Thursday, February 12, 2009

Char Shu Bao

Andrew here again. Steamed Char Shu Bao (that’s the mandarin pronounciation. Cantonese is Ta Siu Bao- I add this not to be a dick, but because it can be handy, as you’ll see), or steamed barbeque pork buns.

I should start off by saying that pretty much every technique I’m about to describe is wholly unfamiliar to me. Many of them are quite common, but I’ve never done them- such as making dough, kneading it, etc. So your results may well be different from my own. Secondly, the dough used for steamed Ta Siu Bao is different from that used in baked bao. So don’t try using this for that. The sough here is relatively unique for food in that it requires the use of active yeast throughout the preparation. The result is an incredibly light, spongy dough, almost like something from a pastry. Or it ought to be, anyway.

Important: this is a LONG recipe. By which I mean it takes a LONG time- as in, 4 hours, mostly waiting. So don’t do this spur-of-the-moment unless you have the time to kill. I was lucky in that I had an unexpected day off. You may not be so lucky. This makes roughly 22-24 bao.

That said, this recipe is an adaption of the recipie found in Madame Wong’s Long-Life Chinese Cookbook, a book from the 70’s that you can get pretty cheaply, but has some good stuff in it, and is apparently illustrated. Why do I say adaption, your ask hesitantly. Because I didn’t have all the ingredients, added a few, found out I didn’t have all the right equipment partly-through. So taking all of that into consideration, I’m still pretty happy.

First thing’s first. Ingredients and equipment. I’m going to separate this recipe into two parts; the dough and the filling.


1. 1 package of dried yeast, or 1 cake fresh yeast.

2. 1 cup lukewarm water

3. 4 ½ cups flour

4. ¼ cup white sugar

5. 2 tablespoons wegetable oil.

6. ½ cup boiling water

7. A little butter

Equipment: Measuring cups, measureing spoons, a flat area to work on, a couple of large mixing bowls, a rolling pin. A whisk. Some paper towels or kitchen towels.


1. Place the yeast in the bottom of one of the mixing bowls. Add the lukewarm water. Whisk this until it is fully dissolved.

2. Add 1 cup flour. Whisk until homogenous.

3. Cover top of bowl with cloth and wait 1 hour.

4. Seperately, take a larger mixing bowl and use the butter to butter the whole inside of the bowl.

5. Add the sugar and vegetable oil to the boiling water and stire until dissolved.

Now cool until lukewarm. I was running out of time for the hour and got impatient, so after trying to cool the measuring cup with cold water on the outside, I realized what a dope I was being, since glass is pretty insulating. I transferred the hot water solution to a metal measuring cup and put it into a bowl of cold water which I had the faucet continue running cold water into. Two mintues later the water was lukewarm-perfect.

6. Add the sugar-oil-water mixture to the yeast stuff.

7. Add 3 ½ cups flour. Stir a little bit, until it gets a bit gooey.

8. Scoop up all the dough-like stuff from the bowl and start to knead it on a lightly floured surface. You’ll only need to do so for a couple of minutes until you’ll notice that it is pretty uniform, and is no longer sticking to everything it otuches and leaving clumps behind. This means it is ready.

9. Place this lump into the bottom of the greased bowl.

10. Take a towel and wet it and squeeze it until it is only a little damp. This is INCREDIBLY important as you do NOT want the dough to rise and hit a dry towel. Place the towel over the bowl. Wait 2 hours.

Now we head to the filling part.

Ideally, you should already have barbeque pork, but I did not. In fact, I didn’t have any pork. I had to run out while the dough was rising to buy some. As I’m in china town, I went to a nearby butcher’s shop. I was the only white person in there and felt a little silly. After looking around for a while,k I finally talked to one of the butchers.

“Hello, how many?”

“None, I’m looking for barbeque pork”

“Oh” (he starts to walk to the right)

“Cha shu”

“Oh! Cha shu! Ok!” (he starts to walk left)

Cha Shu was a little risk that they were mandarin speakers, but most of the people in Chinatown these days are mandarin speakers- all the Cantonese went to Flushing. Cha Shu is barbeque pork. I had been hoping that they had already barbequed pork I could buy, but as I saw, they did not. Instead what he grabbed was a piece of what I THINK was labeled pork butt. This was some pretty dark pork, that almost looked like beef, or just like dark meat on a turkey or something. This was some manly looking pork. But he knew exactly what I meant, so he knew what cut to recommend. He pulled out a slab and held it up grinning.

“Good, huh?”


“How much you want?”

“Uh…2 pounds”

(astonished)”2 pounds? Okay!”

