Who Took the “Gua” out of “Bao”?
Everybody, Happy CNY! Yes, only 2 months after Thanksgiving and 1 month after Christmas comes our very own Annual-eat-ourselves-senseless Day. And you think you’ve got difficulty shedding pounds before Valentine’s Day (“Honey, your gut has never looked more sexy!”)? So I thought… in the spirit of Asian festivity and so on, that it’s good timing to honor our newly uprising social icon, one of our most successful cultural ambassador yet to date (and when I say “our” I mean Taiwanese…) – the Brits have Kate Moss and we have this guy. The infamous, the notorious, the little bite of heaven brought to fame by Momofuku, (drumroll) the~~ Taiwanese GUA BAO! ………………………. Oh wait, that’s right. You don’t recognize him. Perhaps because he’s mistakenly known as “the pork bun” or just… “bao”. Phoooph… can you believe it…
Which clever little man took the “gua” out of “bao” I honestly have no idea… (I’m not even gonna go into “pork bun” like what? He doesn’t have a real name? We didn’t call hamburger “beef bun”. Com’n). But it would be equally as vague to call baguette “bread” or beer “alcohol”, because bao literally just means “to wrap” or “to hold” which usually describes an array of things with stuffing wrapped inside a white dough. And let me just say as far as that goes, there are more than you can count with all your fingers plus toes. So if you were to request in a restaurant saying “may I get a bao”, you’d get something like “bao what?” from someone who may seem to be expressing confusion but is in fact mockery. So my point is bao is everywhere. The little fella that’s causing quite the stir is called GUA BAO and is in fact, uniquely a Taiwanese thing.
Back home, gua bao is a long oval-shaped dough folded in half then steamed, traditionally stuffed with braised pork belly, pickled cabbage and sugary crushed peanuts – one of those masterpiece in both-sweet-and-savory kinda thing. Ironically, he isn’t the most happening street food in Taiwan as in you might have difficulty spotting him. But who knew… this little guy pulled a David Hasselhoff – believe there’s always another crowd for him somewhere else in the world – and reinvented himself not just anywhere but in the holy ground of fame-seeking, got a name-change and landed on the menu of one the coolest chefs of this generation… THEN went on to have a restaurant all to his own named Baohaus. Wow. Really. Who knew. Gua bao is all shiny and new again. Surprisingly he still remains quite down-to-earth and
will gladly sign your T-shirt is relatively easy to make at home. Invite him to your dinner party next time. He will be quite the celebrity.
Servings: 6 gua-bao
The instruction looks dauntingly long only because I’m trying to be as detailed as I can. It really isn’t difficult at all. This recipe will give you a perfect, white poofy and chewy gua bao, but I’m going to list the ingredients of the dough in grams because in such small quantity, precision really makes a difference. The rule of thumb is that the weight of the flour is double the weight of the water. I like to incorporate the tiniest amount of cream into the wet ingredient but it isn’t conventional so I will call it “optional”.
Instead of the traditional pork-belly, I’m using braised pulled chicken. Go “figure”. If you must pork-belly it, I will feature braised pork-belly another time…
Ingredients: adapted from several recipes combined
- Gua bao dough:
- 300 gram of bread flour (for best result, use Hong Kong Flour Mill’s bread flour)
- 140 gram of water + 10 g of heavy cream (or use 150 gram of water if you don’t want to add cream)
- 1 tsp of instant dry yeast
- 3 1/2 tbsp of sugar
- Pulled chicken: (this would yield more than enough for 6 gua-bao)
- 3 large chicken legs (1 = 1 whole leg including drumstick and thigh)
- 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 5 slices of ginger
- 3 star anise
- 1/2 tbsp of sichuan peppercorn
- 1/4 tsp of five spice powder
- 1/4 cup of rice wine
- 1/2 cup of soy sauce
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 1/2 ~ 2 tsp of rock sugar or cane sugar (depending on the sweetness of the soy sauce)
- Crushed peanuts:
- 1/3 cup of roasted peanuts (skin-less), slightly salty is fine
- 1 1/2 tbsp of raw sugar
- Chinese pickled cabbage:
- Recipe on Taiwanese Niu Rou Mien post
- A few sprigs of cilantro
Make the gua bao: In a stand-mixer with a dough hook or by hand, mix all the ingredients under “gua bao dough” together. On medium speed, knead the dough until very smooth and elastic, approx 5~6 min. In the beginning of the mixing process it would look suspiciously dry and you’d be very tempted to add more liquid. Just wait. Assess the dough until all the ingredients are completely incorporated. This should be quite a stiff dough and it SHOULDN’T stick to the bowl or to the counter-top or to your hands. If it does, add 1 tbsp more of flour. But if it still seems too dry (wouldn’t come together as a dough), add 1~3 tsp more of cream.
Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put a kitchen towel on top. Let it proof under room temperature until doubled in size, approx 1:30 ~ 2 hours depending on the temperature.
Once doubled, scrape the dough out onto the counter-top. Again, the dough shouldn’t be sticky so there’s no need to dust any flour. Punch the air out of the dough and roll it out into a rectangular shape. Roll it into a log and turn it 90 degrees, then repeat again. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover them with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 min. Meanwhile, prepare 12 sheets of 3 1/2″ (9 cm) squares of parchment paper.
Once the dough is rested, shape the dough into an oval shape first with your hands, then roll it out into a long rectangular shape with round tips (3″ x 7″) (8 cm x 17 cm). We call this the “beef tongue” shape because it resembles a tongue. Place 1 square of parchment paper on 1 side of the dough and fold the other side over, sandwiching the paper. Place the gua-bao on another piece of parchment and repeat with the rest.
Place all 6 gua-bao on a steamer with at least 1 1/2″ of space between them. I like to stamp a flower (or whatever you like) on the top of the gua-bao with red food-dye and the tip of a chopstick. The trick is to use ONLY enough to “stain” the surface because too much of it would start to run and result in a big blob of red… (if you accidentally applied too much, soak it up with a Q-tip). But if you are not into food-dyes, then forget this step.
Cover the steamer with plastic wrap and let proof for another 1 hour. The gua bao should look poofy but not doubled.
Add enough water into the steamer pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium. Place the steamer with gua-bao on top and cover. Steam under medium heat for 10 min. It is CRUCIAL NOT to let the temperature get TOO high or else the dough would inflate and deflate again, resulting in a very ugly gua-bao. Open the lid every 3~4 min to ensure this isn’t happening. Once the gua-baos are steamed, they should be very puffy. You can make the gua-bao a day ahead and warm it up by steaming it for 3 min when needed.
Make pulled chicken: In a dutch oven, brown the chicken legs skin-side down until most of the fat is rendered out. Turn them over and brown the meat-side as well. Leave only 1/2 of the fat in the pot and add the garlic, ginger, star anise, sichuan peppercorn and five spice powder. Saute until fragrant. Add the rice wine and soy sauce, let boil for 2 min. Then add the water and rock sugar. Simmer for 40 min until the chicken is tender. Take the chicken out and shred the meat. Strain the cooking liquid. Add the chicken meat back into the cooking liquid and cook for another 15 min. You can also make this a day ahead. In fact, it gets better overnight.
Make the crushed peanuts: Grind the peanuts and sugar in a mortar or food processor until finely crushed. If you are using a food processor, be careful NOT to turn the peanuts into peanut butter by over processing.
To assemble: Layer the gua-bao with pulled chicken, cilantro, a little bit of Chinese pickled cabbage and LOTS of sugary crushed peanuts. And enjoy with saucy fingers.