Chinese Steamed Buns

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I enjoyed many variations of steamed buns while growing up – some were plain, some were filled with bright red pork filling, others looked like works of art.

They were especially ubiquitous during the time my French mother was in her Chinese phase (see Growing Up Foodie), which was a mostly wonderful culinary experience for our family.

But I never knew the extent of the magic created in a bamboo steamer until my husband and I went to our first dim sum restaurant.

This was in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 30+ years ago. It was a busy, bustling restaurant, full of people who spoke non-English. Waiters pushed little carts around tightly-placed tables and it was a bit unsettling. This is what the insides of the carts look like:

We weren’t sure what to do, so we kept pointing at food and nodding, because everything looked so good. There must have been at least 200 different items from which to choose. Maybe even more.

We were so excited, hungry, and a little nervous, that I think we ended up with food for a dozen people. Knowing us, we probably finished it all.

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. 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, like he did last week.

The dough is a basic bread dough, and the filling is Chinese sausage. It’s a recipe my mother created, because of her love of Chinese sausage.

So here’s the recipe for my hubby’s favorite steamed buns:


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.

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To Prepare the Steamed Buns filled with Chinese Sausage

Have about 7 ounces of sliced Chinese sausage on hand, as well as toasted sesame oil.

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 wok or pot of water to a boil on the stove, with the water level with the bottom of the steamer basket.

After the buns have risen for about 20-30 minutes, turn the water down to a simmer, then place the steamer basket in the wok.

After about 8-10 minutes, check the buns; the dough should be firm. If they are sticky, keep steaming another minute or two.

Remove them as soon as you can from the steamer basket and let cool slightly.

Then enjoy! They’re soft and the most fragrant while warm.

Here’s a panorama iphone pic of a dim sum restaurant we went to in New York City in 2017. It truly is as big as it looks!

I encourage everyone to enjoy dim sum at a reputable Chinese restaurant. There’s always chicken feet – for the hard to please!

Full disclosure: I first published this post in February of 2013, soon after I made these steamed buns for my husband’s birthday, but felt obligated to make the buns again, for my husband’s birthday, and post better photos.

Sauce Vierge

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I’ve mentioned how I plan my personal meals around condiments, and I’m not exaggerating! In fact, a condiment will inspire a whole meal for me. I guess it’s no different than a BBQ lover who sees BBQ sauce and immediately wants brisket, beans, and cole slaw.

Basic condiments like home-made aioli, mustards and ketchups are wonderful, but so are romesco, chimichurri, charmoula, persillade, harissa, chutney, and confit. So many condiments, so little time!

Recently I came across another sauce – Sauce Vierge – that is almost like a marriage of a fresh tomato salsa and persillade, loosely speaking.

I discovered the sauce on Food 52. Sauce Vierge translates to virgin sauce, and was created in 1976 by Michel Guérard, “one of the forces behind the lighter, fresher nouvelle cuisine that sprang up in reaction to cuisine classique, dripping with all its hefty mother sauces.”

I got excited when I read about the sauce, which includes tomato, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, because it’s a perfect sauce to make in the summer. And it’s summer!

Sauce Vierge

4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 freshly squeezed lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop and place in a medium bowl.


Add the oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and coriander.

Then add the fresh herbs. I used chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover the bowl, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the cloves of garlic, and serve warm or room temperature.

To use the sauce, I grilled tilapia, and served the sauce at room temperature.

I wanted the sauce ingredients to really stand out.


I served the tilapia with boiled potatoes, on which I drizzled some of the herby oil. You can tell I’m not scared of a plate of olive oil!

In reality, is Sauce Vierge a condiment or a sauce? Where does a condiment start and end, and a sauce or paste begin?

My answer is “who cares?!!”

verdict: I will continue to make this sauce/condiment during summer months when I can get my hands on ripe tomatoes. It is exquisite. Over fish it was a great pairing, but I can see this on scallops, chicken, lamb, bread…

Note: Instead of using the ingredients at room temperature, you can alternatively mix the ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer the sauce slowly over low heat for 30 minutes.

Masala Shrimp Cakes

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My mother knows my tastes in cookbooks well. Recently, for my birthday, she sent me Recipes from an Indian Kitchen, by Sunil Vijayakar, with “authentic recipes from across India.”


Oddly enough, for a French woman, my mother cooked Indian meals when I was growing up, so I was exposed to Indian cuisine at a young age. She cooked a variety of International cuisines, but Indian was probably my favorite. And that was when my palate was a bit challenged!

What’s not to love, though? Unless you dislike cilantro. But the spices are so fragrant and lovely, and for the most part the dishes are healthy and vibrant.

The author describes the generalized regional cuisines of the north, south, east and west. I know it’s much more involved than four regions, but the differences are fascinating. And the photos in the book are gorgeous. They made me want to grab my camera and get on a plane. One day…

So as I always do with a new cookbook, I read it front to back, bookmarking recipes along the way. One recipe, Masala shrimp cakes, really stood out to me for some reason.

