Happy Chinese New Year! Tomorrow is the first day of the new lunar year so I felt it was appropriate to create a traditional Chinese dish to share. As any typical Chinese family, parents show their love through food and each year my mom would create a huge feast for CNY to celebrate with us. I’ve told my mom countless times that I’m more than happy to eat out at a restaurant so she wouldn’t have to slave away in a kitchen all day (and sometimes 2-3 days ahead of time) to make a meal that we’d only devour in minutes. My mom replies that this is what she loves to do for our family and doesn’t mind doing all the hard work. Now that I’m married and passing out red envelopes instead of receiving them, I suddenly have an odd sense of adulthood and wanted to make a dish that was labor intensive to show my family that I love them too.
This recipe took me two tries to get all the textures and consistencies accurate. During the first attempt, the dough wasn’t quite as fluffy and the filling was too loose. The dough was quite easy to remedy; it was too wet to rise properly so I cut back on some liquids and it turned out amazing. As for the filling, contrary to popular belief, a Chinese bun or dumpling filling is normally handled much more than someone would handle an American burger patty. A patty is generally barely mixed or handled to keep the tenderness of the meat. Unfortunately, lack of handling creates a dumpling filling way too loose and loses the mouth feel of the whole dumpling or bun. When my first batch buns left me with dissatisfaction, I reached very deep down in my memories to figure out what was the problem. I remember once when I was a child, we were having wontons for dinner and my dad was helping my mom prep the filling. He mixed all the ingredients together in a large bowl and proceeded to “throw” the meat for almost 15 minutes. My dad would grab a handful of the meat mixture and throw it back into the bowl repeatedly. Out of curiosity, and hopes that he’d let me throw food around, I asked him what he was doing. He explained to me that he was making the meat yummier by throwing it. As the filling is thrown, it causes the meat to get sticky, thus creating a denser and chewier filling. Now that I remembered this cooking lesson from my dad, I threw my meat during the second attempt and the filling turned out amazing.
I have never made dumplings or buns from scratch on my own before. I was always lucky enough to have the help of my family to do the pleating. So I definitely needed to learn the basics very fast. After a couple of YouTube videos, I found the one posted by Elaine Luo to be the most informative and easiest to follow. Your first couple of buns might not look very good (mine definitely did not), but don’t despair! It’ll only improve and by the end of the batch, the pleating will totally be on fleek.
Pan Fried Dumplings (Sheng Jian Bao)
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 lb ground lean pork
- 1 1/2 cup chopped Napa cabbage
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine (or sake)
- 1/3 cup chopped green onions
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Black sesame seeds
- Finely chopped green onions
- Sauce (also optional)
- 2 tablespoons ponzu sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon Guilin style chili sauce (or any other chili sauce)
- Step 1 In a small pot, warm milk and melt butter until the milk is warm to the touch (if overheated, allow to cool before adding yeast). Sprinkle yeast on top of milk and butter mixture and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
- Step 2 In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, salt, and sugar.
- Step 3 Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and slowly add the milk and yeast mixture while stirring with a spatula.
- Step 4 Once all the liquid is poured in and mixed lightly, knead the flour in the bowl until it forms a dough (about 30 seconds).
- Step 5 Generously flour a work surface and knead the dough for at least 5 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Step 6 In another large bowl, oil the surface and place the dough into it. Tightly seal with saran wrap and allow dough to prove for 2 hours in a cool location until it has doubled in size.
- Step 7 Meanwhile, prepare the filling by sprinkling a generous sprinkle of salt on top of the Napa cabbage in a small bowl. Allow the cabbage to sit for 15 minutes to sweat. Rinse the cabbage thoroughly and then wring out all the water from the cabbage.
- Step 8 In a large mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients of the filling (for better texture filling, use method described in blog post). With a 1-inch scoop, scoop out 28 balls of filling. Roll gently to form a circle and place on a plate and refrigerate until assembly.
- Step 9 Punch down the dough in the bowl and pour out onto a generously floured surface. Knead dough again for a minute.
- Step 10 Divide the dough into two. Cover one piece with a wet towel/paper towel to avoid drying out.
- Step 11 Divide the halved dough into 14 even segments. Lightly dust the segments and cover with wet towel/paper towel.
- Step 12 Taking one segment at a time, roll out the dough into a 3 inch circle (thinner on the edges).
- Step 13 Place one filling ball in the center of the bun and wrap the dough while rotating to seal the edges.
- Step 14 Place finished bun onto a parchment lined pan and cover bun with wet towel/paper towel.
- Step 15 Repeat with remaining segments and filling balls.
- Step 16 In a large frying pan or wok, pour a generous amount of oil and heat to medium. Place buns in a single layer into the wok and turn heat down to low. Allow buns to fry for about 3 minutes. Add about 1/3 cup water into the pan and place a lid on top. Cook with the lid closed for about 5 additional minutes when the water has completely evaporated. Lift lid and sprinkle black sesame seeds on top of the buns. Continue to fry on low for another 1-2 minutes until the bottom is golden brown.
- Step 17 Combine all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Step 18 Serve buns with a generous sprinkle of green onions and sauce.
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