw onion is used in the filling...sometimes.

It's simply a way of stretching the filling with left over barbecued pork bits with lots of onions. At the price point of cha siu bao nowadays you are lucky that it's only lots of onions and barbecued pork scraps and nothing overt.

Several years ago in China a vendor was executed for using minced CARDBOARD to stretch his dumpling filling. He apparently did the dirty deed for many years before someone got a staple between his teeth and investigated.

As to the dough part of the bao there is a thousand year old joke about eating a mile of dough and not finding any meat. Kind of classically funny for Chinese, but they have a different take on life.

Hoisin sauce is not what is normally used commercially. A commercial product actually called Chinese Barbecue Sauce is used. It's the same sauce that is used to make Chinese Barbecued Pork. Hoisin sauce is quite expensive compared to the sauce used to make the barbecued pork. At least in my experience.

I left a long comment on the video as I enjoy your efforts and especially your expertise that came from formal training, doing and teaching.

Thank you Chef John and God Bless.


Lupe said...

So I suppose this recipe requires you to first cook Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu) – Take That, Take Out! if you don't have a convenient Chinese takeout in your neighbourhood. As where I live.

Carl said...


Unknown said...

Great video Chef John. I'm thinking of making these at home, but have a family of 7. Would they all cook the same if I put several layers of steamer baskets on top of the pot? I'm thinking 3 or 4, seems to me the top ones wouldn't cook as well.

Kylee Hill said...

I actually tried a similar recipe a few days ago! Very good! But like you said in your video I found the breading was too thin. So next time I'm thinking if doubling the recipe and doing a ball half the size of my palm and making them all even from there. (Going to try your bread recipe and a pizza filling sounds amazing.) Thank you for your food inspiring videos and posts!!!

Rose said...

You should make more folds on top, 12-18 folds. This is my hometown food.

Unknown said...

This steamed bun recipe with your char siu recipe and maybe black onion relish ? Your thoughts please.

Rose said...

Ordinarily, we make 12--18 folds, on the top of the bun, this is my hometown dimsum and we left a small hole on center on the top.

Orenwolf said...

Finally! Buns!

Cook's Illustrated offers a great Char Siu recipe:

Of course, you have to be a member to read it. I'd love your take on it, Chef John.

I will try that filling inside these buns and see how it turns out. I live in Canada but spent a lot of time in San Francisco's chinatown and fell in love with the norcal version of these buns!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef John! I love your show and your great sense of humor! I am a manager at Din Tai Fung and we are experts at folding buns and dumplings. I commend your attempt at folding, which is a very difficult technique that takes a lot of practice. I had a question as to where you purchased your steamer basket? We go through many at our restaurant as they are not very durable but the one in your video looks really good. Please let me know! Thank you!

Unknown said...

Use an egg white in your dough. Much better.

Unknown said...

Manapua's! I'm so excited to try these out. We put all kinds of things in them here. Curry, stew, puddings, whatever...

Unknown said...

Love your site and your recipes. However, I do wish that Americans would move into the 21st century and stop using "cups" as a form of (inaccurate) measurement.

H. said...

What happened with the experimental second day dough?? Great idea to try that. There's a bao place near me that also sells them frozen. I'd totally try this if it wasn't a one off. Have a great vacation, whenever you see this!

Bri-Guy said...

Hey, Chef John! If you make these with an effective seal, so that the filling wouldn't leach out, could you give this dough a pretzel bath before finishing them (baking, etc.)? Don't get me wrong, I love a good bao, but I'm also thinking a barbecue and beer cheese pretzel bao sounds like an amazing experiment.

Jan Primus said...

How much flower and water do you need exactly? How many grams of flower and how many cl. of water?

Julia said...

Great recipe esp with the Incredibles short film that came out with a bao =D

Cold Hard Bitch said...

I followed your dough recipe to the letter and it is so much tougher looking than yours. I haven’t cooked it yet but I’m not expecting anything successful

SMITTY said...

One addition: I agree that HOISIN ALONE is not quite what you find in NYCity based buns.
The other ingredient WITH Hoisin (if you can't find "Chinese Barbecue sauce" is Oyster sauce. There is a Vegetarian Mushroom Oyster (Taste of Asia). That WITH hoisin...kinda equals the BBQ sauce.

Unknown said...

Chef, I tried your recipe verbatim and unfortunately my dough came out extremely dry. I was still able to make it work but I needed to add some water as I kneaded it. 3/4 cup doesn't feel like enough, about 1-1 1/4 cups of water seems more appropriate.