Chinese pan-fried pork buns

Pork buns are often overlooked by those unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine, overshadowed by the much more common dumplings, also known as “potstickers” when pan-fried. While variations for both abound (e.g. steamed BBQ pork buns, shrimp dumplings), the classic for each is very much the same – a plain dough rolled into rounds and filled with a mixture of ground pork seasoned with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Though steaming the buns is delicious, pan-frying makes them delightfully crisp golden brown on the bottom and perfect accompanied with a zesty dipping sauce.

There are two main components to pork buns – the wrappers and the filling. Dumplings can be made with store-bought wrappers (available at any Asian food store) but these buns require leavened dough, which is easy to make. I essentially use a plain recipe for French bread dough from Beth Hensberger’s The Bread Bible. The filling (recipe courtesy of my mom) is also very easy provided you can get Napa cabbage and Chinese chives. Both of these should also be available at Asian food stores.

Note that this recipe makes a large number of buns, so you should divide the recipe as needed (1 serving is probably 4-6 buns). Alternatively, you can make all the filling and freeze the portion you don’t use. The dough, however, should probably be made for the number of buns you expect to make that day.

Pork bun wrapper dough (adapted from The Bread Bible)
(makes about 60 wrappers)

2 cups hot water
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
3 cups bread flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  1. Place the hot water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the sugar and yeast over the top. Mix to dissolve and let stand 10 minutes until foamy.
  2. Add the salt and 2 cups of the bread flour and mix hard with a whisk until smooth.
  3. Add the remaining bread flour and the all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough that just clears the side of the bowl is formed.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky. Add flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  5. Place dough in a deep greased container, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at cool room temperature for about 2 hours. You can also let the dough rise in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours; it’s best to let the dough return to room temperature before working with it.

Ground pork filling (passed down from my mom)
Makes ~ 60 buns or 100 dumplings

~ 2 lbs ground pork
the bottom half of a small Napa cabbage, finely chopped
a 4″ diameter bunch of Chinese chives, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Wrapping the buns

  1. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and knead a few times until smooth.
  2. Form the dough into a flat ball, pinch a hole in the center, and stretch the dough into a uniform loop. Continue stretching until the dough rope is about 1 1/2 inches in thickness. Cut the dough into pieces about 1 inch long, dust with flour, and cover with a damp paper towel.
  3. To make a wrapper, lightly flatten a piece of dough with your palm. Roll the piece of dough out into a thin, even round using a rolling pin.
  4. Place the wrapper flat in your palm and add about a heaping tbsp full of filling in the center. Pinch the edges up into folds towards the center while turning the bun in your hand until all the edges have been pinched up. Make sure the top is sealed, and you’ve got a pork bun!

Pan-frying pork buns

  1. Coat the bottom of a large skillet or wok with a tight fitting lid with a liberal amount of vegetable oil (1-2 tbsp) and heat at medium-high.
  2. Place wrapped pork buns in the wok in a single layer making sure that they don’t touch. Fry about 2 minutes or until the bottoms are light golden brown.
  3. Add about 3/4 cup of cool water, cover, and cook over medium heat until the water has boiled off almost completely, ~ 6-8 minutes.
  4. Remove when the bottoms are dark golden brown – cook a little longer if necessary – but be careful not to burn them.
  5. Eat while hot and serve with a dipping sauce (see below) if desired.

All-purpose dipping sauce
(for dumplings, pork buns, etc)

Combine soy sauce, vinegar, and a spicy black bean chili mixture (available at Asian food stores) in about a 4:2:1 ratio. Adjust flavor to taste. Feel free to add sesame oil or ginger if desired.

That’s pretty much it! Don’t be intimidated by the seemingly large number of steps. It essentially boils down to: Make dough. Make filling. Wrap filling. Cook buns. Eat buns. The hardest part is wrapping the filling so that the result looks like a bun and acts like a bun. Believe me, it took me about 30 buns before I finally got my mom’s wrapping technique confidently down. But the hardest part is also the most fun part – aside from eating the buns, of course!

6 Responses to Chinese pan-fried pork buns

  1. vlotty says:

    Looks delicious. Please Fedex a batch over right away.

  2. chris says:

    It is delicious.

  3. Dimire says:

    yyyyyyyuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!! DELICIOUS! thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!!!!!

  4. Lilith~ says:

    Isn’t that what in japanese is called ‘nikuman’ ?
    If it’s the same, it’s really tasty, if filled with tuna+mayonnaise+soy sauce n_n

  5. Kelley says:

    OMG. you are sooo good at wrapping the filling inside the dough! It looks beautiful. I tried making xiao long bao, but all of mine came out looking like blobby monsters from under the sea :<

    I hope I get to eat shui jian bao one day :D

  6. Pingback: Three months later « I was lost but now I live here

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