Yesterday I made some bau for 'sandwiches' this week. My mum tasted 'char siu bau' in Chinatown and spent most of my childhood trying to duplicate the taste. Saint John in the '80s was a difficult place to find anything perceived as ethnic and she would have to visit many stores looking for her ingredients for any of her Asian or Italian dishes. My dad, whose family is Chinese, was of no help with this dish as he didn't grow up with it. Char siu bau is one of the northern specialties of China and part of the dim sum tradition. It's essentially a steamed bun with pork and Chinese barbecue sauce inside it. Bau is also available with lots of other fillings inside.
My mum was left to her own devices and used a Parker House Rolls recipe for the bread. Eventually, she settled on beef stir fried in VH brand dry garlic sauce, not because she thought it was the closest formula to the original one she tried, but because it tasted good enough if she couldn't have the real thing. My mum now lives in Mississauga and visits many Asian restaurants and stores looking for that elusive perfect bau. She'll never find it- in her memory, that first one is the perfect one and nothing will ever touch it. For the rest of us, we'll have to make do with something that tastes good enough.
Basic Yeast Dough
Adapted from The Food of China, by Deh-Ta Hsiung and Nina Simonds
3 Tbsp sugar
1 C warm water
1 1/2 tsp yeast
3 C all purpose flour
2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1. Dissolve the sugar in water.
2. Add the yeast. Set aside until foamy.
3. Place the flour into a medium bowl.
4. Add oil and yeast mixture.
5. Mix into a rough dough.
6. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead 8-10 times or until smooth and elastic.
7. Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise for 3 hours or until ready. (I've left it for as long as 24 hours- this is a very hardy dough).
8. When ready to use the dough, punch it down and flatten it out on a floured surface.
9. Sprinkle the baking powder on the dough and fold the edges up and knead 8 times.
This is my latest combination, but I change it up depending on what's on hand, or what Im feeling like. On occasion, a bottle of drygarlic sauce is purchased, and a bottle char siu sauce, or Chinese barbecued sauce is always in my fridge.
1/2 C beef cut into very small pieces
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tsp rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil (or sesame oil)
1. Combine all of the ingredients except the oil in a bowl, and allow to marinate at least an hour.
2. Stir fry the beef and sauce in the olive oil.
3. Allow to cool.
Assembling the Bau
1. Divide the dough into 12 (or 24) pieces of dough.
2. Flatten each piece of dough into a disc, leaving the edges thinner than the middle.
3. Place approximately 1 tsp of beef and sauce into the middle of each disc.
4. Pull the edges up and pinch together. I usually pinch them and fold one edge over another, sealing everything inside. Another easy option is to pinch the edges together like agnoletti or half moons. Traditionally, the edges are pulled up and pinched, and might look like a glob of meringue.
5. Cut pieces of wax paper or parchment paper to sit the bau on.
6. Arrange them in bamboo steamers, allowing about an inch of space between each bau. Make sure there is space between the bau and wax paper for the steam to rise through.
7. Heat a few cups of water in a wok and heat to steaming.
8. Set the steamer on top, above the water line and steam for 15 minutes. If you are using layered steamers, switch the layers halfway through.
The bau will be white and fluffy. Eat them warm or cold. I eat them plain, but some people like to dip them in chili sauce or plain sauces made from soya sauce, green onion and vinegar.