It’s aBAOt time…

Homemade bao buns, served with pulled pork, Asian slaw and pickled cucumber

…I tried my hand at making Bao! It’s been a germ of an idea in the back of my mind ever since we discovered Bao Fitz, a gem of a restaurant just off Tottenham Court Road. I fondly remember it as one of the best meals I have ever eaten in London.

Mr Salford Kitchen and I perused the menu at the wooden bar, haloed by the overhead lights. Outside the warm glow of the restaurant, the midnight blue and indigo tones of the late autumn evening descended, the gathering darkness studded by fairy lights in early anticipation of Christmas. As the food arrived, the tension of the frenetic workday slipped away, and the parameters of my world shrank to the plates before us. The bao buns had a slight chewiness on the outside, which quickly yielded to a soft, pillowy interior. Crunchy, crisp, salty, sour, sweet – each bite was bursting with inventive and delicious fillings. And the soy peanut milk…oh, how I dream about the soy peanut milk. That’s another item on my ‘to recreate’ list!

So where is this all going? Well, recently I was given a generous gift of a delicious piece of pulled pork, partly cooked using sous-vide and marinated for days in a Vietnamese-inspired spice rub. Various recipe combinations chased through my head, until I finally settled on the perfect pairing. This would be best enjoyed in bao buns. I wonder, I wonder… do any of my recipe books include instructions for making bao?

As it turned out, one of them did. Meera Sodha’s excellent book ‘East’ includes a recipe for bao, which I have referenced below along with her recipe for a pickled cucumber accompaniment. For a first attempt, I was pretty pleased at how the bao turned out. Served with pickled cucumber, Asian slaw and of course the beautiful pulled pork, Mr Salford Kitchen and I had a bao-ntiful lunchtime feast! (couldn’t resist the dreadful pun! Sorry not sorry!)

Ingredients

Bao buns

Makes 10 bao

  • 375g plain flour
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 225ml warm water
  • Vegetable oil

Pickled cucumber

  • 100ml rice wine vinegar
  • ½ a cucumber, halved, deseeded and thinly sliced

Asian slaw

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar, grated
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 birds eye chili (deseeded if you prefer a mild heat), thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove (minced)

For the slaw:

  • 1/3 finely shredded Chinese (napa) cabbage
  • ¼ finely shredded red cabbage
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 mint stems, leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • Fried shallots
  • 1 tablespoon crushed unsalted roasted peanuts

Method

To make the bao:

  • Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the water little by little and bring the dough together using your hands: you should have a sticky ball.
  • Turn it out onto a clean surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and bouncy, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place to double in size for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  • When doubled, turn the dough out on to a clean surface, knead for a minute to knock out the air, then divide into 10 equal pieces.
  • Take once piece, flatten it into a 1cm-thick disc, then brush one half with a little oil. Fold the bun into a half-moon and place on a perforated parchment bamboo steamer paper liner on a tray. Alternatively, you can use a small square of baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough, then loosely cover the tray with a tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes. While you’re waiting for the dough to complete its final rise, make the pickled cucumber and slaw (see below).
  • To cook the bao, set a steamer over a pan of simmering water. Put the bao, still on their paper liners, into the steamer in batches, making sure that they do not touch. Cover and steam for 8 minutes.

To make the pickled cucumber:

  • Put the vinegar for the picked cucumber into a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water.
  • Bring to a simmer, then pour into a bowl, add the cucumber and leave to cool.

To make the slaw:

  • First make the dressing. In a small saucepan, heat the palm sugar over a gentle flame until dissolved. Once the palm sugar shards have liquidized, remove from the heat and set to once side.
  • In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, water, chili and garlic. Add the palm sugar liquid once cooled. Taste the dressing – it needs to be sharp and punchy, as its intensity will be diluted when combined with the vegetables in the slaw. Let the dressing stand.
  • When you are ready to serve, combine the cabbage, carrots, red onion and mint in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss.
  • Top with the fried shallots and crushed unsalted roasted peanuts and serve immediately.
Mr Salford Kitchen, with bao in hand

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