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Baked Pork Buns

July 5, 2013

JULY 3rd, 2013 — I’ve always been meaning to make my own dim sum. Dim sum is probably my favorite part of Chinese food, and yet I’ve always noticed the sad ratio of bread : meat : veggies–a lot of bread, a tiny bit of meat, and virtually no veggies. I love bread, don’t get me wrong, bread can be VERY tasty, but I definitely feel like tapping into the core ingredients and ratios could be really quite transformative for dim sum. So that’s not exactly to say that my pork buns are super innovative in the flavor palette–I stuck with pretty traditional Chinese ingredients–but I’d like to think I upped the flavor of what you would normally find in a pork bun: a sad pink ball of meat.

Pork Buns (2)So what did you do?
I first prepared the dough. There are dough recipes online for Chinese buns, quite a few of them, but for tonight I had a box of Swedish roll mix I had always been dying to use in an interesting way. (I used 1/3 of the box for the meal’s dessert too.) According to the directions, I had to let the dry active yeast sit in lukewarm water for 5 minutes, then knead the dough in the yeast mixture, wait 30-40 minutes for it double in volume, knead and wait again.

So during those waiting periods, I worked on my scallion salad, and then mixed together in a bowl:
-1/2 cup finely chopped spinach
-1/2 cup finely chopped enoki mushrooms
-1 finely chopped clove garlic
-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tsp sugar
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp ground black pepper
-1 tbsp apricot jam

The last ingredient is probably really the only inventive thing here. I think stone fruit and pork go great together, so I had to.
If you’re not a fan of fruit & meat though, try drizzling some honey in there.

Pork Buns FillingThen I kneaded (by hand) in 3/4 lb. of lean ground pork, and made sure the spinach and mushrooms were evenly distributed.
While mixing, I found that the mixture was really moist, which made me apprehensive of whether it would make the dough come undone when baking, so I then added a couple spoonfuls of flour (you should use cornstarch though if you have it) to dry the mixture a bit.

For assembly, I floured a greased tray, my hands, as well as a dusting on top of the whole ball of dough, since I’m paranoid about dough sticking to my hands. Pro-tip from Alton Brown: try to use your fingers more than the palm of your hand, since your palms are warmer and are more likely to invite the dough to stick to it.
I didn’t have a rolling pin or a big clean surface, so I did everything by hand. I grabbed a small piece of dough, flattened it by hand on the tray, spooned some of the meat mixture on it, and then tried to fold and crimp the dough in a twisting fashion.

I baked them for 10-12 minutes at a sweltering 480 degrees.

Pork Buns Open!Result? So, so, so good and tasty. I knew that all you need to amplify your dim sum is just to add and foreground complementary ingredients (especially apricot jam). I had actually made twice as much meat just in case, and since I could only use half of the recipe to fill the buns, I decided just to cook the rest on the stove and save it for later–SUPER looking forward to using that ground pork in some fried rice! The pork was super moist, which means that there’s juice to be absorbed by the bread and rice.

I had one left over from dinner and ate it for lunch as I was driving up to the Bay Area from LA. I sat with the little bun in my hands sitting in a McDonalds on Hwy 5. At the table next to me was a group of Chinese tourists all in their 50s-60s. They were all eating McWraps or whatever. Role reversal.

Lessons learned?
Don’t be too afraid of cooking raw meat inside the dough. Don’t worry–it cooks.
Also, for non-stick handling of dough, flour is much, much more effective than non-stick spray.
And maybe an egg wash on top of the buns and a sprinkling of sesame seeds would have been nice.

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