I mean I love shrimp, but the cakes looked like a perfect party food, and one that can be made ahead of time. They are chock-full of colors and flavors.

Loretta will be happy to know that this recipe is Goan-inspired!

Once you have clean shrimp, all you need is a food processor, and the shrimp “batter” is ready in minutes. Just a little time chilling is required to meld flavors and firm the batter.

Masala Shrimp Cakes
Jhinga Masala Vadas

1 3/4 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 fresh red chiles, seeded, minced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon coconut cream or coconut milk
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 medium egg, lightly beaten

Coarsely chop the shrimp and put them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients.

Blend to a coarse paste. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Shape the shrimp mixture into 20 small patties, about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Place on a baking sheet and brush lightly with oil.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until slightly puffed up and light golden.

Serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges for squeezing over the top.

I made a dip of sorts by blending cilantro, green chile peppers, and a little olive oil, just for fun!

These shrimp cakes were delicious even once they cooled down, but I did love them warm.

My only addition to this recipe would be at least 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Otherwise, it was total Indian perfection!

Capered Butter Sauce

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I first came across this sauce with a recipe called Meatballs with Caper Butter Sauce. I followed the recipe and was really impressed with the sauce. As with many great recipes – ridiculously easy and delicious!

I could see this sauce not only on meatballs, but on any kind of fish, over filet mignons, and boiled potatoes. But today I thought I’d try it with chicken breasts.

Capered Butter Sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup capers, well drained

Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; you don’t want to brown it.

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Once it’s melted, add the lemon juice and capers.

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Heat through, then place in a bowl for serving and keep warm.

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I served the sauce over chicken, and with steamed broccoli as a side. A simple, but flavorful meal.

I had already cooked the chicken breasts sous vide the previous day, and when I got them out of the refrigerator they looked like this:

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I added some butter and a pinch of paprika to a skillet and heated the butter over fairly high heat. Then I browned the chicken breasts on both sides.

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When everything was ready, I placed one chicken breast on a plate topped with some of the warm caper butter sauce, and placed the steamed broccoli on the side. The broccoli was good with the sauce, too!
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Asian Glaze

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For the past few years I’ve been noticing more and more products like barbeque sauces, marinades, finishing sauces, and the like being sold at supermarkets and gourmet food stores. I’m sure that some are good, but being someone who must make everything from scratch (I can’t help myself) I tend to turn up my nose at these usually overpriced products.

Let’s all agree that anything made at home will always be better and less expensive than purchasing it pre-made. And then when you make it in your own kitchen, you don’t typically add food color, additives, preservatives, thickeners, and other such chemicals.

So some of these products are Asian. But the thing is, it is so darn easy to make your own, with just a few basic Asian ingredients. You can also adjust the ingredients to make the liquid more Thai, more Vietnamese, more Chinese, etc., depending on what you’re after.

I would definitely use the following recipe as a marinade, or to toss some into a stir fry. But because I’m cooking these ingredients a bit, thickening them slightly, I’m calling this a glaze. It can be applied to any grilled meats and fish, or even to vegetables for instant Asian flavor. Here’s what I did.

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Asian Glaze

Shallots, about 6 ounces after trimming and peeling
1 tablespoon peanut or other oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce*
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 lime

Begin by finely chopping the shallots. At the end of this sauce you have the option to puree it, so don’t worry about the uniformity of the chopping if you’re going to be pureeing the glaze.


Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a small pot. Heat it over low heat, and saute the shallots for about 5 minutes.
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Add the soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, and honey to the shallots. Give everything a good stir

Then add the ginger, garlic, and about 1/3 cup of water.
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Stir well, then let simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes. It depends how you want the consistency of the glaze.

Add the cayenne and squeeze in the lime juice, then remove the glaze from the heat.


Use the glaze while still warm.

I typically cook fish in butter, but butter isn’t very Asian, so I used a little olive oil to pan fry the Swai, and sprinkled it simply with salt and pepper.
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If you don’t like the chopped bits, you can place the glaze in a blender and blend until smooth. It will make the glaze thicker as well.
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If you want, top everything with sesame seeds, pine nuts, or some cilantro!

* If you don’t have sweet soy sauce, use an extra tablespoon on honey.

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Other possible Asian ingredients:
Mirin
Rice wine vinegar
Fish Sauce
Chile Paste
Black bean paste
Hoisin Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Miso
Shrimp Paste
Curry Paste
Sesame Oil

Lemongrass Pesto

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Because I grew lemongrass in my garden this year, I’ve been focusing on using it as much as possible in Thai as well as non-Thai dishes. This lemongrass seems mild to me, but it has a lemony flavor, and I’m determined to use it all up.

Last night I dreamed about using lemongrass to make a pesto. (I can’t be the only person who gets foodie inspirations while sleeeping!) Of course, I’m using the term pesto in the loosest way. It contains nuts and herbs, but I changed things up a bit.

