Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Shanghai Style Baozi

I posted this picture of our Chinese New Year celebration meal on my personal facebook page and was immediately asked by several people how to make baozi. Let me start by saying that this was my first time to make baozi, and I by no means am a food blogger (nor did I intend to do a post about it), so I don’t have Pioneer-Woman-Style step-by-step photographs nor perfectly posed/colored pictures of the end result. So with that disclaimer out of the way, here’s my best stab at explaining how to make these.

So some of you might be wondering, what is baozi? Pure deliciousness, that’s what. And next to jiaozi (you may know them as dumplings/potstickers), quite possibly the most ubiquitous Chinese food around. A traditional dish you’ll find in just about every nook and cranny of the country, it’s a steamed bun often filled with a meat and vegetable mixture. Think bread – but not baked – filled with a savory blend of ground meat and veggies. To be honest, they can be an acquired taste. By its self, I find the plain baozi to be well… rather plain. And some of the fillings don’t appeal to my western tastebuds. But the little ones with the right combo of meat and bread… especially on a cold morning… well, my mouth waters at the thought of it.

In all the parts of China I visited, baozi are a favorite breakfast food and found on just about every street corner. The fillings change up by the region, and our favorite preparation style was in Shanghai. I visited Shanghai ONE time 4-5 years ago. (I can’t remember exactly how long it’s been, but Eileen would know to the day as it was when she and her sweet hubby got engaged. She needs to tell her engagement story on here someday. It’s quite possibly the best ever.) But back to the baozi. In Shanghai, they were famous for very small baozi that were pan-fried on the bottom… and friends, I have CRAVED them since that visit.

But I don’t like labor-intensive kitchen projects, and they kind of intimidated me, so we never attempted to make them. Until now. Jacob started researching recipes a few weeks ago, and when he found this one, we knew we had to try it. It came from the LA Times, and it served as our launching point. I could never find the dough recipe on that site, so I tried this recipe for the dough.

Baozi Dough (Recipe here)
1 packet dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoon)
3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder

Add yeast to the warm water, then add oil, and set aside to proof. Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in a mixing bowl. When yeast is ready, add it to the dry ingredients and mix well. To be honest, I found the dough to be INCREDIBLY dry per this recipe, so I added more water. You want the final product to be about the texture of very pliable playdough… not sticky at all, but also not crumbly. I made mine in a stand mixer with the dough hook, and I added the water a teensy bit at a time while the mixer was on, and when the dough finally clumped together around the hook, I stopped adding water and then let the mixer run for about 5 more minutes to knead it. You should be able to pick the whole ball of dough up easily with very little sticking to the bowl and with none sticking to your hands. If it is crumbly, add more water. If it is sticky, add more flour. I’d definitely start with the amount of water they suggest, and add it about a Tablespoon at a time until you get the playdough texture. When complete, cover with a towel and let rise till double. (To be honest, ours sat for about 3-4 hours, and it was fine… though I think that was way too long.)

While that was rising, we made the filling. We did two types… a very traditional green onion filling and then one I made using my friend Grace Zhang’s (the Chinese director of NDFH) recipe for the Best Jiaozi Filling Ever. That’s the official name, of course. The recipes for both are below, but basically you just mix everything together in a bowl. We made a lot more filling than 10 ounces worth, but you can adjust the end amount and keep the same ratio. If possible make the filling at least 3 hours before you plan to prepare the baozi, as the longer it marinates, the better. (Overnight would be great!)

Green Onion + Pork Filling (recipe adapted from the LA Times)
10 ounces ground pork (preferably the 20 percent fat kind)
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (I’m certain we weren’t that precise. Don’t sweat it.)
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (we used black)
2 tablespoons of minced garlic (This isn’t in the original recipe, but we’ve never had Chinese food without garlic.)
1/2 teaspoon sugar 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce, plus additional (optional) for dipping
2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (We used the cooking Sherry)
2 teaspoons sesame oil 1 tablespoon water

Grace Zhang’s Best Jiaozi Filling Ever
Basically you follow the Times’ recipe except you leave out the green onion and add GENEROUS helpings of minced carrot, grated fresh ginger, and minced garlic. And when I say GENEROUS, I mean GENEROUS… I’d say the final product should be about ¼ carrot, ¼ ginger, ½ meat/other spices. (There’s another reason I’m not a food blogger. I’m not very precise.)

Once everything is ready, it’s time to make the baozi. This is what really intimidated me, but it wasn’t so bad! I just don’t like labor-intensive projects, and this is for sure that… I made about 30 baozi from one recipe of the dough. (However, I really rolled my dough too thin. They tasted good, but more authentic ones would have had thicker bread. I think you could probably get about 20 out of one batch of the dough and have a better proportioned baozi. Ahhhh… live and learn.)

If you want more details on how to assemble, visit either of the recipes I mentioned for good pictorial instructions and detailed written ones. But what I ended up doing was tearing off enough dough to roll a ball slightly smaller than a golf ball. Then I used a rolling pin to roll it out. Like I said, I made them too thin… If I were doing it again, I would probably aim for the thickness of a single wafer of an oreo cookie+cream. That would be about perfect.

I didn’t need to flour my surface. The dough isn’t sticky, remember, but I found that it would stick ever so slightly to the cutting board and actually make assembling them a bit easier for me. I’d pile the meat on them and peel the top and bottom edges of the circle off the cutting board and pull together and seal. Then I’d do the same for the left and right. (Note: I use top and bottom loosely… after all, you should have rolled it into as much of a circle as you could.) After that, I’d crimp the four edges and pull the very ends of it up towards the middle and add a little twist. A dab of water can help to seal it if you are having trouble. I wish I would have taken pictures for you. I’m sorry. You want to fill them with as much meat as they can hold, but not so much that they burst out. And don’t worry if they don’t look pretty. They’ll still taste great. Oh – and one tip… after they’ve finished, put them down on a tray seam side down to help keep everything together. That isn’t normally how you’d see it done in China, but then again, we aren’t the pros and our seams need all the help they can get.

It’s time to cook! We pretty much followed the instructions from the LA Times exactly for cooking.  Here they are for easy reference:
To pan-fry the buns, use a medium or large nonstick skillet. Heat the skillet(s) over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil for a medium skillet and 1 1/2 tablespoons for a large one. Add the buns 1 at a time, arranging them, pleated side up, a half-inch apart; they will expand during cooking. The buns will need to be cooked in batches. (In general, medium skillets will fit 8 or 9 buns; large skillets will fit 12 or 13 buns.) Fry the buns for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they are golden or light brown on the bottom. Use your fingers to gently lift them to check the color.
Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen the spattering effect of water hitting hot oil, carefully add enough water to come up the side of the buns by one-fourth inch, about one-fourth cup. The water and oil will sputter a bit. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, placing it very slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, so condensation doesn't fall on the buns and perhaps cause their collapse. Let the water bubble away until it is mostly gone, about 6 minutes.
When you hear sizzling noises (a sign that most of the water is gone), remove the lid. Let the dumplings fry, uncovered, for about 1 minute, until the bottoms are brown and crisp. At this point, you can serve the buns, crisp bottoms up, like pot stickers. Or you can use chopsticks to flip each bun over (separate any that are sticking together first) and then fry the other side for about 45 seconds, until golden.
We fry both sides… partially because the crispy bits are delicious, and partly because it gives that pork more time to cook! You don’t want to burn them, but a dark garden brown is wonderful. Serve hot and with a dipping sauce like those mentioned in the other recipes… or if you want something very traditional, mix Chinese black vinegar and soy sauce. It’s pretty wonderful! Enjoy! If you make these, tell us how they turn out.

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