He proceeded to cut me what I asked for. Total price: $4.17. This turned out to be very good quality. It was also extremely low fat content. That is, there was some fat around the sides, but virtually fat-free within the meat part itself. Very nice. Remember, when it doubt, ask your butcher- he probably knkows better than you.

I can’t help but wonder what I would have gotten if I hadn’t asked him for the char shu rather than just the barbeque pork.

Anyway, this was barbequing pork, but I don’t have a barbeque. So I did my best. I brought it home with some fun adventures and prepared to cook the filling. You’ll need the folliwng:

1. 2 tablespoons lite soy sauce (yes, I said lite- this is supposed to be somewhat sweet, not salty)

2. 2 tablespoons oyster sauce

3. 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

4. 2 cloves garlic, chopped very fine

5. About as much scallions, also chopped fine.

6. 2 tablespoons olive oil

7. 1 tablespoon flour dissolved in 2 tablespoons water.

8. 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

9. A frying pan

10. A steamer

11. A pot of boiling water

12. Aluminum foil

13. 1 pound pork butt.

For gods sake, before you start this recipe, make sure you have a steamer. I didn’t until after I had gotten home (of course) from buying the pork. Why didn’t I know? Because I had no idea I was in the only Chinese apartment in all of Chinatown which DOESN’T have a steamer. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go out and buy yourself a nice one.


1. Take your 1 pound of pork and chop it up. You want it to be in small cubes around a cubic centimeter. Yes, this is a pain in the ass, but you won’t be putting much into each bun and it’s meat to be fairly delicate. But you wouldn’t be doing this recipe if you weren’t willing to endure some pain in the ass, right? Try to make the cubes as fat free as possible- I’ve eaten cheap cha shu bao which has fatty chunks of pork and it’s not nice at all. Even my chinese friends wouldn’t touch it after a couple of bites- and they’ll eat almost everything!

2. In a frying pan, heat the oil.

3. Add the garlic and scallions, and let them sizzle for around 30 seconds or so.

4. Add the pork. Stir it around for a minute

5. Add the soy sauce. Stir it in.

6. Add the oyster sauce. Stir it in.

7. The hoisin sauce is the Chinese equivalent of barbeque sauce. It is very sweet. As I did not have actually barbequed pork, where you would use the hoisin sauce, I tried to help approximate the flavor by adding the hoisin sauce. Stir it in.

8. Add brown sugar. The recipe calls for white sugar, but I like the flavor of brown a bit more for this. Stir it in.

9. Add the dissolved flour. The recipe calls for corn starch, but I never use the stuff. Stir it in.

10. Let the pork cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. You’re cooking until there isn’t much fluid left, and it’s pretty thick and the pork is all cooked. You do not want to cook it until dry. That sauce is part of the goodness of the food. I’m not going to lie to you. At the end of this, it’s goinig to look like some pricey dog food.

11. Once done, set aside to cool and deal with the dough.

1. Take the dough out of the greased bowl and split it into two parts. On a lightly floured board, take each part and knead it for 2 minutes. You should end up with two lumps about the size of your original lump.

2. Combine lumps and roll into a snake about a foot and a half long by 2 inches in diameter.

3. Slice this snake about every centimeter, or a fingerwidth (depending on yoru fingers). Once sliced, separate each slice so it doesn’t mold back together, which happened to me. You ought to end up with 22-24 (I got 22, recipe claims 24)

4. Don’t worry if you’ve twisted the dough out of shape- it’s perfectly okay to take the dough piece, roll it into a ball and try re-flattening it.

5. Take each piece and flatten it with your palm a little, then take out your rolling pin and flatten it until it is around 4 inches in diameter or so. Place each rolled out piece onto a plate, without letting any touch each other (so around 5 per plate). Cover each plate with a slightly damp paper towel.

6. Now comes the tricky part. If the dough is a little dry face up, flip it over, so the part that was laying on the plate is face up- it ought to be moister.

7. Put about 1-2 tablespoons of the filling into each circle.

8. Once you put the filling into a circle, pinch it in half like a taco.

9. Take the two ends left and pinch them up to the top.

10. Cinch the open areas closed.

11. Give the top a slight twist.

12. Place onto a 3 inch square of aluminum foil.

13. Place into steamer.

14. Repeat this for every single one. This is very labor intensive and dull.

15. Once done with each plate, cover with a slightly damp paper towel.

16. Put aside for 1 hour to rise. Dough should be springy to the touch.

17. Place over rolling boiling water for 10 minutes. As you see, I didn’t have a steamer. I used these metal things instead. It also meant I could only cook 3-4 at a time. So this took much longer than it should have.

