Believe it or not, you don’t find ovens in most Taiwanese households. If there is one, it’s likely the oven is used as another “cabinet” to store pantry items such as rice or rice noodles. I discovered the joy of baking only after I moved to the US. Cake, cookies, chicken, fish, you name it—I enjoy baking them all. My favorite moment is turning on the oven light to peek at my delicious food through the glass. That moment of anticipation is the best! A typical method to cook pork in Taiwan is called 紅燒 (braising). It is a combination-cooking method that uses both wet and dry heat. Typically, the pork is first sautéed or seared at a high temperature with soy sauce and rock sugar, then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature while marinating the sauce. I like to experiment, so sometimes I marinate it first and then bake it in my oven. This has been a fan favorite in my dim sum classes for years.
There are two ways to cook the buns in Taiwan. You can either place the buns in a steamer and steam them, or you can pan-fry them. The famous Taiwanese soup dumplings are done by a steam method. I like to make small BBQ buns and pan-fry them. They remind me of my favorite childhood treat: pan-fried buns (生煎包) from the Shi-Da night market (師大夜市). I love the crispy bottom of the buns and the juicy and chewy fillings. The complexity of the texture makes this one of my top-ranking comfort foods! If you’re ready for a different kind of barbecue, try this recipe. You won’t be disappointed!
Asian Char Siu Barbecue Pork Buns
For the Char Siu BBQ pork fillings
- 1 pound pork butt well-trimmed
- 2-4 tablespoons granulated white sugar
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Taiwanese rice wine
- 2 tablespoons ground bean sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 4 tablespoons honey
One Spam Scallion Pancake Dough (see Spam Scallion Pancake recipe)
To make the Char Siu BBQ filling
- Quarter the pork butt lengthwise. Rub them with two tablespoons of sugar and place them in a large bowl and set aside for 15 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid.
- In a small bowl, combine the remaining two tablespoons of sugar, thin soy sauce, hoisin sauce, black soy sauce, rice wine, ground bean sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Stir to combine.
- Pour mixture over the pork, making sure the pork is well coated.
- Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, turning the pork from time to time.
- Preheat the oven to 420 F. When ready to roast, let the pork come to room temperature, allowing it to sit for at least 20 minutes.
- Remove the pork from the marinade and place on a baking pan, which you will put on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the pork registers 155 degrees.
- Remove the pork belly and transfer it to a plate and allow it to cool (at least 10 mins) to just about room temperature. When ready, cut the pork belly into small dice.
To make the Char Siu BBQ pork buns
- To form the buns, lightly dust one of the dough balls with flour, then flatten it with your palm into a disk.
- Set the disk on a lightly floured surface. Use a French rolling pin to roll out the edge of the disk closest to you.
- Then with the small dowel in one hand, while holding the opposite edge of the disk with the other hand, rotate the disk as you roll out the edge until the disk is about 3" in diameter. The outer edge of the dough will be thin all around, and the center portion will be slightly thicker.
- Put one tablespoon of the filling on the thick center of the dough. Pleat dough at 1/4" intervals to encase the filling. Hold the dumpling in one hand, put the tip of the index finger of your other hand in the center of the pleated dough, then gently twist the pleats shut, removing the index finger as you twist, to completely encase the filling.
To cook the Char Siu BBQ pork buns
- To pan-fry the buns using a medium or large nonstick skillet, heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 ½ tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one.
- Place the buns one at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. Fry the buns for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.
- Holding the lid close to the skillet, use a kettle or measuring cup to add water to a depth of roughly ¼ inch. Cover with the lid, lower the heat to medium and let the water bubble away for 4 to 5 minutes until it is mostly gone.
- After 5 minutes, remove the lid. Turn the stove to low heat until most of the water is gone. Let the buns fry for another 1 to 2 minutes until the bottoms are brown and crisp.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately.
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Melissa is 100% MIT (Made in Taiwan), where she worked as a food writer. She’s also worked alongside renowned chefs like Ming Tsai and Joanne Chang, honing her craft and gathering stories along the way. Part story-teller, part educator, and part food lover, Melissa brings a special blend of experience, skill, and enthusiasm to her work. She blends her Asian background, her new home of New England, and love of food and culture to bring joy, optimism, and inspiration to food lovers and fun-seekers everywhere.
What sparked your passion for the industry?
The desire to make things by hand. The joy of sharing delicious, hearty food with students. The opportunity for people to get connected via cooking and baking. When a child smiled broadly and told me it’s the best scone he has ever made and eaten, it really made my day!
In your opinion, what’s the most important course?
Well, I usually take a peek at the wine list first. I like tapas style, so the course doesn’t really matter. Cheese and charcuterie are always a good place to start. And since I’m a pastry chef, there is always room for dessert!
Bill Gates is picking up your tab, where would you go?