How to Make Steamed Buns

Steamed buns are delicious, Rea-LLy delicious.  When Molly’s cousin Corey and his girlfriend Terumi were out here this winter they showed us how to make steamed buns.  Molly’s sister Lise was visiting too and she got in on the action.  Molly shot a great video tutorial of Lise and Corey on how to make steamed buns.  We’ve got it down below after the recipes.  Don’t miss it.  It’s hilarious.

Bao in Hand

Steamed buns, also known as bao in China, are a staple all over Asia and for good reason.  Inexpensive to make and available nearly everywhere from street food to restaurants they are a delicious comfort food.  You’ve probably tried them at a Chinese restaurant but like so many dishes they are much better when they’re made fresh.

We’ve made bao with a couple of different fillings: Char sui (pork barbecue) and Gali ji bao (chicken curry).  Since we couldn’t pick a favorite we’re including recipes for both.

Molly: Yum!  I never knew I was such a bao lover!

Mike: Me neither, I’d tried them before but wasn’t a fan until I had homemade ones.

The first thing to do is to make the filling.  You can make it ahead of time and stick it in the fridge.  There are a few ingredients involved that will require a trip to an Asian supermarket but don’t let that hold you back they are all inexpensive and will last forever.  No Asian market?  Substitute ingredients.  It will all work out.

Barbecue pork filling (Char siu haam)

Courtesy: La Times

Char sui

Total time: About 15 minutes, plus cooling time

Servings: Makes about 1 1/3 cups filling

Note: For spectacular buns, make this filling with homemade char siu, or barbecue pork. The filling can easily be made using store-bought char siu, available at Chinese restaurants and many Chinese markets, as well as at Trader Joe’s (labeled “Chinese-style pork”). Shaoxing rice wine is available at Chinese and most Asian markets. If you use store-bought pork, wait to salt the filling after it is done as the meat is often well seasoned already.

1 tablespoon sugar

1 pinch salt

1 pinch ground white pepper

1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce

2 teaspoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons canola or peanut oil

2 scallions, chopped, white and green parts

1/2 pound char siu, homemade or store-bought, diced into 1/4 – to 1/2 -inch pieces

1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

1.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

2.  In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic and slightly softened, about 30 seconds. Add the pork and combine well. Add the sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the pork is heated through.

3.  Meanwhile, add the Shaoxing rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. When the pork is warm through, add the wine and cornstarch mixture. Cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until the mixture has come together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool at room temperature before using, about 45 minutes. The filling may be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.


For the hardcore here is a recipe to make your own char sui:

Mike : You’re talking about me again aren’t you ?

Molly:  Hey if the shoe fits…


Homemade Char Sui




1 lb pork butt (cut into 4 pieces)
3 clove garlic (finely chopped)
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil

Char Siu (Char Siew) Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons maltose
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rose wine
3 dashes white pepper powder
3 drops red coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


Add all ingredients in the char siu sauce in a sauce pan, heat it up and stir-well until all blended and become slightly thickened and sticky.  (It will yield 1/2 cup char siu sauce.) Transfer out and let cool.

Marinate the pork butt pieces with 2/3 of the char siu sauce and the chopped garlic overnight. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil into the remaining char siu sauce. Keep in the fridge.

The next day, heat the oven to 375 degree F and roast the char siu for 15 minutes (shake off the excess char siu sauce before roasting). Transfer them out of the oven and thread the char siu pieces on metal skewers and grill them over fire (I used my stove top). Brush the remaining char siu sauce while grilling until the char siu are perfectly charred. Slice the char siu into bite-size pieces, drizzle the remaining char siu sauce over and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

Cook’s Notes:

You don’t have to roast the pork in the oven if you use an outdoor grill. As I used the stove top to char the char siu, I roasted the char siu in the oven so they were cooked. It’s impossible to cook the char siu by using the stove top alone. You can roast the char siu thoroughly for 25-30 minutes in the oven. It’s best to use the S-shape hook and hang your char siu at the top layer of the oven, with a roasting pan or aluminum foil sheet at the bottom for the drips.


