Advertisement
  1. Cooking

From the food editor: Making bao, the steamed Asian buns, at home

Schnitzel Bao with Sesame Pickles. [Photo by Molly Yeh.]
Published Feb. 15, 2017

First of all, you need a proper steamer.

I did not have one when I set out to make bao, a steamed bun popular in Asian cuisines, but I realized it too late in the game.

Using the cookbook Molly on the Range by food blogger Molly Yeh as my guide, I took on the task of making the buns from scratch. Yeh's dad is Chinese, and she grew up eating the buns.

The formula didn't seem too out of my wheelhouse. I've made various breads, bagels, pizza dough, even crackers in my kitchen, using some combination of yeast, flour, fat and sugar. Bao did not require anything more exotic than that.

But it did involve a bit of work. After mixing the dough, I let it rise for a couple of hours, then divided it into pieces, rolled those pieces out into small circles and let those rise.

That's when it hit me: How was I going to cook these buns?

The difference between bao and, say, a tortilla or a traditional sandwich roll is that it's steamed. I knew this. And yet, I looked around my kitchen, realizing I did not have the steaming contraption I thought I did, and definitely not the "double-decker" bamboo one Yeh alludes to in the book.

Time to improvise. I set the largest pot I could find on the stove, filled it with a few inches of water and placed a stainless steel colander, until now mostly used to drain pasta, in the pot. Not bad. The colander had holes, which would allow the steam created by boiling water to cook the buns once I placed them in the colander. A large pan lid covered most of the rigged steamer, creating a nice, steamy compartment.

Except, as I discovered when I started placing the uncooked bao into the colander, I could only steam about three at a time. About 20 raw dough circles stared at me from the counter. (I somehow made more than the recipe suggested I would.)

It also took about 15 minutes to steam each batch, and by the second or third round I was getting hungry, so I decided to finish the ones that would be used for dinner in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil. As we ate, the other batches steamed. The skillet also served another purpose: to make sure the buns were cooked through — my makeshift steamer wasn't cooking them as well as I had hoped.

The result was a bun that more resembled the outside of a pot sticker than a truly steamed bun. It was lacking in the fluffy department. But I filled it with lightly pan-fried chicken and Sriracha cucumbers all the same, and it hit just the right sweet, chewy, doughy notes it was supposed to.

Though for next time, I'm investing in a bamboo steamer.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Hoisin-glazed chicken meatballs. LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times
    They’re topped with a hoisin sauce, and can be baked or pan-fried.
  2. Olive oil cake with nectarines. MICHELLE STARK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Need something for a potluck? Entertaining at home? This cake is simple and decadent.
  3. "Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle," the new light projection show at Universal Orlando, will open this weekend, running on select nights through Nov. 15. Universal Orlando
    Death Eaters, Voldemort and other creepy creatures from the world of Harry Potter star in the nighttime display.
  4. Brothers Duane and David Hogg, of Hogg Batch Coffee. Courtesy of Joey Clay Studio
    Two brothers from St. Petersburg have started a small coffee company.
  5. Chocolate chunk sea salt biscotti. MICHELLE STARK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Italian treat is crunchy yet chewy, with chocolate and almond flavors.
  6.  LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times
    They’re topped with a buttermilk brown sugar glaze.
  7. Marinated zucchini MICHELLE STARK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    You’ll hardly recognize the vegetable.
  8. Honey chipotle chicken tacos MICHELLE STARK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    And for the toppings, try these quick pickled red onions.
  9. Enjoy la dolce vita with Limoncello Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake With a Biscotti Crust.
    Plus, the crust is made from crushed-up biscotti.
  10. Top Turkish Feta Zucchini and Carrot Pancakes with whipped feta and yogurt sauce. [LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI   |   Special to the Times]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement