Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Jing Char Siu Bau -- Steamed Pork Buns (Part 1 of 4)

Happy New Year, 2014!

This is the beginning of my third year of blogging and I'm pleased to report that in the first two years I have had over 6200 page views, 5200 of which were in 2013 alone.  I'm flattered that people find my posts interesting and useful.

In reviewing my efforts, I realized that the majority of the recipes I chose were from either America, Colonial America, medieval England, or Renaissance England.  While there is nothing wrong with that (they were tasty and fun!), I decided my challenge for 2014 was to explore other cultures.

So I hope to post at least once a month recipes that explore the international part of my cookbook collection.  A good way to start is with my favorite dim sum dish, a Chinese specialty that uses roast pork mixed with onions and a sauce and is tucked inside a ball of dough.  Then it is steamed.  One dim sum house I've been to calls it a "Chinese hamburger" because it is as popular as an American burger.  I find them wonderful!

My guide in this adventure is The Dim Sum Book by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, published in 1982.

ISBN 0-517-54581-0
It takes a bit of planning to make bau, so this first post is on preparing the roast pork, called Char Siu.  The second post (tomorrow's) is on making the filling, the third post is about the dough, and the last on creating and steaming the buns.

I've learned that the secrets to following a Chinese recipe are (1) not to be intimidated by the list of ingredients and (2) recognize that once everything is put together, the cooking part is generally straightforward and easy.

Plan ahead!  How will you steam the final product?  I have a set of stackable bamboo steamers that fit on top of one of my saucepans and in my wok.  What else could you do?

Here's the recipe for the Roast Pork (Char Siu), page 64:

4 1/2 pounds lean pork butt

In a bowl, combine and mix well:

3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons blended whiskey
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cake wet preserved bean curd * (see note below)
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
The white jar holds the five-spice powder
1.  Cut the pork into strips 1 inch thick.  Using a small knife, pierce the meat repeatedly at 1/2-inch intervals to help tenderize it.

2. Line a roasting pan with foil.  Place the strips of meat in a single layer at the bottom of the roasting pan.

3. Pour the remaining ingredients from the bowl over the meat, and allow to marinate for 4 hours or overnight.
Ready for the 'fridge!
4. Preheat the oven to broil.  Place the roasting pan inside and roast for 30 to 50 minutes.  To test, remove one strip of pork after 30 minutes and slice it to see if it is cooked through.  During the cooking period, meat should be basted 5 or 6 times and turned 4 times.  If the sauce dries out, add water to the pan.

5. When the meat is cooked, allow it to cool, then refrigerate it until you are ready to use it.

Char siu can be made ahead.  It can be refrigerated 4 to 5 days, and it can be frozen for 1 month.  Allow it to defrost before using.

My Notes

I only had dark soy sauce so I used 6 tablespoons of that.  I also used black pepper instead of white.

The "wet preserved bean curd" was a challenge to find but I got it in a Chinese specialty store.  It is actually a fermented bean curd and you want the kind with no chili added.
This is what I used
*The author notes that "Wet preserved bean curd comes in both cans and jars.  ... If you use the canned curds, only half a cake is required for this recipe; if you use the curds in jars, use 2 small cakes.

I handled the "cook for 30 minutes and baste and turn" part by setting two timers.  One was for 30 minutes, the other for 5 minutes and when it went off, I turned the pork, which basted it at the same time, then reset the timer for 5 minutes.  I did this five times.

I put the pork about 10 inches away from the broiler and that seemed to be just right.  It cooked and even browned without burning.  30 minutes was all that was needed for the meat to be done.
*Sigh*  Yum
The Verdict
Oh my.  Yum!  Yes, success!

The meat is flavorful -- I can taste the honey and the star anise (from the five-spice mix) and the hoisin/oyster contributions.  I was worried it would be too salty but that was not a problem.  The marinade is rich and deep with a variety of flavors which go well with the pork.  I managed to get the meat thoroughly cooked (no longer pink in the middle) but not dry.

I look forward to using it in the bau recipe.  Note that the bau requires 3/4 cup of the roast pork and we started with a 4 1/2 pound chunk, so there is plenty to snack on, put in other dishes, and to freeze.

Come back tomorrow for the next step:  The Filling!


  1. Hi Tracy!

    I adore your blog and went back to read from the first post. A fellow foodie and fledging SCAdian, I love the historical tidbits and background you include. We're you able to find much about the origin of this dish, or just the style if this is only one variation on a theme? Definitely not a criticism, just much too curious for my own good. Maybe you mention in one of the follow up parts.

    Thank you for the delightful read and lessons!


  2. Hi Wade!

    Wow, thanks for the kudos! I have a lot of fun playing with the recipes and exploring cookbooks.

    I hope you got to read about the SCA's Culinary Symposium from March 2014. I would do that again if I could work out the time and travel.

    As for the bao history, Wikipedia says it is Cantonese in origin and is one of a variety of steamed buns, "baozi." In Samoa and surrounding islands it is called keke pua'a, literally meaning "pig cake". In Hawaii, the item is called Manapua. Its name is a shortening of the Hawaiian mea ʻono puaʻa, meaning, "delicious pork thing."

    From what I can tell, jing char siu bao is a variation on a theme.

    This site:

    has some good history, including: "Baozi, on the other hand, dates back almost 1,800 years. It is said that the history of baozi dates back to the Three Kingdoms period (220-280). Zhuge Liang (181-234), a military strategist of the time, was on an expedition to far South China when his army caught a plague. The incarnation of wisdom in Chinese history, he invented this meal shaped as a human head and made of flour and pork and beef to offer as a sacrifice and then as food to cure the soldiers' plague."

    I am glad you asked!