To continue with my love of all pork products, I give you the barbecue pork bun, hum bao in Vietnamese or char siu baau in Cantonese, which literally translates as “fork burn.” Barbecue pork buns are so damn good, and so damn ubiquitous, that I reckoned there had to be some kind of Chinese creation myth accounting for their existence, a kind of pork-centered Prometheus story, if you will. However, five minutes dedicated searching on the internet proved conclusively there was no such thing. Disappointed, I resorted to writing one myself.
Long, long ago, before the invention of chopsticks, a woodcutter was dozing by his forge when a wild boar wandered into his house, looking to eat up his children. Yes, woodcutters have forges. And wild boar normally live off acorns, of course, but they leap at a meal of human child any chance they get. Fortunately the woodcutter woke just in time and drove off the ravenous wild boar with his woodcutting fork. The boar stumbled into the forge, caught fire, and ran into the baker’s house, which was right next door, and rolled around in a pile of pastry dough to put out the flames. The candlestick maker immediately diced the boar into bite-sized pieces with his candle-trimming knife and tossed the bits into the baker’s large steamer. The woodcutter picked out one of the resulting white blobs and popped it into his mouth. “Mmm, good,” he said. “What shall we call this invention?” asked the tailor. But at that moment the woodcutter’s red-hot fork fell on the baker’s arm and he screamed “FORK BURN!”
Don’t be too chicken to try this recipe. It’s actually really simple. It requires a little planning, since the buns have to rise for 4 hours in total, but the actual work is only a few minutes. You can also double this recipe, or quadruple it, I suppose, if you have a big enough bowl. I don’t. Any leftover buns can be stored in the fridge after steaming and reanimated by steaming again for a few minutes. Or you can just eat them cold. Mmm. Pork.
One big teaspoon of dried yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
3 cups flour
1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup boiling water
Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water in a big bowl. Mix in 1 cup of flour. Cover with a cloth and let rise 1 hour, until bubbles appear.
Dissolve the sugar and vegetable oil in 1/4 cup boiling water. Cool until lukewarm. Add to the yeast mixture, and stir in the other two cups of flour.
Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour as needed so it is just on the edge of not-sticky. Clean and oil the mixing bowl, return the dough to it, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double in bulk, about 2 hours.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a long sausage and slice it into 6 rounds. These will then be flattened out and filled with the pork mixture.
1 tablespoon oil
1 scallion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1/4 pound barbecued pork cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
½ tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoons water
Heat 1 tablespoons oil in a small frypan. Stir fry the scallion and garlic for 30 seconds.
Add the pork. Stir fry 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar. Add the dissolved cornstarch, and fry quickly until the pork is glazed. Let it cool until you need it. I like to make the filling while the final rising is underway.
Grab a piece of dough. Flatten it in the palm of your hand, and put about two tablespoons filling in the center. Gather the dough up around the filling and squish the edges together. Repeat, eleven times.
Place each bun on a small square of aluminum foil on a steamer tray. Cover with the lid, and let rise 1 hour, until dough springs back when touched with finger. If you don’t have enough room in your steamer, you can cover the remaining buns with a towel.
Steam them over briskly boiling water 10 minutes.