18. After ten minutes, open it up to examine. I know what you’re thinking- it doesn’t look done.

So take one and try it. I was astonished to find it really was done (they don’t look quite like they do in restaurants). I must say, this recipe utterly rawked! But my god it takes forever. One good thing- the notes say that once cooked, you can freeze them. When ready, let them thaw, and re-steam for 10 minutes. It’s just a thought.

To sum up. This is a godawful amount of work, especially if you don’t have a steamer. If/when you make it, feel free to double this up so you can freeze them and it’ll be more worthwhile- it’ll take you less time to make more than to make two separate batches. Bon appetit!

Edit: Joanna says "They don't look like they came from a restaurant- but they taste like they do." Gladdens my heart. My dough doesn't puff up as much as they do in restaurants. Could be different flour- I used all purpose, but I have seen high gluten reccomended as well. I will note that while mine end up shiny, restaurants end up dull. Maybe they cover them in oil or something so they grow bigger without developing a skin or something? I really honestly don't know. Again, however, that's really mostly aesthetic. Oh, Joanna also says "My only criticism is that they need more meat inside." So you mihgt want to keep that in mind for the future, folks.

Maple Orange glazed Duck Crown

Here in the UK supermarkets sell something called a "duck crown". No, it's not a duck with a little gold crown, its the trimmed front half of a full size duck. First let me explain that they don't do "duckling" here like we are accustomed to in the US. This means that duck in the UK is not the delicate, succulent, soft deliciousness we New Yorkers expect. It's still tasty but not as succulent by far. So - back to the crown - they remove the rear half with legs and thighs and trim back the wings. The resultant roast sits neatly in the pan and roasts evenly and quickly.

So - 1 crown = 2 portions. It's just right for supper for a couple. Cost is around £5 - £6.

I knew I should have taken photos because it came out of the oven looking sensational. Anyway -

Preheat oven to 190 C (375 F)
Drizzle duck with maple syrup
Roast duck for 1 hour and 15 min
The orange glaze trick:
-After 45 min remove duck from oven and ladle on orange marmalade (yes, the one in the recipe last week!)
- You need to use really good orange marmalade - nothing sour or dark tasting. Definitely not too bitter!
- Be generous, spoon it on and gently spread to a thick coating
Put duck back in oven for remaining 30 min roasting

Remove from oven and cover with foil
Let rest for 10 min (this gives you time to get the side dishes finished)
*Duck MUST rest after cooking or it will be tough
Gobble up that baby and enjoy

The important trick is 1 hr and 15 min at 190C/375F
Don't let the duck dry out. It should be a bit pink when done.

Note: we had baked potatoes and fresh peas with the duck.
The time was just perfect for baking large potatoes along with the duck.

Dessert was a splash of vintage port in a snifter glass

Monday, February 9, 2009

Baba Ghanouj

Andrew here again.
I tried to post this several times over the weekend, but it wouldn't let me, so here's hoping. I'd also ask if people do try out these recipes to post your thoughts/reactions, as well as any varients you try out that might be interesting, I'd love to read 'em.

Serves: Generous 2 or cheap 4.

You decide that it is time that some really nice Baba Ghanouj should be made. You look up a few recipes and hit your first wall. Most of the recipes are pretty similar, world-round. But there are a few important distinguishing features. Do you add yogurt? Should you squeeze fluid out of the eggplant after cooking it? Should you cook all the ingredients, then blend them together, or add the garlic and such to the eggplant raw? Does it take a half hour or a full hour to cook an eggplant?

Well, fuck it, you decide. Baba Ghanouj is pretty straightforward any which way. Poke holes into eggplant, stick into oven to cook. Take goo out. Add lots of garlic, lemon, and onion. Let sit. Eat.

With that in mind, you decide to head to your local supermarket to buy supplies, since you already have a few of them, but need just one or two items...


Olive Oil
Lemons 1-2
Eggplant 1 (medium)
Italian Parsely (some)
Garlic 5 cloves
Onion 2 (medium, or 1 large)
Tahini- a couple of tablespoons, or 1 packet of sesame seeds (1.5 oz)
Bread (optional), preferably nice freshly baked pita.

If you lived in a civilized area, this would be a quick 10-15 minutes. But no, no your local supermarket is in Harlem. Where you spend a solid hour roaming the aisles searching for tahini, or sesame paste, or whatever the fuck these hispanics call it. Finally, swearing, you declare that no goddamned supermarket is going to get the better of you, and buy a couple of small bags of sesame seeds, and announce that you'll make your own damned tahini. And they don't have pita bread? Fuck 'em. You'll get some nice bread and eat it on that, even though you know in your heart it won't be the same.

