I got to enjoy variations of the steamed bun when I was growing up. Some were plain, some were filled with bright red pork filling. It was when my French mother went through her Chinese phase (see growing up foodie). But I never knew the extent of the magic that could be created in a steamer basket until my husband and I went to our first Dim Sum restaurant.
This was in Chinatown, San Francisco, about 25 years ago. It was a busy, bustling restaurant, full of people who only spoke non-English. Waiters pushed little carts around in between tightly-placed tables and it was a bit unsettling the first time. Dim sum is like the Chinese version of Spanish tapas – little plates of fabulous food. This is what the insides of the carts look like:
We weren’t sure what to do, but we kept pointing at food and nodding, because everything looked so good. We were supposed to choose the dim sum items to eat, and there must have been 200 different items from which to choose. But we were so excited, hungry, and a little nervous, that I think we ended up with food for about a dozen people. Knowing us, I’m sure we finished all of it.
Years later we visited the same restaurant, this time with our daughters who were 10 and 12, and fortunately we knew what to do. This restaurant must be the place to go because it was still bustling and the food was superb. Strangely enough I know we could find the same restaurant again, but unfortunately we can’t remember the name of it to share with you.
This recipe for steamed buns is my one of my husband’s favorite things to eat. He often asks for them as part of his birthday dinner. I’ve never seen this actual recipe in a cookbook. The dough is a basic steamed bread dough, but the filling is Chinese sausage. Yes, there really is something called Chinese sausage. I guess because the Chinese only make one kind of sausage, and this is it. I can just slice it up and eat it as is because it’s so good. It probably has about 50% fat, but fat has never scared me, especially when it comes to sausages.
So here’s my recipe for my hubby’s favorite Steamed Buns:
Steamed Bread Dough
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm milk, at about 110 degrees
3 1/2 cups white flour
Heat 1/4 cup of water in a large bowl to approximately 110 degrees; if you can put your finger in the water and hold it there, it’s hot enough. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for a few minutes.
Then stir up the mixture, place it in a non-drafty part of your kitchen, and let it sit for 5 minutes; it will have doubled in volume.
Stir in the warm milk, then add 3 cups of flour. Mix as much as you can with a spoon. Then turn out the dough on your work area and, using flour only as necessary, knead the dough until it is smooth. This should take about 5 minutes. Don’t add too much flour – just enough to keep the dough from sticking.
Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a clean, greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, then put the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours.
It will have doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough, and let it rest about 20 minutes.
To Prepare the Steamed Buns
Turn the dough out onto the work area. Roll the dough into a cylinder, and divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces. Form each piece of dough into a disc, about 3 1/2″ in diameter.
Sprinkle a few drops of sesame oil in the middle of the disc, and then top with some sausage slices.
Pull up all four sides of the disc, then squeeze them together and twist to seal the dough.
As you make the buns, place them in a steamer basket that has been oiled. Or, alternatively, cut out squares of parchment paper and spray those with oil to keep the buns from sticking, placing them underneath the buns. Just make sure the steam can move around the steamer basket.
When you have finished making all twelve buns, let them rise in the steamer basket.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove, that fits underneath the steamer basket. After the buns have risen for about 30 minutes, place them over the boiling water, and turn the heat down to a simmer.
After about 20-25 minutes, check the buns. They might still be a little sticky, but the dough should be firm.
Remove them as soon as you can from the steamer basket and let cool slightly. Then enjoy!
note: I just noticed on the package of the Chinese sausage that you’re supposed to cook it before you eat it. So don’t do what I do and eat it right out of the package!