To keep with the Asian theme by including lemongrass, I also used ginger and garlic. Then, I used basil, cilantro and chile peppers*. The nuts? Pine nuts. They’re used in Asian cuisines, so I’m still keeping with the theme!
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If I did invent this stuff, I can die happy. And I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything similar on blogs or in cookbooks. But it is so good I plan on making a lot of it and sharing.

If I had any reservations about this pesto, it was that the ginger, being raw, might taste too strong. But fortunately, it didn’t.

The resulting pesto-looking mixture was fabulous on this butternut squash soup – almost like how a gremolata perks things up a bit. But the pesto would be great smeared on chicken breasts, pork, even fish. The possibilities for using it are endless. Here’s what I did.

Lemongrass Pesto

Pine nuts, toasted
Garlic cloves, peeled
Ginger, peeled
Lemongrass bulbs, peeled and trimmed
Chile peppers (mine were mild)
Olive oil
Cilantro
Basil

Place the toasted pine nuts in a blender jar.


Add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chile peppers.

Add olive oil until it covers the ingredients.


Blend until smooth.

Add the cilantro and basil and blend again.


Store in the refrigerator, or freeze until later use.

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Since originally making this pesto and writing the post, I have had salmon topped with this pesto. And it was fabulous!!!

* The chile peppers I used were Nardello peppers. They’re not very hot, but add good flavor.

Salt Cod for Breakfast

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As you might remember from my post, salt cod, I’ve been on a mission to find this fish for years. I have spotted it on a few websites, but the shipping was always horrendous, so I never followed through with an online order.

My daughter who lives in London assured me that she could purchase salt cod at a Portuguese Market. So just before coming home for a summer visit a couple years ago, she did just that. I repeat the word, SUMMER. I picked her up at the airport in the city. Then we went out to lunch and did some shopping…. all the while forgetting about the salt cod in her suitcase. Well, that was a lesson learned. Do not ever leave salt cod in a hot car!

But now I finally have my hands on some salt cod after years of searching, thanks to Whole Foods. This recipe is an attempt to duplicate a dish my mother made years ago. I’m not sure about the specifics of it, but I think I remembered all of the major components. So here’s my version:

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Salt Cod and a Poached Egg with White Sauce and Capers
to serve 4

1/2 stick butter
1 onion, sliced
3 small red potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
10 – 12 ounces pre-soaked salt cod, cut into pieces
1/4 cup half and half
4 poached eggs
White sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cups half and half, see white sauce on how to make it
Capers

Heat the butter in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potatoes, and sauté them for about 10 minutes. They should be nicely caramelized.

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Push the pieces of cod under the potatoes and onions, then pour the half and half over the top. Make sure the mixture is boiling, then cover the skillet and turn down the heat to the lowest position. Cook for 20 minutes without disturbing it.

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After cooking, the mixture will look like this:

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To make the white sauce, melt 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. When it has completely melted, add the flour and whisk them both together well. Then pour in the half and half, whisking all the while, and continue mixing until it thickens. If you like, season the sauce with black or white pepper, but don’t add salt. Remove from the stove but leave the whisk in the white sauce.

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To prepare the individual servings, divide the salt cod and potato mixture between four bowls and gently add the poached egg. Give the white sauce a whisk, add a generous amount, then top with some capers.

Salt Cod

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Salt cod has been very difficult for me to find, especially since I live in the landlocked middle of the United States. But I’ve been on a mission for find it because I have such great memories of the ways my mother used to cook with it. We lived in Seattle for three years when I was growing up, and I’m guessing because of the abundance of cod in Puget Sound, that salt cod was more prevalent there as well.

As a child I remember loving the little wooden box that it came in – the top slid in and out and it was just so cute. Unfortunately, I could never quite get rid of the nasty fishy smell, so the cute box never remained in my possession for long…

But those were really my only memories, except for the divine way my mother served the salt cod with a white sauce, topped with a few capers. I really wanted to attempt to duplicate this and a couple of other recipes. I’ve always loved fish, but I’ve been obsessed with playing in the kitchen with salt cod. There’s just something different about it!

For any of you not familiar with salt cod, it’s simply filets of cod that have been preserved in salt – a remnant preservation technique from the old days. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever find it, especially since we don’t have problems like lack of refrigeration these days. But then I came across salt cod at a Whole Foods store! It still exists! And it was in the little wooden boxes that I remember! I hurriedly grabbed a couple like it was a popular children’s toy at Christmas, and excitedly brought the salt cod home to start planning recipes.

When you first open up the box and unwrap the cod, you won’t be very impressed with it at all. The cod is salted and then dried, so it looks like dried up salty fish!

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What you have to do is soak it in cold water for at least two days, replenishing the water a couple of times a day. Otherwise, the cod will be too salty, and not in a good salty way.

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After the two days are up, it’s time for one final rinse, then dry on paper towels, and choose a recipe. Recipes are easy to find, especially if you look into Portuguese recipes, in which case it’s called bacalao, or Italian recipes, which is baccalà. But I’ll post a few salt cod recipes, as well! Watch for future posts!

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