So you know how Sir Mix A Lot’s anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon? (Whip crack!)
Well, I got buns! We had a bun party!
Wait a minute. For serious, there’s some funny shit out there regarding the 1992 classic Baby Got Back. Like this:
I LOLed! One more, well except for my Forgotten Song Friday post about the incredible proliferation of “hilarious” wedding dances to “Baby Got Back.”
Sir Mix A Lot’s song popped in my head as I was making buns last week. Maybe cuz I was drinking and listening to early 90s music. Dude really likes buns. I’m cool with his kind of buns. But if we’re talking steamed buns, aka bao, I kinda wasn’t. I was never a fan of steamed buns. I was mainly exposed to them in NYC when the posse wanted to go out for buns after a night of drinking. No! I’d say! Pizza, I’d say. Then everyone would be like this with their buns.
And I would be like this, walking back to the long subway ride to Queens..
The thing I never liked about buns was their sweetness. I always found it to be almost cloying. But Cook the Books is about learning, son, so that’s what I gotta do. Learn! So with much trepidation this past weekend, I made buns. I’d gone two for two on the other dumplings/doughs from Asian Dumplings I’d made thus far, so I thought, what the heck?
Success! And for the first time in Cook the Books thus far, I improvised, taking Andrea’s steamed bun dough and making filled and unfilled steamed buns, and making my own filling. Oooh doggies, did they turn out good!
It was a bun-erific week, friends, and that’s how I came about improvising a recipe for an item I’d never made before or even ever liked enough to eat very much. It all started early a few weekends ago when I read about NYC chef and author Eddie Huang. Eddie’s a 30 year old former lawyer (Represent!), stand up comedian, and friendly neighborhood weed dealer turned hottest chef in NYC with his house o’buns aptly called BaoHaus. I found out he was speaking in Seattle last week, so Double S headed out last Tuesday night and caught him at Town Hall. He’s just written a book called Fresh Off the Boat that is picking up a lot of steam in the media.
Eddie grew up in Orlando in the 1980s, with kids at his school making fun of him for his stinky food, amongst many other racist things. He begged his mom to give him white people food. Now he cooks and hosts a show on Vice and writes about race and immigration and assimilation in America. Dude wears some awesome sweaters too.
Huang loves hip hop too and talked about it a lot. In Seattle, we saw him with Geo from the Blue Scholars. Although he doesn’t specifically mention his love of Biggie Smalls, check out this shirt.I wanted to eat at BaoHaus after I heard him speak. But, man, I don’t live in NYC anymore. So, I had to make these effers myself. Huang makes baos in the Taiwanese style, flat like a tortilla (what Andrea calls unfilled buns in her recipe) then topped with the items of your choice.
Andrea Nguyen, in Asian Dumplings, makes her baos filled, which is more of a traditional Chinese thing. Huang is hip, no doubt about it. But he’s also traditional. Making Taiwanese buns like he grew up with, like he ate in Taiwan. He didn’t go to culinary school. Doesn’t have the fancy pedigree. Says he learned everything from his mom, just by “paying attention.” As someone else who learned a love for cooking just by hanging out in the kitchen with my parents and grandma, that’s pretty awesome.
So are his baos. He has the Chairman bao, the Jeremy Lin Bao, the Uncle Jesse bao, and–the one I was most intrigued with–the Birdhouse bao, which, according to the BaoHaus menu, is brined fried chicken, cilantro, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, and Haus seasoning salt. Pretty vague. But I understand, man, gotta protect that intellectual property. I carefully combed through the rest of his menu and the internet (All of it! Yep, got to the end of the internet!) for other ideas and hints and inspirations. I decided to make steamed filled and unfilled baos using Andreas recipe for dough. I filled some with Andrea’s curried chicken filling, and topped the others with my version of a BaoHaus bao filling. I was excited!
Now, because I like to complicate things, I almost used two different recipes for bao to do a little compare and contrast action. I was going to use David Chang’s recipe for bao in his Momofuku cookbook. I like David Chang, have eaten at Momofuku and own the cookbook, subscribe to his food periodical Lucky Peach and made his ramen. Eddie Huang is not a real big fan. Actually Eddie has lambasted several celebrity chefs, Chang and food network staple Marcus Samuelson. as “culture vultures” who let white foodies experience food and culture in a safe, white approved environment. Check it here and here. Eddie has his critics too. Huang also said that the best bao dough is really simple, like Wonder bread. Baos have been made in China and Taiwan for years. In fact, that’s where Huang’s blasting of Chang comes in. He talks about how celebrated Chang is for his “New American” take on Asian food, and how foodies in NYC came up to him back in the day talking about how the Momofuku bao were the “best invention ever!” Buns are not a new invention. They’ve been here for years.
So, I wanted to keep things simple. I haven’t liked wonder bread since I was 6. But I will say that Chang’s recipe was much more difficult, calling for crazy stuff like nonfat milk powder. And, what is my ass gonna do with a big ass box of 8 dollar nonfat milk powder? I liked Andrea’s recipe for buns. Nice and simple, like Eddie says. Just AP flour and instant yeast. Can’t beat it! So even though I did wanna combine two chefs recipes who might not want to be combined, I kept it simple.