Chicken Curry Filling (Gali ji bao)

Courtesy: LA Times

Curried chicken filling


Total time: About 25 minutes, plus cooling time

Servings: Makes about 1 1/3 cups filling

Note: If you have a good curry powder, like Sun Brand, feel free to substitute 1 tablespoon for the spices below; decrease the amount of salt if the curry powder contains salt already. Or skip the toasting and grinding by substituting equal amounts of ground spices for the whole ones, using two pinches of black pepper for the peppercorns. The flavors will still be good.

1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seed

1/4 teaspoon cumin seed

1/8 teaspoon fennel seed

3 black peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 pinch of ground cloves

1 pinch of ground cinnamon

1 large shallot, chopped ( 1/4 cup)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons water

1 tablespoon canola oil

2/3 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced into 1/4 – to 1/2 -inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons coconut milk

2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1.  In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seed, cumin seed, fennel seed and peppercorns until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Grind the spices using a clean coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.

2.  Transfer the spices to a food processor or an electric mini-chopper and add the cayenne, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, shallot, ginger, garlic and water. Process to a paste, scraping down the sides occasionally. Alternatively, pound the ingredients, omitting the water, using a mortar and pestle; add the water to the pulverized aromatics to make a paste. Transfer the spice paste to a small bowl and set aside near the stove.

3.  In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the spice paste and gently cook, stirring frequently, until it has darkened and become richly fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken, salt and sugar, stirring to combine well. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until the chicken is cooked halfway through. Add the coconut milk, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the chicken is done and has released some of its juices. Cook for 1 minute more to intensify the flavors. Give the cornstarch mixture a stir and add it to the skillet. Stir to distribute well and cook for about 30 seconds, until the filling has thickened.

4.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely before using. The filling can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.


Now that we’ve covered the filling let’s move on to the dough, shall we?

tablefull of buns

The dough for bao is really easy to make and doesn’t take too long.  Mike likes to make big batches of food so last time we made bao he made both fillings and a quadruple recipe of dough.  We had a bun making party and froze the extras after we had gorged ourselves.

Basic yeast dough (Famian)

Courtesy: LA Times

Basic dough


Total time: 50 minutes

Servings: Makes enough for 32 small or 16 medium buns

Note: All-purpose flour with a moderate amount of gluten, such as widely available Gold Medal, works best to yield tender, yet slightly chewy dough. Unbleached flour produces terrific flavor, but bleached flour imparts a brighter finish that some Asian cooks like.

1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

3/4 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

Scant 3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour

1. Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.

2. To make the dough in a food processor: Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse two or three times to combine. With the motor on, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream and allow the machine to continue running until the dough starts coming together into a ball, about 20 seconds. (If this doesn’t happen, add lukewarm water by the teaspoon.) Let the machine continue for 45 to 60 seconds to knead most of the dough into a large ball that cleans the sides of the bowl; expect some dangling bits. Press on the finished dough; it should feel medium-soft and tacky but should not stick to your finger.

3. Alternatively, to make the dough by hand: Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. (Add lukewarm water by the teaspoon if this doesn’t happen with relative ease.) Keep stirring as a ragged, soft mass forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth, fingertip-soft and slightly elastic. (You shouldn’t need any additional flour on the work surface if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading, and after the first minute or two, the dough shouldn’t stick to your fingers. If it does, work in a sprinkling of flour.) Press your finger into the dough; the dough should spring back, with a faint indentation remaining.

4. Lightly oil a clean bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise until nearly doubled, 30 to 45 minutes (timing will vary depending on the temperature of the room). The dough is now ready to use.


Now that you’ve made the dough and filling it’s time to put your buns together.

Pistol and Dumpling:  Tee hee hee…they said put your buns together!

Thanks guys!  We couldn’t have said it better.

There you have it…everything you need to make your very own steamed buns.

So what are you waiting for?   Get steaming!



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