A steamed bun filled with barbecued flavored pork, or "char siu" as some may call it. A very popular and easily found dim sum item. Note that the "R" in the popular English spelling of "char siu" is a silent "R" and is never pronounced. The "R" only even exists because of historical complexities with the rominization used by the British during their early encounters with the Cantonese language.
Recipe - Barbecued Pork Bun
Our recipe below describes how to make barbecued pork buns from scratch. However, this ends up being a bit tricky due to having to make the marinade, the filling, and dough separately with the dough especially taking a long time to prepare. (it takes time for dough to ferment and rise) Make sure to get the pork marinaded and prepare the first part of the dough wrapper one night before since both these sections (the first 3 steps of the recipe) require overnight waits. Afterwards, the recipe oscillates between continuing to prepare the pork and the bun wrapper as both contain additional wait times where you can use to work on the other.
You can save yourself time by buying pre-made barbecued pork or even buying entirely pre-made barbecued pork buns that you can simply steam. If you're interested in the latter, you can easily find them in the frozen food aisle of your local Asian supermarket.
Method: stovetop and oven
Estimated Prep Time: overnight
Estimated Cook Time: 8 hours (This includes lots of time waiting for the dough to rise. The estimate cook time without including the wait times is only around 2-3 hours.)
Servings: around 14 buns
17.5 ounces (500 grams) of pork shoulder
marinade sauce for pork
1.75 ounces (50 grams) of white sugar
0.2 ounces (5 grams) of salt
0.1 ounces (3 grams) of chicken powder (also called chicken bouillon)
2 tablespoons of fermented bean curd (This is called fu jyu (腐乳) in Cantonese and is a seasoning ingredient sold in jars.)
0.5 ounces (15 grams) of oyster sauce
0.5 ounces (15 grams) of hoisin sauce
0.5 ounces (15 grams) of dark soy sauce
0.2 ounces (5 grams) of sesame oil
1 teaspoon of white pepper
sauce for filling
1.25 cups (300 ml) of water
0.7 ounces (20 grams) of low gluten wheat starch
0.7 ounces (20 grams) of corn starch
1 ounce (30 grams) of oyster sauce
0.7 ounces (20 grams) of dark soy sauce
0.2 ounces (5 grams) of sesame oil
1 ounce (30 grams) of white sugar
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 quarter of an onion
6 inches of scallion
1 tablespoon of canola oil
dough for bun wrapper (first part)
3.5 ounces (100 grams) of low gluten wheat starch
0.07 ounces (2 grams) of yeast
0.33 cups (80 ml) of water
dough for bun wrapper (second part)
10.5 ounces (300 grams) of low gluten wheat starch
0.7 cups (170 ml) of water
dough for bun wrapper (third part)
4.5 ounces (130 grams) of low gluten wheat starch
0.35 ounces (10 grams) of baking powder
4.5 ounces (130 grams) of white sugar
0.35 ounces (10 grams) of lard
2 drops of lye water (food grade potassium carbonate & sodium bi-carbonate solution, 雪鹼水)
First, we'll start with making the barbecued pork (what some people call "char siu") and this begins with preparing the marinade sauce for the pork. Add white sugar, salt, chicken powder, fermented bean curd, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, and white pepper into a bowl, then mix well.
Take the marinade sauce and coat the pork shoulder meat with it. Cover up your container and let marinade overnight in the refrigerator.
The dough wrapper for the bun is prepared in 3 parts. For the exact ingredient amounts, please refer to the correspondingly labeled sections in the ingredient list. Additionally, there will be a lot of mixing involved, so if you have an electric mixer, we highly recommend that you use it. For the first part, add wheat starch, yeast, and water into a bowl and mix until everything combines into a dough like blob. After mixing, cover up your container and allow the dough to rest and ferment overnight somewhere on your kitchen counter (as opposed to the marinading pork in the refrigerator).
After resting overnight, let's continue with the dough and proceed to the second part. Take around 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of the dough along with 10.5 ounces (300 grams) of wheat starch and add to a bowl. Mix well until all of the wheat starch is combined with the dough. Cover your container and allow the dough to rest and ferment again for around 6 hours.
While we're waiting for the second part of the dough to ferment, let's jump back to the pork. With the pork nicely marinaded in the sauce overnight, it's time to get baking. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit (232 degrees celsius). Once the oven is ready, place the marinaded pork onto an oven safe tray and bake for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, flip the pork over and bake for another 20 minutes. Then, take the pork out of the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.
With the barbecued pork done, let's now move onto the sauce for the filling. Add water, wheat starch, corn starch, white sugar, white pepper, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil into a bowl and mix well.
Before we start cooking the sauce for the filling, we want to prepare some onion and scallion infused oil to use. Chop up the onion and scallion into large pieces (large enough to be easy to pick up and discard later), then saute in a pan with 1 tablespoon of canola oil. This helps infuse just a hint of the onion and scallion flavor into the oil for a more complete flavor profile. After a couple minutes sauteing, discard the onion and scallion while keeping the oil in the pan.
Pour the mixture from 2 steps prior into the pan with the oil and cook while continually mixing to ensure nothing sticks to the pan. Keep cooking until you end up with a thick sauce as opposed to a watery mixture.
To finish off the filling for the bun, dice up the barbecued pork, then mix with the filling sauce.
The 6 hour wait period on the second part of the dough should be more than enough time to finish baking the barbecued pork and preparing the filling. With that all done and the 6 hours past, it's time to jump back to the dough and proceed to the final third part. Take around 14 ounces (400 grams) of the dough and add to a bowl along with the white sugar and lard. Mix until the sugar and lard are combined into the dough. Next, add 2 drops of lye water into the bowl with the dough and mix again for around 5 minutes. Pre-mix the remaining wheat starch and baking powder together, then add into the bowl with the dough. Continue mixing until everything is fully combined with the dough. Lastly, allow the dough to rest for at least 10 minutes.
At this point, your finished dough should be enough for around 14 standard sized buns, give or take. Sprinkle your cutting board with some flour so that the dough doesn't stick, then cut your dough into 14 evenly sized parts and use a roller to flatten each part into roughly 4 inch diameter circles. Ideally, the edges of the circle should be thinner while the center should be thicker. This is because the center of the circle will end up being the bottom of the bun and the extra dough there helps to better support the bun. Additionally, you can adjust the size however you see fit to either make fewer, but larger buns, or make more, but smaller buns.
Once your bun wrappers are all ready, place the barbecued pork filling into each bun wrapper and close the wrapper around the filling by bringing the edges up and over the filling. All the edges should then meet at the top of the bun. The appearance at this point doesn't matter much as the bun will naturally crack and separate a bit around the top half of the bun which will then result in the traditional barbecued pork bun look.
Prepare your steamer by lining the bottom with baking paper so that the buns do not stick to the steamer. Alternatively, you can cut up the baking paper into squares so that each bun has its own little sheet underneath it. Traditionally, a bamboo steamer placed over a pot of boiling water would be used. However, if you don't have one, you can also just use any kind of metal rack as a tray to hold the buns above some boiling water.
Steam the barbecued pork buns on high heat for 12 minutes. Make sure to cover the pot or steamer so that the buns really bake in the steam. Afterwards, your barbecue pork buns should be all set to serve!
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