Siopao (pronounced Shew Pow) is a favorite snack in the Philippines. It comes from the long history of Chinese in the Philippines and as you may know, Bao or Chinese Buns are a classic item in Hawaii. You can find them everywhere and with many varied fillings. Our farmer's markets have stands which sell them. They are in the fresh and frozen sections of our grocery stores and many restaurants feature them here, particularly for Dim Sum. I have tasted versions of these buns from all over Asia. They generally have a savory filling, but the Japanese also fill them with sweet mung bean paste and Okinawan sweet potatoes. While these buns are wildly popular in many Pacific cultures, the fillings are often kept a family secret. With Hawaii being the center melting pot of many of those cultures we probably have more variety of steamed buns than anywhere I have ever been. Some are very good, pillowy soft buns that surround a variety of interesting fillings. My personal preference is a savory filling with lots of layers of flavors that impact the taste buds
Our International Cooking Club theme for this month was Filipino foods, and I actually realized that I knew very little about the foods of the Philippines other than a few foods I have tasted from friends over the years. The Philippines is such a diverse island country with influences to their cuisine from all over the world... Spain, Central America, China, USA and Japan to name a few.
Because I know who the supreme dumpling expert in the US is, I immediately went to my copy of Asian Dumplings by one of my favorite Asian cooks, Andrea Nguyen. She totally *gets it* when it comes to instruction and sharing recipes along with videos and step by step photos. She has a fantastic website dedicated to the subject of Asian Dumplings. Andrea's expertise is not limited to dumplings of course... her main website Viet World Kitchen is a delight. Vietnamese food is probably up in my all time favorite list of great cuisines. I never tire of it and it seems to me that there is all too little knowledge of this wonderful cuisine that includes intense flavors, fresh herbs, fiery chiles and French influences. I have said all of that to say that Andrea Nguyen is certainly one of my food idols.
And without further ado... here is the recipe I made for the Filipino night.
I used Andrea's formula for the bun dough which is in her book and was also featured in the LA Times. I doubled it to make 36 medium buns and because I have a professional sized food processor I was able to do so. If you have a standard food processor, you might be better off doing two separate batches. I had leftover filling, so tonight I am making an additional batch.
Basic yeast dough (Famian)
Total time: 50 minutes Servings: Makes enough for 32 small or 16 medium buns Note: All-purpose flour with a moderate amount of gluten, such as widely available Gold Medal, works best to yield tender, yet slightly chewy dough. Unbleached flour produces terrific flavor, but bleached flour imparts a brighter finish that some Asian cooks like.
1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Scant 3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour
1. Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.
2. To make the dough in a food processor: Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse two or three times to combine. With the motor on, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream and allow the machine to continue running until the dough starts coming together into a ball, about 20 seconds. (If this doesn't happen, add lukewarm water by the teaspoon.) Let the machine continue for 45 to 60 seconds to knead most of the dough into a large ball that cleans the sides of the bowl; expect some dangling bits. Press on the finished dough; it should feel medium-soft and tacky but should not stick to your finger.
3. Alternatively, to make the dough by hand: Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. (Add lukewarm water by the teaspoon if this doesn't happen with relative ease.) Keep stirring as a ragged, soft mass forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth, fingertip-soft and slightly elastic. (You shouldn't need any additional flour on the work surface if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading, and after the first minute or two, the dough shouldn't stick to your fingers. If it does, work in a sprinkling of flour.) Press your finger into the dough; the dough should spring back, with a faint indentation remaining.
4. Lightly oil a clean bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise until nearly doubled, 30 to 45 minutes (timing will vary depending on the temperature of the room). The dough is now ready to use.
5. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate the dough until needed.
Now for the filling:
I bought Filipino sausages called longanisa, you could also use char su, which is the BBQ Chinese Style Pork. Either of these are available in all Hawaiian Grocery stores, but it may take a trip to an Asian store depending on where you live. This can also be done with boneless chicken thighs. *Note some versions of these rolls have slices of hard boiled eggs in them. I am not a fan of hard boiled eggs, but if you are, that would be a traditional element.
2 # of Longanisa Sausage fried, drained and ground in a food processor.
2 medium red onions or 4 shallots finely chopped
1 bunch of green onions chopped (including greens)
2" of ginger skinned and finely chopped1 large jalapeño seeded and chopped
6 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup raisins soaked in boiling water till soft, then drained.
2-3 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/8 cup of water
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Salt, pepper, cayenne and lime juice to taste
Double recipe of dough
In a frying pan, add the canola oil and red onion/shallots, sauté for a minute, then find a hot spot and add the garlic. Stir. Add jalapeño and green onions. Stir. Add raisins. Add sesame oil. In a bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients then pour into the pan and cook till sauce thickens (about 4 minutes.) You do not want too much liquid.
Prepare your steaming vessel. You can use almost any kind of steamer. Bamboo steamers are ideal for these, but I used a 4" hotel pan with a grate in the bottom. Layer the steamer with some parchment paper, but still allow some places for the steam to escape. You could also use banana or ti leaves instead of parchment.
Roll your dough out into two 14" logs. Cover one with plastic wrap while you work with the other. Cut the log in half and then in half again and again until you have 16 pieces. Your can make the buns larger or smaller, but this was for medium appetizer sized buns. Roll out each piece into a flat disc, about 3-4" across. Place in the palm of your hand and add a generous spoon full of filling into the center. Do not push down on the filling, but close up the bun by pinching it together at the top. Follow this video lesson by Dumpling Queen, Andrea Nguyen. Lay the buns pinched side down on the parchment paper and cover the steamer being sure that the buns do not touch the cover.
Steam for about 20 minutes, slightly more if you are doing large buns, slightly less if you are doing tiny buns. Remove and allow to cool on a rack. These freeze really well, so once you have the technique down, make an extra batch or two and freeze them.