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Recipe: Pan-fried pork and scallion mini buns (Sheng jian bao zi)

October 07, 2009
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  (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Pan-fried pork and scallion mini buns (Sheng jian baozi)

Total Time: 45 minutes plus rising time

Servings: Makes 32 mini buns

Note: You can find ground pork with a higher fat content at many Asian markets, or ask your butcher to grind fat into regular ground pork (you want about 20% fat). Or substitute regular ground pork. Ground beef chuck or chicken thigh may be substituted for the pork in this recipe. Regardless, fatty, rich ground meat makes for better, succulent buns. Shaoxing rice wine and Chinkiang vinegar are available at Chinese and most Asian markets. Recipe by Andrea Nguyen.

10 ounces fatty ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1/4 cup finely chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)

1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce, plus additional (optional) for dipping

2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon water

1 1/4 pounds basic yeast dough (recipe above), preferably made with unbleached flour

1 tablespoon finely julienned fresh ginger

1/4 cup Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Chile oil, optional

Canola oil

1. To make the filling, combine the pork, minced ginger and Chinese chives in a medium bowl. Use a fork or spatula to stir and lightly mash the ingredients together.

2. In a small bowl, combine the salt, white pepper, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and water and stir to combine well. Pour over the meat mixture, then vigorously stir to fully incorporate. Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, returning it to room temperature before assembling the buns.

3. Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured work surface, gather it into a ball if needed, and then pat it to flatten it into a thick disk. Cut the disk in half and cover half with plastic wrap or an inverted bowl to prevent drying while you work on the other half. (If your kitchen is very warm or the dough rises quickly, refrigerate the remaining half while you work on the first half.)

4. Roll the dough half into a 12- to 14-inch log, then cut it crosswise into 16 pieces. (Halve the log first to make it easier to cut into even-size pieces. The tapered end pieces should be cut a little longer than the rest.) Lightly roll each piece between your hands into a ball and then use the palm of one hand to flatten it into a one-fourth-inch-thick disk, moistening your hands with a little water if the dough becomes too dry.

5. Use an Asian dowel-style rolling pin to roll the pieces into circles about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, rolling the outer one-half-inch edge of the circle very thin, like a tortilla (the center of the circle -- about 1 inch -- will remain thicker). Rotate the circle as you roll the outer edge with the pin to form a perfect circle. Alternatively, you can press out the circles by hand, using your fingers to flatten the center and edges, though the circles may not be as perfect. The finished circle will be thick, and it will rise as it sits. Lay the finished circles out on your work surface, lightly dusting their bottoms with flour if you fear they will stick.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with flour. To assemble the buns, hold a dough circle in a slightly cupped hand. Use a bamboo spatula, dinner knife or spoon to center about 2 teaspoons of filling on the dough circle, pressing down very gently and keeping about one-half to three-fourths inch of the dough clear on all sides; your hand will automatically close slightly. Use the thumb of the hand cradling the bun to push down the filling while the fingers of the other hand pulls up the dough edge and pleats and pinches the rim together to form a closed satchel. Completely enclose the filling by pinching and twisting the dough closed. Place the finished bun, pleated side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough circles and filling. Loosely cover the buns with plastic wrap and set aside until almost doubled in size, 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the temperature of the room.

7. While the buns rise, divide the julienned ginger and vinegar between 2 communal bowls. Taste and, if the vinegar is too tart, add water by the teaspoon. Set them at the table along with the soy sauce and chile oil for guests to mix their own sauce.

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