Friday, 9 December 2016

Something Savoury: 叉燒包, or BBQ Pork Dim Sum (Wheat-, Egg-, and Dairy Free)

My experimentations with yeast continue today, with a foray into actual food as opposed to sweets. I present to you, some delicious pork dim sum!

When I was in Birmingham in November, my companion and I went to a restaurant in the city's Chinese district. This wasn't a Westernised Chinese restaurant with gloopy sauces and egg fried rice with everything, this was a restaurant ran by Chinese people. catering for Chinese people, with the menus in their own language. There was an English section at the front of the menu for us 鬼佬 people, but the better food was at the back.

My companion told me that the last time he went to this restaurant he ordered some steamed bread buns with a barbecue pork filling. I went with his recommendation, and was not disappointed. I had no idea what they were, or what their name was, but I was thoroughly impressed.

When I returned home to Ireland and told my brother about them, he responded enthusiastically. He told me he had eaten the same thing when he was in Hong Kong, and had thought they were absolutely delicious, and pretty much the highlight of his visit. He said he'd go back there again in the future just to eat those buns.

I decided, as such, to do some research. Turns out that Cantonese cuisine is full of recipes for small buns, filled or not, made from yeast leavened dough and steamed instead of baked. These morsels are called dim sum, and there are many kinds. The ones that my brother had had in Hong Kong, and my companion and I had had in Birmingham, were filled with pork and barbecue style sauce, and called 叉烧包, or char siu bao in the Latin alphabet.

Armed with this knowledge, I typed the name into YouTube and proceeded to watch hours upon hours of videos about making these buns. It seems there is no one prescribed way to make the dough, or the filling, but in every video they are folded and cooked in the exact same way.

Two things all the dough recipes had in common though, were the inclusion of baking powder in addition to yeast, and using what's called a sponge. This is where the mixture is made very loosely with only some of the dough—and absolutely no kneadingbefore the first rising. After the sponge has risen, the rest of the flour is added and then the dough is kneaded and risen as usual in a bread dough. This makes for super soft, and super light dough.

So, let's make some actual dinner!

☑ Soya (check for soya lecithin)
☑ Wheat
☑ Nuts
☑ Eggs
☑ Dairy

☒ Gluten
☒ Yeast
☒ Refined sugar products

For 16 small buns, or 12 large buns

  • 12 ounces (340 grammes) white spelt flour
  • 1 quarter-ounce (7 grammes) package of instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon (3 millilitres) baking powder
  • 6 fluid ounces (180 millilitres) hand hot water
  • 1 ounce (30 grammes) sugar
  • 1 ounce (30 grammes) sunflower oil

For filling

  • 12 fluid ounces (330 millilitres) diet cola drink
  • 2 tablespoons (30 millilitres) tomato ketchup
  • 4 teaspoons (20 millilitres) dark soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons (20 millilitres) white vinegar, to taste
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) Chinese five spice powder
  • ½ teaspoon (3 millilitres) ground mixed spice
  • About 10 ounces (about 300 grammes) roasted pork, cut into tiny cubes (pork is sold in different pack sizes so if it's in and around this figure it'll be fine)
  • Half a red onion, chopped very finely
  • 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) cornflour, dissolved in 1 tablespoon (15 millilitres) cold water

First, prepare the yeast dough.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix 8 ounces (225 grammes) of the flour, the yeast, sugar, oil, and warm water together. Mix into a sticky paste, cover, and leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size and very spongy in appearance.
  • Once risen, remove from the oven and sieve in the rest of the flour, the baking powder, and salt and mix together by hand until fully incorporated.
  • Knead in the bowl until it forms a dough ball, and until the bowl is completely clean. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead continuously for 4 minutes.
  • Return the dough to the bowl, cover again, and leave to rise again for 1 to 1½ hours, or until about doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, make the filling.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the meat, onion, and cornflour mix. Mix until blended and smooth, then heat over a high flame. Bring to a boil, and cook vigorously until the mixture has reduced by about three quarters into a thick syrupy sauce. This could take up to half an hour.
  • In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon (15 millilitres) of cooking oil, and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the meat, and heat through in the pan.
  • Add the sauce mixture and toss the meat and onions until completely coated. Add the cornflour and cook until the sauce thickens. 
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before using.
Next, assemble and cook the buns.
  • When the dough is fully risen, take it out and gently deflate it. Gently knead back into a dough ball, then cut into 12 or 16 equal pieces, depending on how big you want your buns. I cut mine into 12, and the final buns were about the size of a small apple. You can make smaller ones for appetisers, if you like.
  • Flour the work surface sparingly, and a rolling pin, and roll each dough ball into a circle, keeping the other dough balls covered with a damp tea towel so the don't crust. Make sure the outside edge of the circle—maybe about an inch (2 centimetres) or so—is thinner to allow for shaping and pinching.
  • Put a heaped teaspoonful of filling into the circle, then form into a little bun following these instructions. In this case, a video speaks a thousand words.
  • Put the buns into paper cake cases, and cover them with the damp cloth while you heat the steamer.
  • Set up your steamer according to its instructions, or simply place a steamer basket in a large saucepan, fill it with about an inch of water, cover, and bring to the boil.
  • Put three or four buns at a time into the steamer, making sure there is plenty of space for them to grow, cover, and steam on medium for 10 to 12 minutes.
  • When cooked, carefully take the buns out, cases and all. It helps to momentarily take the pan off the heat, and use a spatula. Allow to cool or 2 or 3 minutes before serving. 

If you don't eat all of them, allow them to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate in an airtight box for up to 3 days. These will also freeze well for up to a month, I am told. To reheat, simply re-steam for about 5 minutes, or until heated all the way through.

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