Sunday, April 15, 2012

Banh Bao - Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns

I remember making these with my mom when I was little on late weekend nights.  My mom ground her own pork with a meat grinder, and I helped by cutting up little 3 x 3 squares of notebook paper for our big metal steamer.  You can make these steamed pork buns anytime, then wrap them individually in plastic wrap and warm them up any time you want one.   

It has been a really long time since I've made these.  I thought of them as I read David Chang's book Momofuku, named after his restaurant group in New York.  Momofuku is Japanese for "lucky peach," although every time Sasha reads the title of the book sitting on the table in my breakfast nook, Gianna insists she is saying a bad word.  Chang is Korean, and he is known for his pork belly buns.  They're on his menu at Noodle Bar along with a few of his ramen dishes.  His inspiration for putting them on the menu came from eating tons of char siu bao in Beijing, along with eating tons of Peking Duck at Oriental Garden in NYC's Chinatown.  The book is just so entertaining, and the writing inspires me.  This guy started with a slight struggle to run Noodle Bar with 27 seats, and now has 5 restaurants, including Ma Peche, a French - Vietnamese restaurant with banh mi and summer rolls on the menu.  The book is endorsed by Anthony Bourdain and Martha Stewart, and I love it...

These steamed pork buns can be made several different ways, whether you're cooking them up Chinese style, Vietnamese style, or Momofuku style.  The recipe that I share here is what I remember making with my mom - with the only ingredients I can imagine!  Ground pork, Chinese sausage, and soft boiled eggs.  The soft outside steamed bun is so yummy, but getting to the inside meat filling is like finding the treasure!  

There are tons of different Banh Bao flour mixes, whether you are shopping at Vietnam Market, Sam's Oriental, or K Oriental for them.  The instructions are actually printed on the back of the packages, some of them in broken English.
I like to make my filling a day ahead to cut out some of the prep time.  Soft - boiled eggs can be made by placing your eggs in a small soft pan, cover with one inch of water, bring to a boil, and once it boils you lower the heat a little to simmer 4 minutes.  Then remove the pan from heat, add the eggs to an ice bath for 10 minutes, and they're done.
Soak the mushrooms in warm water to rehydrate for 20 minutes, then stir fry the ground pork with the mushrooms and Chinese sausage.
Mix up the flour mixture per package instructions, then add more milk if needed to form a nice dough - like batter.  Let rest.
I used a large glass cutting board and a pizza cutter to go from a long cylindrical dough shape to 12 individual pieces that I could roll and flatten with a rolling pin.
Add as much filling as you can.  Then close up the sides along the top to make a little bun.
In a double layered bamboo steamer, you can make 6 on each to total 12.  Place into a large pan that resembles a wok with a large domed lid, and steam for 20 minutes over high heat.
When I was little, we used little 3 x 3 squares of notebook paper to line my mom's big double tiered stainless steamer.  In most recipes, I see people use parchment paper.  I used banana leaf that I picked up from Saigon Market.

Ingredients:
  •  4 oz. ground pork
  • 1 package banh bao flour mix
  • 1 package Chinese sausage, sliced
  • Wood ear mushrooms or black bungus, hydrated
  • 3 soft boiled eggs, quartered
  • milk per package instructions
  • oil per package instructions
  • parchment or banana leaves to line steamer
Directions:
  1. Stir fry the ground pork in a light spray of oil until lightly browned.
  2. Add Chinese sausage, then add wood ear mushrooms.
  3. Prepare flour package per instructions.
  4. Fill each of the 12 rolled out sections with the meat filling and egg.
  5. Gather the top and twist to close.  Place on top of parchment or banana leaf - lined steamer basket.
  6. Fill the wok or large pan with 3 cups of water.  Place the steamer basket in, making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the steamer basket.  Cover with a lid.  Steam over high heat for 20 minutes.
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