Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dumpling Mania, Part Three: Buffalo Baozi

The third installment of my dumpling experiments came about by accident. As I mentioned in my previous post, Safeway only sells buffalo meat by the pound, and I ended up with way more jiaozi filling than I planned on. It just so happened that the L.A. Times ran an article about steamed buns on the exact day that I was stuck with this surplus of filling, and a little lightbulb went off in my head (the droolicious photos didn't hurt either). My photos, slightly less inspiring. In my defense, this was only my second time cooking with yeast...which doesn't really explain why they're all misshapen and oddly-sized, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So that is how, one day after making and freezing over 100 dumpling-y items, I found myself back in the kitchen making baos. I tweaked the buffalo filling slightly, adding some slivered Szechuan preserved vegetable (zha cai) and a healthy dose of Szechuan peppercorn. The other twist was that the filling needed to be cooked in a pan before stuffing the baos. I have no idea why bun filling needs to be cooked, but dumpling filling can be raw, but I do know that if the Internet didn't exist, I probably would have poisoned myself years ago.

Make the bao dough first; it will need time to rise. I followed the L.A. Times recipe by Andrea Nguyen almost exactly, except that I was unable to find instant yeast and needed to add ¼ teaspoon of sugar to the warm water when I mixed the yeast packet.

Spicy Buffalo Filling
½ pound ground buffalo (beef would also work)
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons minced ginger (buffalo is very gamey, so I added a lot of ginger to counteract, if using beef, you probably only need 1 tablespoon of ginger)
1 tablespoon Chinese hot bean paste
2 cups chopped chinese chives
3 napa cabbage leaves, washed and finely sliced
¼ cup slivered zha cai (optional)
2 tablespoons toasted ground Szechuan peppercorn (optional)*
*Please note, my husband and I like our food very spicy/ma la. As a rule of thumb, most people would probably prefer to use about half of this amount.

Mix all ingredients together and let marinate for half an hour or longer, covered, in the fridge. Afterwards, fry in a heavy-bottomed pan for about 8 minutes, until meat is cooked through. Set aside to cool before proceeding to assemble your buns.

I used a combo of culling through my cookbooks and searching the Internet to find bun-folding advice. Essentially, I rolled the dough out into round wrappers, placed filling in the center, and pinched the edges together in a sort of messy (and none too pretty) rosette. I was nervous that the tops didn't always want to stay closed, but this turned out to not be that big of a deal once the buns were steamed.

To steam the buns, I filled my Circulon dutch oven with about 1 inch of water, placed a silicon steamer inside, cut a round piece of wax paper to fit the steamer and then placed the buns on the wax paper with about 1/4 of an inch between each one to allow them room to expand. I then steamed them for about 8 minutes (counting from when the water started to boil). Leftover buns can be frozen (before being steamed), then steamed for about 10 minutes in the manner described above.

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