Do you ever see something or hear of something and immediately know that you’ll love it? That’s how I felt about the delicious looking Chinese steamed buns, or bao, that keep turning up everywhere I look lately. Everywhere, that is, except on menus here in Albany. It seemed as though if I wanted to taste these for myself, I would ether have to travel to NYC or make them myself. Making them seemed like it would be complicated, so I tucked the idea away in my every-expanding file of recipes to try on the weekend. But then I read this post from Carolyn Jung, who had a little truck up her sleeve to make steamed buns on a weeknight a very real possibility.
The trick? Don’t bother making your own dough. Instead, turn to a tube of refrigerated biscuits. Easy Peasy. When classic Pillsbury biscuits are steamed instead of baked, the texture undergoes a complete transformation. Instead of turning out buttery and flakey, they become pillowy-soft and slightly chewy. I don’t know how authentic the flavor or texture is, but it’s exactly how I imagined it would be. And every bit as delicious.
I was having trouble deciding what I wanted to fill my bins with, so I ended up doing two version: one fatty, porky version based on Momofuku’s popular buns, and another light version stuffed with tofu that I baked with my favorite generic “Asian” marinade. Bother versions were amazing, but I actually liked the tofu version the most! It was light and fresh in flavor and the combination of textures — the doughy bun, crispy-creamy tofu and crunchy vegetables — was so much more interesting than that of the chewy pork belly.
I’ve posted tofu very similar to this one before, but I’ve recently started to fry the whole block very quickly before baking it. This gives the outside of the tofu a crispy coating that tastes really good and also makes the texture of the tofu a lot more appealing.
Easy Steamed Chinese Buns
A can of Pillsbury biscuit dough makes these buns easy to whip up for a weeknight dinner or as a delicious snack. Look for the traditional smaller sized tubes — no need for “grands” or “flaky layers” here. I also learned the hard way that you’ll want to line your steamer with something or the buns will stick and be difficult to remove — a cabbage leaf or a simple piece of parchment paper will do the trick! You’l need a bamboo steamer to make these. If you don’t have one, you should be able to pick one up in a Chinese grocery store or well-stocked kitchen supply store for well under $10. The steamer should fit snugly on top of a saucepan.
- 1 tube Pillsbury biscuits
- 1 bunch scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 cucumber, sliced into rounds
- hoisin sauce for serving
For the tofu filling:
- 1 block extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 4 Tbs soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbs sesame seeds
For the pork belly filling:
- 1/4 pound pork belly, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbs hoisin sauce
To prepare the buns: Bring a pot of water that will fit under your bamboo steamer to a boil. Pop open the tube of biscuits and separate them. Use your fingers to flatten each round into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. Fold over into a half-moon shape and place in the steamer. Set the steamer on top of the pot of boiling water and steam for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then slice each bun to form a pocket for fillings.
To make the tofu: Preheat oven to 350. Heat the oil in a small frying pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the tofu — it should immediately start to sizzle. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until La thin, crispy crust forms. Place in a baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients. Pour over the tofu and bake for 15 minutes.
To make the pork belly filling: Set a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the pork belly and cook slowly, allowing the fat to render off. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the edges begin to crisp. Add the hoisin to the pan and stir around to allow it to melt and lightly coat the pork pieces. Drain on paper towels until ready to serve.
To serve: Slather a little bit of hoisin sauce in each bun. Stuff with cucumber slices, scallions, and either a slice of tofu or pork belly.
Makes 4, 3 bun servings