Eat this: Char sui bao

October 13, 2006



I love Char Sui Bao. My wife has already made fun of me recently for my love of bread pudding, and I think she is just waiting to pounce on my obsession with A Southern Season’s Praline Pecans . Char Sui Bao also falls into that same category of “food I can eat even when stuffed.” Thankfully, because we are having a family bonzana fun time with both sets of parents and a good number of siblings here in DC this weekend, I got to put up this post without her lovely intro.

For those who haven’t been initiated to dim sum, Char Sui Bao is one of the many offerings of that traditional Cantonese brunch. It’s a steamed bread dumpling filled with sweet barbequed pork. For the unadventurous Westerner, it has an eye-catching appeal and a familiarity of taste that can serve as a springboard to sampling many of the other dishes at dim sum.

In the past, though, taking my favorite dim sum dish and trying to produce it in my home kitchen has never been truly successful. Char Sui Bao is on the short list of dishes that I have made that went immediately into the garbage. Most recipes I have found are not quite right, so I abandoned them completely and designed this one.

I kept the basic structure of the dish — steamed bread dumpling stuffed with barbeque pork filling. But I altered the barbeque to make it more to my tastes. The result, then, is not a replica of what you might have at dim sum; it’s my unique take on a traditional dish.

I used pomegranate-passion fruit juice in my barbeque sauce because I really wanted the juice’s tartness. There are some great commercial pomegranate juices, such as Pom , which are widely available. Feel free to use straight pomegranate juice or a modified version to fit your own tastes.

Finally, this recipe is rather laborious. It is not a quick prepare and serve meal. It takes time and patience. In fact, it’s a good dish for a lazy weekend when you’re having friends over. For me, the biggest reward was when my Chinese father-in-law, who first took me to dim sum a decade ago, paid me a huge compliment by saying it reminded him of being in Hong Kong. That made all my work in the kitchen worth it. I hope you enjoy as well!

Steamed Bao with Pomegranate-Passion Fruit Barbequed Pork


1/2 cup water (hot, but not boiling)
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp. dry active yeast

Remaining ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. butter (melted)
3/4 cup water
2 tbsp. sesame oil

1. Mix the starter ingredients. Set aside for 30 min. or until the yeast has caused the dough to double in size.

2. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment or in a large bowl, add the flour, sugar and melted butter.

3. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. While the mixer is on medium speed, add the remaining water about 1/4 cup at a time, allowing at least 60 seconds for the water to integrate. After adding ½ cup, add the remaining water a few drops at a time. The dough should be sticking to the bottom, but not the sides.

4. Once the dough is right, knead on high speed for 4 min. or until it has a smooth, glossy exterior.

5. Turn out into a bowl and coat with sesame oil. Cover and let rest for 2 hours.

1/2 lbs. pork loin chop

1/4 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pomegranate-passion fruit juice
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. sake
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. five spice powder

1. In a blender or food processor, add all of the marinade ingredients and process until the garlic and onion have become a purée. This is to make a nice smooth sauce.

2. Pour the sauce into a small pan place over medium high heat for about 10 min. to reduce the sauce. There are two goals in doing this: First, you want the sugars in the sauce to caramelize. The sauce should change from a pale brown to a dark brown. The second goal is to thicken the sauce. You are aiming for the consistency of barbeque sauce.

3. Pour into a separate bowl and cool for about 10 min.

4. Flatten the pork chop. (If you can get thin cut loin chops, skip this step.) Do this by using a meat mallet, flat-bottom frying pan, or similar heavy flat object. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and then smash down and away with your bludgeoning instrument (think of making a J motion). Once the meat is about 1/2 inch thick, you are done.

5. Coat the pork with about 2/3 of the sauce. It should create a nice thick layer on both sides. Let sit, covered and refrigerated, for at least 30 min. or even overnight.

(Note: You want to be careful about cross contamination. You may want to separate and set aside the other 1/3 of sauce. You will be using this as part of the filling. So if you brush on the sauce, you’ll need a separate container to avoid any issues from the raw meat.)

6. Turn on your grill and let it preheat.

7. Once grill is hot, cook the marinaded pork about 3-4 min per side. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 min.

8. Dice the pork and toss with remaining sauce.

Making the dumplings:

1. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch long by 2-3 inch wide log. Cut the log into 12 pieces.

2. Using your hand or rolling pin, flatten the dough into twelve, 3-4 inch rounds.

3. Take about 1 tsp. of filling and place in center of round.

4. Pull up sides of round and then twist closed.

5. Place dumpling on small square of parchment paper. Let rest for about 15 min. The paper is important because you will be placing this in a steamer, and the dough will stick to the steamer surface.

6. Steam for 10 min.

(Note: If you are using a steam basket or similar set up, be sure to wrap your lid in a towel or cheesecloth. You want to prevent the water from condensing and dropping back on the dumplings.)

7. Enjoy!!



  1. […] My husband has actually figured out how to make two of the best dim sum offerings — char sui bao and sui mai — right here in our own kitchen. Char sui bao is the subject of another post, however, so I’ll take this moment to wax poetic about his sui mai…. It’s perfect. It has that delicious mix of pork and shrimp, with just a hint of earthiness from the shitake mushrooms and a tiny whiff of ginger. Steamed to perfection, the dumplings have a really delicate, elegant air that belies their meaty goodness. The only thing missing is that strange red dot they put on top of the dumplings in restaurants. Contented sigh. What can I say? He’s pretty good, that husband of mine. […]

  2. I am just browsing through your “Chinese” collection since my blog is mostly about Chinese / Asian food. I am really impressed by the patience you have in making this char siew bao!

  3. […] was one of the latter occasions. I decided to make some kind of Dim Sum. I ended up adapting this recipe to make char siu bao. I didn’t have all of the ingredients and it was kind of a spur of the […]

  4. […] was one of the latter occasions. I decided to make some kind of Dim Sum. I ended up adapting this recipe to make char siu bao. I didn’t have all of the ingredients and it was kind of a spur of the […]

  5. so,I’m making char siu bao,which I,ve done before to great succuss but it is midnight,the dough is ready the filling is ready but I’m not. I want to go to sleep and put it together and steam tommorow am am I making a huge mistake? I know the filling is ok but the dough? What is the best way to keep it ? Refridgerate or covered in a warm place?

  6. since you like pork buns, here’s a whole spoof music video i made about them haha…hope it makes you laugh (or HUNGRY!) http://bit.ly/pr4kj

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