I miss eating out.
Like, a lot. Like I will drive by the most overhyped, overrated chain restaurant with the most underwhelming food, and miss even that.
I just want someone else to pretend to be happy to see me, even if they have to spout a nonsense corporate greeting like, “It’s a bacon-riffic day at Johnny Porkhouse!” or “Holy Hotcakes! Welcome to the Waffle Barn!”
Mostly, I miss ethnic food. I do order takeout, as my budget allows. But for now, I’m trying to cook new types of cuisine myself. My latest experiment was inspired by “Japanese week” on the “The Great British Baking Show,” in which the bakers were tasked with making steamed buns. Japanese steamed buns are known as nikuman, but there are many variations of this, including Chinese baozi or bao. Unlike the traditional pork, cabbage and mushroom filling used in nikuman, the bake-off contestants were invited to fill their nikuman with any kind of creative filling.
This episode reminded me of the delicious steamed buns I used to order at the now-closed My Viet restaurant, many years ago. That was my first exposure to the pillowy, soft, melt-in-your-mouth rolls, which were wrapped around char siu, a spicy-sweet Chinese-barbecued pork.
Since that show ran, I’ve attempted the char sui version. Although the buns didn’t get as puffy as I would have liked, the char sui was delicious. I plan to add it into my meal rotation whenever I’m craving its sticky-sweet, five-spicey goodness. If you don’t want to go through the time commitment of making yeast bread, this pork is also great with rice and vegetables.
The pork is best if you give it at least four hours to marinate. I prepared it the night before and let it soak up all that flavor in the refrigerator.
Note: You’ll notice some of the amounts in the bread recipe are a bit awkward, as they were developed with metric measures in mind. If you’re nervous, you can measure them out on a kitchen scale.
Char Sui Pork
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)
On the night before, cut 1 pork tenderloin with the grain into long, 3-inch wide strips, place in a large resealable plastic bag or large bowl with cover. Mix together:
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup ketchup or chili sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup Chinese rice wine or rice vinegar
¼ cup hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
½ teaspoon red food coloring (optional)
Stir soy sauce, honey, ketchup, brown sugar, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, food coloring and Chinese five-spice powder together in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook and stir until just combined and slightly warm, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour ¾ of the marinade into the bag with the pork, reserving the rest for basting later. Squeeze air from the bag, and seal. Turn bag a few times to coat all pork pieces in marinade. Keep pork and reserved marinade overnight in fridge.
The next day, make dough:
Lottie’s Steamed Buns
300 grams plain flour (2 cups plus a scant ½ cup), plus extra for dusting
20 grams sugar (about 4 ¾ teaspoons)
1 teaspoon instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fine salt
170 ml very warm (not hot) water (ml are marked on most glass measuring cups)
Place dry ingredients and oil into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on slow speed, gradually adding the water to make a soft, smooth dough. Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover it with cling film. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 30–60 minutes, until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, remove pork and marinade from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place chunks of meat on a broiler pan, prepared with an inch of water in the bottom pan and olive oil sprayed on top pan. Cook 20 minutes on one side, then turn and baste with reserved marinade. Cook another 20 minutes, or until pork reaches 160 degrees in center. Remove and let rest while working on buns.
Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a flour-dusted work surface. Using your hands, roll out the dough into a log and divide it into 10 equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, lightly dust with flour and place each onto a square of baking paper. Cover the dough balls with oiled cling film and leave to proof for 10 minutes, until puffy.
Using your hands, press one bun at a time into a disc about 5 inches in diameter, leaving a slight mound of dough in the middle.
Return to pork and cut into small strips. Stir together with remaining marinade. Place a spoonful of filling atop each circle of dough. Bring the sides of the dough up over the filling, pinching and sealing the bun over the top of the filling.
Place the bun, seam-side downwards, back on its piece of baking paper. Repeat for each bun. Cover with oiled cling film and leave the filled buns to proof for a further 15 minutes, until puffy and risen by one third.
Place buns, still atop baking paper, on rack inside rice cooker or steamer or in bamboo steamer resting atop a pan of boiling water. Steam for 15 minutes (no peeking!). The buns will grow even more, but – because they’re steamed – look almost raw. Never fear! They’re done, and ready to devour!
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.