Steamed Filled Buns, page 95. Unfilled Steamed Buns, page 96. Curried Chicken Bun Filling, page 102. Briggsy’s take on a Huang Birdhaus Bao.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Andrea’s dumpling dough recipes are hella easy. I whipped these up after an afternoon of gorging on food at the Chinese New Year celebration here in Seattle. As I said, it was a bunnerific week for the old Briggster. Dumplings and buns were in the air. Check out all I ate…before I even set about making these buns!
So we get home from an afternoon of eating, and of course it was then time to cook. Double S and I had brought along our pal Bawlmer (cuz she’s practically fresh off the boat from Baltimore!) for the day of eating (which would soon progress into a night of more eating and lotsa drinking!), so we had an extra set of hands. Bonus! Less work for me!
I threw together two batches of Andrea’s dough right quick. It came together nicely. I did have to add more water than she called for. I had to add about 7 teaspoons of extra water in each recipe to get the dough to form into a ball, but it easily did in the food processor after the water addition. I love you, food processor!
Then I got into Chef mode as I bossed Double S and Bawlmer around whilst they rolled out dough, made perfect fried eggs (as seen in my last post), and filled the buns. You prepare the buns by first rolling the beautiful dough into a log, then cutting it into the number of pieces you want. I cut enough for medium sized buns, so 16 buns per batch.
Then you use the dumpling roller again (Dayum that thing has come in handy!) and roll the pieces out into 2 1/4 inch discs, again leaving a belly in the center. I taught my fried egg imagery trick to Bawlmer. She rolled while I drank!
By the end, Bawlmer got so into it her hands were moving faster than my camera. Nice work, hon!
Then it was time to stuff dem buns! I, of course, turned to Double S and her delicate lady fingers. She stuffed the buns while I drank more French 75s. Thanks for introducing me to these drinks, Meg. You’ve created a monster! I had made the curried chicken filling earlier that day. I thought that the filling was a bit bland when I was making it, but hoped it would intensify as it marinated in the fridge. It didn’t. The filling was good enough, but it’s not the way Double S and I make Indian food. I toasted the spices, ground them in a spice grinder. So I did all I could, but we were all underwhelmed. It ended up lacking a bit in flavor. I’d tweak the recipe with more salt, spice, and acid if I made it again.
We also made the unfilled buns, which were even easier to make. I wanted medium sized rolls, so I cut 24 equal sized pieces, then rolled them out with the dumpling rolling pin to be about 1/4 inch thick.
Again I got to use my full sheet baking sheet. I’m glad I (foolishly) bought it! When they are rolled out, you brush on some canola oil on half the surface, then fold them over so they don’t stick and are taco like and ready for whatever you want to fill them with. They are then ready to steam.
The steaming worked out really well. I bought a cheap bamboo steamer at a neighborhood Asian grocery, and also bought a cheap wok to steam them in. I have a wok, but it’s cast iron and I didn’t want to ruin the years of seasoning by boiling water in it for an extended period. All you need is a wok or pot big enough to fit your steamer.
So my path to deciding what I wanted to fill these with was a long one and relates back to Eddie Huang again. I started by just perusing the BaoHaus menu. Other baos had what he called “Haus Relish.” After quite a bit of Google searching, I figured out that Haus relish is pickled mustard greens, a traditional Taiwanese side dish and topping for bao. Ok, something pickled! That I can handle. Normally I woulda come up with a plan to pickle some mustard greens, but since I was going to make these in just a few days and because I read that you can get these in the condiment section of Asian grocery strikes, I got them at Uwajimaya in their large and awesome condiment section.
I also read that Eddie brines his chicken for 24 hours before frying it. Brining chicken is already something I do, so I was good to go on that. I did a simple water/salt/sugar brine that David Chang uses for his chicken in Momofuku and brined the breasts for about 8 hours. For coating for the chicken, I followed a recipe I read from Ad Hoc At Home, making a spicy and salty flour mixture (read: AP flour, kosher salt, lotsa onion powder and garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika) that I also dipped in buttermilk. I knew I had to have a sauce so I figured I’d see where I was when I was cooking and make whatever seemed right. I ended up making a sauce with mayo, sriracha, homemade chili garlic sauce, and cornichons with a little cornichon brine. Why? Cuz it sounded good to me with chicken. And it was!
These were seriously awesome, and I encourage you to experiment with toppings for your baos. These had a layer of sauce at the bottom, then some fried chicken which I’d fried as a whole breast then sliced, then topped with peanuts I had roasted in a pan for a few minutes and some cilantro. Holy crap! Delicious!
Wow, this was a helluva bun eating, French 75 drinking, Pandora Hall & Oates station listening party! By the end of the night, the kitchen was a disaster, I was dancing around showing off my Warrant tee (Heaven isn’t it too far away!), and the next morning (afternoon!) clean up took hours. Worth it! Bun party!
The buns themselves were good too. Andrea’s recipe calls for less sugar than others I’ve seen and you can tell. There’s still a bit of sweetness there, and the freshness of the bread is delicious. So if the sweetness of the bun always turned you off like it did me, check out Andrea’s version. Meg had a similar experience and she made baked buns amongst other things. They look great! You did it again, Cook the Books!
Speaking of Cook the Books, if you’re cooking along with us this month, please send us a link to what you made by February 22nd, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to see what everyone else tried! I’ll be posting a roundup of what everyone did on February 27th, Now, off to figure out what dumpling I shall make this weekend! Oh, Double S! Time to fold some more dumplings!