Bah Humbao!

Just you wait, buddy.

Just you wait, buddy.

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.

PORK BUNS

Makes 12.

Dough ingredients:

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.

Bubble bubble

Bubble bubble

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.

Before rising...

Before rising...

And after!

And after!

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.

Filling ingredients:

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.

Hands of pork bun

Hands of pork bun

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.

Bao-a Lugosi's dead, uncooked, uncooked

Bao-a Lugosi's dead, uncooked, uncooked

Steam them over briskly boiling water 10 minutes.
four in a steamer

9 comments to Bah Humbao!

  • Nytefyre

    Dude – fork burn is waaay too literal – it means “roasted on a spit”. It’s called roast pork because it used to be roasted on a spit – which incidentally was the word pressed into service when the Chinese met westerners and saw a “fork” for the first time since the forks looked like miniature versions of their spits. Bao means a package and related to food means something wrapped in dough and (generally) steamed.

  • lambykins

    man, if you made this with tofu, i would probably really love it!!!
    dang meat eaters…….

  • You mentioned in other articles how much you loved pork, so now I’m really craving barbecue. Please, do a recipe for pulled pork sandwiches next!

  • I would. Oh, I would. But my tiny studio apartment has no smoker, no barbecue, and no kitchen ventilator. But someday I will move into a real house, and then watch out!

    Thanks for reading!

  • Libby

    I have now tried my second batch of these. Just a couple of questions:

    1. You mention Sesame Oil in the ingredients, but it is not used in the recipe.

    2. I cannot get 2 cups of flour mixed in after the first raising. Is that ok? (I am an entree cooker, not much of a baker)

    Thanks!

  • Hey Libby,

    first off, thanks for pointing out the sesame oil. I hate recipes that don’t account for the ingredients. I took it out.

    Secondly, I confess I don’t measure these quantities very accurately. To be honest, I don’t even have measuring cups. I use an old cappuccino cup. So just add as much flour as makes it workable, “on the edge of non-sticky.”

    Thirdly, I’m a terrible baker, but these have always worked for me. That’s why I like them. How did yours turn out?

  • Libby

    Awesome. Thanks!

    The first batch (where I added more water when the dough seemed to dry to me) turned out ok. But I did add the sesame oil to the filling mixture and it was pretty good.

    The second batch I used the sesame seed oil in the water/sugar/oil mixture and stuck to the measurements. The bun dough had a better flavor but the texture was something akin to rubber. Tastey rubber, but rubber just the same.

    Do you know if the sesame oil vs. veggie oil makes a difference in the rising? If not, I’m going to stick to the sesame oil but trust my gut on the flour/liquid mixture. I’ll give this a try tomorrow. My friend has a hog roast every year…roasts a hog over a giant pit in his back yard. There is always WAY more meat than people to eat it so I thought these would be a great new way to serve it up and freeze leftovers.

    Thanks again for your input! I totally love this site!!

  • Libby

    “too dry”, not “to dry.” Crap. I even have my degree in the English language.

  • Hmm. I believe that oil in bread dough makes it softer and tastier, but too much will indeed render it ‘rubbery.’ I don’t mind a little bit of rubbery; I prefer these to the enormous exploding blooms of fluffy white dough with a tiny bit of pork inside I get at my local Vietnamese market. But too much and they don’t seem to rise. Myself, I don’t add sesame oil to the dough. A touch with the filling is nice, though.

    Why don’t my friends hold hog roasts?