This recipe is inspired by an incredible dish I enjoyed at Little Bao, an edgy diner conceived by chef May Chow, and one of the hottest places to dine in Hong Kong. May is a friend and one helluva talented chef. She was named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, an offshoot of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. May presents her bao like a hamburger. My version is shaped like a gua bao, a Chinese sandwich-style steamed bun. I’ve given the recipe for these buns below, or they can be found in the freezer section of Asian grocers.
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) boned chicken thighs, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) strips
2 eggs, beaten
300 g (10½ oz/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour mixed with
1 teaspoon salt
Oil, for deep-frying
1 large handful basil
1 large handful coriander (cilantro)
250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) white rice vinegar
100 g (3½ oz) sugar
200 g (7 oz) julienned carrots
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice
½ teaspoon chilli powder
½ teaspoon salt, to taste
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon Sichuan pepper oil
200 ml (7 fl oz) Kewpie mayonnaise
½ quantity bao dough (see char siu bao page 202)
Vegetable oil, for brushing
To make the pickled carrot, simmer the vinegar, sugar, 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cool completely, then add the carrots and refrigerate overnight.
Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To make the Sichuan mayonnaise, combine the ingredients and set aside.
To make the gua bao, roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into 10 pieces. Roll each into a ball, then flatten with the palm of your hand. Sprinkle with flour and roll each into a 15 cm (6 inch) oval. Brush with oil, fold in half and press gently. Place on squares of baking paper and leave to prove until doubled in size (about 1 hour). Steam the buns in batches in a steamer until puffed (8–10 minutes).
Meanwhile, combine the beaten eggs and 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water in a bowl. Place the seasoned flour in a shallow bowl. Dip the chicken pieces in the eggwash, then the flour, shaking off the excess.
Heat oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 180°C (350°C) or until a piece of bread browns in 10 seconds, and deep-fry the chicken in batches until golden and crisp.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. When all the chicken is done, deep-fry the basil for a couple of seconds until crisp. Drain on paper towel.
To serve, stuff the chicken pieces into the split bao with carrots, fried basil and coriander, and top with mayonnaise.
60 g (2¼ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) lukewarm water
1½ teaspoons dried yeast
430 g (15¼ oz) cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon rice vinegar
To make the dough, dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water, stir in the yeast and set aside in a draught-free place for 10 minutes until it turns foamy.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the yeast mixture, oil, vinegar and a pinch of salt, then, using a wooden spoon, stir until well combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured bench and knead for 8–10 minutes until the dough is soft and pliable (this can also be done in an electric mixer with a dough hook attachment).
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat evenly, cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel, and set aside in a draught-free place until doubled in size (1–2 hours or up to 3–4 hours on a cold day).
I adore Cantonese wontons in soups, but every once in a while I get a craving for Sichuan’s spicy wontons. Called hong you chao shou in Mandarin, these delicious dumplings are pretty common in Sichuan province but less so in Hong Kong. They’re a cinch to make and the accompanying hot sauce with toasty chilli takes these morsels to another level.
360 g (12¾ oz) packet square wonton wrappers
2 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced
300 g (10½ oz) minced (ground) pork with 30% fat content
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons chicken stock
RED CHILLI OIL
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, roasted
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
185 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) chilli oil with sediment (see page 244)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Pinch of sugar, or to taste
To make the filling, put all the ingredients except the chicken stock in a bowl and mix well. Add the stock a tablespoon at a time, stirring in a circular motion until incorporated before adding the next spoonful.
Fill a small bowl with water. Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place a teaspoonful of pork filling in the centre of the wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and run it around the edges of the wrapper. Fold over to form a triangle, then dab one of the lower corners with water and fold over to the other lower corner and pinch with your thumb and index finger to seal. Repeat until all the filling is used. Makes 30–40 wontons.
Mix together all the red chilli oil ingredients in a bowl.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook the wontons in batches until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon. Divide the wontons among serving bowls, drizzle with chilli oil and garnish with spring onions.
Chilli oil is an essential ingredient in many Chinese regional cooking styles.
One of the most popular brands in Hong Kong is Koon Yick Wah Kee; it’s readily available in most Asian shops, although I prefer to make my own. Chilli oil is made with dried chillies and it’s not difficult to prepare, but dried chillies burn easily so never cook them over high heat – once they’re burnt, you have to start all over again. Just be patient and you’ll be amply rewarded. I’ve used Sichuan dried chillies for this recipe. If you prefer a hotter chilli oil, combine them with dried bird’s eye chillies or dried habaneros. Make sure you have your windows open or rangehood on, or the chilli fumes will make you cough.
100 g (3½ oz) dried red chillies (preferably Sichuan)
500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) sunflower oil
Snip the stems off the chillies and discard any exposed seeds. Heat a wok over low heat, add 1 teaspoon of the oil and the chillies. Stir-fry for 5–7 minutes until the chillies are fragrant and a shade darker. Transfer the chillies to a plate and leave to cool. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the chillies into coarse flakes (this can also be done in a food processor) and transfer to a heatproof bowl.
Heat the remaining oil in a wok until it begins to smoke, then immediately turn off the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Pour the oil over the chilli flakes and stir carefully so it doesn’t splash. Leave to cool for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight. Strain the oil through a fine sieve into an airtight container. Chilli oil will keep for up to 2 months in the refrigerator.
These open-faced steamed dumplings are traditionally made with minced pork and wrapped with wonton pastry. Known as siu mai, meaning ‘cook and sell dumplings’, they’re said to be from Inner Mongolia originally, but the Cantonese have made them remarkably delicious.
Siu mai are easy to make, but you need to create their characteristic ‘bounce’. To achieve this, run-of-the-mill yum cha places tend to use lots of pork fat, which, to me, is unhealthy and unpleasant. I like to use a ratio of 80 per cent lean meat to 20 per cent fat so that the dumplings don’t taste dry. Good yum cha restaurants use a combination of pork and prawns in the filling to create the bounce effect, as I have done here. Uncooked siu mai dumplings can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.
25–30 square wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water until softened
300 g (10½ oz) pork belly, coarsely chopped
180 g (6½ oz) peeled uncooked prawns, coarsely chopped
80 g (2¾ oz) water chestnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1½ tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 spring onion (scallion), thinly sliced
1 egg white
2 tablespoons potato flour
To make the filling, squeeze the excess water from the mushrooms, discard the stems and finely chop the caps. Combine the mushrooms in a large bowl with
the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and mix well. (Dim sum chefs tend to stir the mixture in one direction 20 times.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes to marinate.
Place a teaspoonful of filling in the centre of each wrapper. Bring up the
sides and gently squeeze to hold in the filling. Smooth the top of the filling with
a knife and gently tap the bottoms of the dumplings on the bench so they stand upright. Top each dumpling with a pinch of carrot.
Line a bamboo steamer with baking paper and make a few tiny slits to allow the steam to rise through. Or lightly brush the steamer with oil. Steam the dumplings in batches for 8–10 minutes or until cooked through. Serve at once.