Get home later. Get all your ingredients together. Take a medium sized eggplant and a fork and try to poke holes in it. Discover that your forks are apparently so dull that they cannot actually pierce the skin of an eggplant. In disbelief, attempt to do so a few more times to no avail. Drop the fork. Pick up a knife. Repeat procedure. Ahhh, there we go. Cover it in aluminum foil, and stick into oven. Meantime assemble the rest of the stuff.

Dice an onion into fairly small pieces. Take three cloves of garlic, cut the ends off and chuck ‘em. Now take the trimmed garlic cloves and crush them beneath your cleaver as you will crush your enemies once your world domination plans come to fruition. Dice these fairly small. Look at the size of the pile and decide that you want more garlic so cut off the tops and bottoms of two more cloves and crush them too beneath your cleaver, as you shall soon crush that meddling hero beneath your heel, the insect.

Wonder to yourself if cooks get smelly garlic fingers and if there’s some secret. People say lemon juice but you’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for shit. Wonder why cooks never seem to get food stuck halfway up their knives, but instead it always falls back to the cutting board. You need a new cutting board.

Pour about this much olive oil into a pan. That’s the last of that bottle of olive oil.

Dump in your garlic, and stir a little it. In a couple of minutes, the garlic will start sizzling nicely. You add the onions and mix it too. While this cooks, you give it an occasional stir and decide to address the whole tahini problem. Take random mortar sitting around and large bowl. Pour sesame seeds into bowl.

You know that if you just add the seeds, it won’t work, that you want crushed seeds which add their meat to the food, not seeds to stick in people’s teeth. So you decide to crush them like…something that needs crushing. Pick up mortal. Mortar away.

1 minute later give it up. This isn’t going to work and you know it. But what to do? Your eye falls on your cleaver. Well if it worked for the garlic… Spread the sesame seeds out on the cutting board in a fairly thin layer. With the cleaver you crush them a little bit at a time. That worked well but not enough….Start chopping the shit out of the seeds. That seems to work pretty nicely.

Chop them until you are satisfied, then add them to the pan. Stir around for a little while.

Hey, this seems to be working. Be pleased with yourself and pat yourself on the back, congratulating yourself on a job well done and a clever solution to this mystery. You get a Scooby snack!

Take a lemon. Roll it on the counter a little bit. Cut in half and squeeze the juice into your pan. Gee, that looks good. Well, what the hell. Squeeze the other half in too. Stir around some more. Appreciate the smell.

Grab some Italian parsley. Chop a little and add about this much:

Put aside a little more to chop later to add fresh to your baba ghanouj. Stir for only a minute or two, then shut off heat. It should look something like this, and your parsley should still be fairly aromatic.

Check the time. Yup, it’s been about a half hour. Should you take out the eggplant? Is it done? How can you tell if it’s done? If it isn’t done, can you stick it back in the oven? Decide to wait another 15 minutes in compromise between the ½ hour and the hour camps. Go online and read online comics for 15 minutes, smelling everything happily.

15 minutes later, take it out. Looks brown instead of purple now.

You slice it open, hoping it won’t explode. Well, that was underwhelming.

You begin to scoop out the insides. Mostly it is fairly soft, but towards the skin it gets stiffer. You panic about what to do, but shrug and accept it. Next time, you make a mental note, cook the thing for a full hour. You recall one recipe called for squeezing out all the hot water and suggested you taste the juice and see why, claiming it to be biter. Having not seen this recommendation in any other recipe but curious, you taste the water. It doesn’t really taste like anything, but there is an awful lot of it and you don’t want to make a soup, so you put some paper towels around the pieces and squish them a little to push out some of the excess juice.

You pull out ye olde food processor. Start her up and put the eggplant in, pulsing.

You add in the garlic/onion stuff. Pulse that in a little more. Add this much parsley:

Question whether or not maybe you should add raw garlic or onion, it might be nice to be slightly more pungent, but decide not to. Roll another lemon and slice it in half and squeeze both sides in. Process until homogenous. You taste it. It’s okay. You decide to stick it in the fridge for an hour so the flavors have a chance to meld.

15 minutes later your fiancĂ© arrives starving and insists on eating half of it NOW. Shrug and serve it, lukewarm. It tastes very nice, you think. The consistency is likely due to the ends of the eggplant not being fully cooked, so it isn’t as gooey as you are used to- though that isn’t bad. It tastes really nice and that fresh Italian parsley gives it a nice garden fresh taste. Maybe next time giving the flavors a chance to meld would be a good idea. You serve it with whole-wheat buttered ciabatta bread and it tastes good. You realize you forgot the yoghurt, but decide it is nice the way it is and enjoy. Your fiancĂ© delivers a happy verdict but thinks there is a little bit too much lemon. For those of you who like lemon, use two lemons as described. For people who don’t like as much, try one and a half (only use the half at the end, not the whole at the end and the half in the cooking.)