Last year, for Chinese Lunar New Year, I made…a Strawberries & Cream Pie. Super delicious, but not exactly culturally relevant/appropriate. This year, I was determined to be a Good Chinese Girl and actually cook something Chinese. After all, it’s my dad’s zodiac year, and I wanted to make something in honor of his special year. Steamed pork buns (bao zi) were the first thing that came to mind, because my dad loves them, and they’re one of my favorite things to eat when I go home to see my parents. Plus, I figured steamed buns couldn’t be all that much harder or different than dumplings, which I had tackled a few times before.
As it turns out, they are totally different, and I am terrible at making them. Which is unfortunate and more than a little depressing because, according to my mom (who laughed at me when I called to complain), steamed buns are one of the easiest Chinese treats to make. WHATEVER, MOM. I just can’t deal with yeasty dough and rolling pins, ok? All that rolling and pinching and twisting…my fingers just aren’t that nimble! So yeah. These definitely are not the prettiest bao zi I’ve ever seen, but you know what? They’re delicious! Sure, my first batch was under-steamed and kinda gummy…and maybe the skin was just a tad too thick and lumpy. BUT, once I got a hang of all the rolling and steaming, the next few batches were juicy, meaty, and tender. And, they tasted almost exactly like the ones my mom makes, so…I’m going to count this as a win.
Happy year of the Snake, everyone!
Steamed Pork Buns (Bao Zi)
- 4 cups flour
- 2 tsp yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 2 lbs ground pork
- 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup diced mushrooms
- 3 cups spinach
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- Olive oil
- In a large bowl, mix together water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Sprinkle yeast over the top of the sugar water.
- Add the remaining dough ingredients, and knead the dough by hand for 10-15 minutes until it is smooth and pliant.
** If your dough is sticky/tacky, add a little more flour. If it’s too dry, add a few spoonfuls of water.
- Roll your dough out and divide it into roughly 24 pieces. Let pieces rest for 10 minutes.
- While your dough is resting, prepare your filling. Saute diced onion, mushroom, and spinach with some olive oil on medium-high heat until soft and wilted. Allow vegetable mixture to cool, then transfer it to a large bowl with your ground pork, sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce. Mix until all ingredients are well-combined. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
- Flatten each piece of dough with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll out each piece into a roughly circular shape about 1/8 inch thick.
** Each piece should be thin but stretchy and sturdy.
** [Mom tip: This is easier with a small rolling pin. Don’t roll across the entire surface of the dough with your rolling pin. Start at a point slightly away from the middle, then roll in one smooth motion outwards toward the edge of the dough, turning/spinning the dough after each roll so that all the edges are thin, but you still have a thicker center to support your filling.]
- Spoon a generous portion of filling into the center of your dough.
- Fold/crimp/pinch the edges of your dough over the mound of filling, as though you were tying a parcel. Once all the dough has been pinched together over your filling, gently twist the top of the pinched edges to seal your bun.
- Repeat steps 5-7 until all your dough/filling is used.
** If you have leftover dough for some reason, you can steam balls of those plain and use them for sandwich buns!
- Place each filled bun on a small square of wax paper. Cover loosely with a piece of clean plastic sheet and allow buns to rise for 35-40 minutes.
- Working in batches, place buns in a steaming rack (keeping them on their wax paper squares) and allow them to steam for 20-25 minutes over the high heat.
** Resulting buns should be puffy and firm, and whitely opaque, if that makes sense. Not gummy or damp looking.
- Cool slightly, then enjoy!