Let's not beat around the bush: Our attempt at char siu bao in honor of the Chinese Grand Prix was a complete clusterfuck. Alright, maybe not a complete clusterfuck. But we could have done better.
When done right, char siu bao are delicious. Moist, flavorful roasted pork inside a perfectly steamed bun, can't be wrong right? But if you do it wrong, it can be wrong. It can be very wrong. Here's how not to make char siu bao.
As you'll see, Matt and I were a little pressed for time when cooking this up. So although we drew on this recipe for inspiration, we tried to uh... speed up the process a little bit. This was a huge mistake.
Any good Chinese recipe calls for ingredients you simply cannot find at your local supermarket. So where do we begin? Chinatown of course!
Here's what we picked up for the bao: Tsingtao, garlic, ginger, carrots, daikon, radish, steamed buns, apples, lite soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and pork loin.
No trip to an asian market is complete without picking up a completely foreign, mildly terrifying ingredient and daring each other to eat it. So we also picked up dehydrated mussels.
Tasting notes: like mussels, but worse.
Anyways, the first thing you want to do is get working on the marinating sauce for your pork. First, trim and slice your pork loin into approximately 1/2 inch slices. Toss those suckers into a bowl and give them a few dashes of lite soy sauce while you bring together the rest of the sauce.
Treat your pork kindly. Massage that soy sauce in a bit.
We combined some hoisin, lite soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, tsingtao, garlic, ginger in completely random proportions in a saucepan and brought it all up to a boil.
While we let that cool, we set up the immersion circulator.
An immersion circulator is basically a very very fancy fish tank heater. It circulates water at a precise temperature, allowing you to cook things sealed in plastic bags at said precise temperatures for very long amounts of time, breaking down delicious proteins for hours on end without ever overcooking your food. Used properly, it is an amazing tool. But on this occasion, it was the wrong tool for the job. I just really didn't want to let the pork marinate for hours overnight and then slowly roast it. I was a fool.
When the BBQ sauce had cooled, we placed our pork slices in ziploc bags and poured the sauce in with it.
Then, we dropped that sweet, sweet pork into the water bath.
We're innovators over here, so we decided to make a slaw to top the pork. Time for some knife skills. We peeled and julienned an apple, a small piece of daikon, a few radishes and a carrot.
Finally, we pickled the slaw a bit with some white vinegar, sugar and salt.
Two hours — and approximately four beers later — we pulled the pork out. Now, remember, these were just cooked at 140 degrees. They were never seared, so they look, well, a bit gross. We dried them off and admired the pale strips of pork.
Next, we roughly diced the pork and seared the bits in a cast iron pan with another batch of the BBQ sauce.
While your pork cools, steam your buns. Laugh while you repeat, "steam your buns." Remind yourself that you're not five-years-old. Drink more beer.
Finally, put it all together. Heap some pork into the buns. Top with your pickled slaw. Add a few dollops of extra BBQ sauce and some sriracha.
It makes for a very pretty plate, right?
Now if only it tasted as amazing as it looks. Here's where we went wrong: Some things are better done the old-fashioned way. Pork like this should be marinated for hours, then slowly roasted over medium-low heat. If you're pushed for time like we were, use a pressure cooker, not an immersion circulator.
While the pork looked fantastic, it just wasn't as juicy as it should have been. We're sorry we failed you. Learn from our mistakes.