Cooking with Friends: Char Siu Bao
Eating, for me, is a social event, a way to connect with friends and family while enjoying delicious food. Cooking is just as social. I love having folks in and around the kitchen when I'm cooking and I really enjoy when someone joins me in the kitchen to cook.
The other nice thing about cooking with friends is learning new things - like how to make Chinese Steamed Pork Buns or Char Siu Bao.
Years ago my friend Nancy told me about a dim sum course she was taking and when she came for a visit she showed me how to make bao. It's become a tradition that whenever she visits, we make a batch or two together.
When you buy char siu bao at the dim sum shops they are often mostly bread with a little pocket of filling - economical for the shops, not so great for you. When they're homemade you can switch the ratio but if you overfill the bao you run the risk that they'll split open when steaming.
The recipe we follow is from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. For the most part we follow her recipe, making minor changes to the amount of liquid used for the dough and using a stand mixer rather than making the dough by hand. But to see how it should be done, watch this video where she takes you step-by-step through the process:
Nancy and I split duties. While she focuses on the dough, I prep the ingredients and cook the filling. She will also portion and roll out the dough (rather than forming it in her hand) and I'll fill and form the bao.
The bao are placed on little squares of wax paper (to prevent sticking) and arranged in a bamboo steamer with enough space to allow them to expand while cooking.
The bamboo steamer is placed in a wok and in about 20 minutes we have a fresh batch of char siu bao to enjoy.
While we work in the kitchen we're chatting and enjoying each others' company. And once the bao are ready we, along with our other friends, enjoy the fruits of our labor. When we're really ambitious we'll also make siu mai, steamed pork and shrimp dumplings, and have our own little dim sum feast.
I have a lot of great memories with Nancy. Not surprisingly a lot of them revolve around food. And while we've made a lot of things together, my enduring memories are making char siu bao with a very dear friend.
This post is dedicated to my friend Nancy who makes me laugh and challenges me to try new things and recipes. May we be cooking together long into our dotage :)