Monday, June 19, 2017

Sichuan's bean sprout steamed buns

These are from Sichuan, so you know they are not even remotely as mild-mannered as the name “bean sprout steamed buns” suggests. They are also one of my favorite types of buns because they are so full of personality: meaty with a nice nutty crunch from the sprouts, spicy with a touch of Sichuan peppercorns, and almost creamy from the extra fat I’ve sneaked in there.

Traditionally, these are made with pork. But Sichuan is one of the few places in China that really revels in beef, so I’ve taken the opportunity here to make this one beefy. Of course, you can use whatever meat you like. In fact, if you are serving vegetarians, try a fake ground beef, like “Gimme Lean,” plus a veggie butter substitute – they are equally delicious and have made many a meatless friend very, very happy.

These buns often have some red oil flecking the outsides, which is not at all a bad thing. I actually like this decorative touch, as it also helps to set these apart from all other baozi.

The amount of hot bean sauce here is negotiable, depending upon both your and your guests’ taste and the amount of salt and heat in the sauce. So, start with 4 tablespoons and add more at the tasting step if you think it needs it. Each brand of Sichuan hot bean sauce is different, so you’ll have to wing it the first time or two and keep notes. But do be sure to make this filling at least a little bit on the salty and spicy side, since its flavor will be balanced out by the mild bread wrapper.
Trimmed soybean sprouts
One thing you must do is use soybean sprouts here, not mung bean sprouts. Soybeans make those big yellow seed heads that offer up so much texture to the mixture. Find the best quality ones in Korean markets, where people really know how to shop for their soybean sprouts. 

Keep them fresh by placing the sprouts in a resealable container and covering them with ice water. Refrigerate the sprouts for a couple of days, and they will still be perfect. Always remove the whiskery ends, which isn’t as awful a chore as it may seem. Just pick up 4 or 5 sprouts near the heads so that their tails are all in the same direction, then pluck off the skinny ends with your fingernail. That’s it.

The wrappers are slightly different from my usual steamed bread recipe since they have fat added. This helps make them more waterproof, but the fat can be left out if you don't care about some of the oil seeping out.
Wrapping the baozi

Serve these any time of the day. Freeze those extra ones for an almost instant treat whenever you need something really tasty to make your day right.

Sichuan’s bean sprout steamed buns
Dòuyá  bāozi豆芽包子
Makes 32 baozi

2 cups (500 ml) warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
4½ cups (1000 g) regular Chinese flour, or 3 cups (660 g) unbleached all-purpose plus 1½ cups (330 g) pastry or cake flour, plus more as needed
4 tablespoons white shortening or lard, softened
1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon baking powder

Around 7 ounces (200 g) soybean sprouts
The colorful finished filling
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 green onions, trimmed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound (450 g) ground lean beef, pork, or turkey
4 tablespoons Sichuan hot bean sauce (la doubanjiang), plus more to taste
1½ tablespoons regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons mild rice wine (Taiwan Mijiu)
4 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Get the wrappers started by sprinkling the yeast and sugar over the warm water. Place the flour and shortening in a large work bowl. When the yeast is foaming nicely, stir it into the flour and shortening, then turn it out onto a floured board. Knead the dough, adding more flour as needed, to make it smooth and elastic. Rinse out and dry the work bowl, lightly oil it, and place the ball of dough in there. Let it rise twice (this will take about an hour or two), and punch it down after each time. 

2. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Pinch the roots off of the sprouts, since they otherwise will feel like hairs in your mouth. Remove any seed casings while you’re at it. Rinse the sprouts, drain well, and chop them coarsely.

A happy array of buns
3. Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high, and then add the green onions and garlic. Stir these around to release their fragrance, and then add the beef. Use your spatula to break it up. When it is no longer pink, scoot everything up the side of the wok. Scoop the bean sauce into the bottom of the wok so that it can heat up quickly. Stir it around, and when it starts to bubble, toss it into the meat. Season this with the soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Toss in the butter and then the cornstarch, and remove the wok from the heat when the filling has thickened. Bring it to room temperature and refrigerate for at least an hour, as this will make it easier to work with as you fill the buns.

4. Turn the dough out onto a clean, smooth work surface and sprinkle it with the baking powder. Lightly knead it into the dough so that it is fully incorporated, and then divide the dough into 32 even pieces. Roll these into balls and flour them so that they do not stick to each other.

5. Follow the directions here on how to fill and shape baozi, making each wrapper about 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide. Let the filled buns rise for around 15 minutes. Prepare your steamer baskets by lining them with either steamer paper or cloth. Spray these with oil and bring your steamer to a full boil.

6. Arrange about 6 buns in each steamer so that they are at least 1 inch (2 cm) apart. Steam the buns for about 15 minutes, turn off the heat, and let the sit in the cooling steamer for about 5 minutes to set their shape. Eat immediately. These buns may be frozen at the end of Step 5 or after they have been steamed. To cook the frozen buns, place them in the steamer baskets while they are still frozen and steam for about 20 minutes; already cooked ones only need to be thoroughly heated through.
Nobel Prize alert


This is a great discovery of mine that I am so proud of: Freeze your unsteamed buns in muffin tins for about an hour, and then pack them in freezer bags. 

I have always had a real problem with buns getting squished in the freezer, no matter how careful I am. But this way, the buns are totally protected. 

Consider this my early Christmas gift to you!


  1. I have never had pao with soybean sprouts before, but now I am ITCHING to try. As it is, I just made bindaetteok (Korean mung bean pancakes) and used mung bean sprouts for it. I wasn't fond of soybean sprouts as a child but now I might just have to give them another chance. Funnily enough, we used to call them 'dai dou nga' in Cantonese, in reference to the big sprouted head on it!

  2. I just made this tonight. It was great! Your instructions were easy to follow and guided me through the first time making this kind of steamed bun. The buns, once steamed, were so giant and pillowy. And oh so fluffy!