Shengjianbao, also known as Pan-Fried Baozi Stuffed with Pork is a Shanghai speciality.
Shengjianbao are buns filled with juicy pork, then arranged in a flat, oil-slicked wok in which the bottoms are fried until they are crisp.
My uncle introduced me to shengjianbao at Shanghai’s famous Dongxin Lu wet market; we both ran over to the street vendor. “Hurry, they sell out fast”, called my uncle. Despite being in his seventies he was fit and still ran faster than me. I followed my nose. The smell was sensational -like salted caramel-as the bottoms of these buns were being fried. When I‘d caught up with him, he’d already ordered a portion for each of us. I watched eagerly as they were fried in a huge cast-iron pan. I couldn’t resist trying one there and then. Pillowy and light, enveloping minced pork with all its glorious juices, it was so tasty that I wanted to scoff the lot immediately.
We left the market with a bag of shengjianbao each and ran for the bus. It was time to say goodbye. I waved to my uncle as I clambered onto the bus and it immediately pulled away from the bus stop. Through the dusty windows, I caught the old man’s eye, giving him a thumbs-up through the window. He was agitated and waving his hands and shouting, but I couldn’t hear him. I thought -how sweet, he already missed my company. I waved back as the bus sped off.
It was only about 15 minutes into the journey, when the bus went off in a different direction, that I realized I was on the wrong bus. I shook my head in disbelief. That’s what uncle had been trying to tell me. The bus rattled on, and I had no idea where I was going. Usually I’d be panic-stricken but I decided to just stay put and eat my shengjianbao. They were so tasty that I laughed off my mistake and enjoyed the scenic route. Being well fed with such delicious street food made me feel warm and happy. Dusk set in and the sunset glowed behind the narrow buildings. It is a beautiful memory and it made me realize there is a freedom associated with getting lost; I found this perfect travel moment, with a bag of these wonderful shengjianbao.
250g/9oz/2 cups plain(all-purpose)flour, plus extra for dusting
125ml/4H oz/ 1/2cup lukewarm water
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fast-acting dried yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster(superfine)sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
300g/10 1/2oz minced(ground)pork
100g/3 1/2 oz cabbage, finely chopped
5 spring onions(scallions), finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp potato starch
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp vegetable oil(see tips)
about 100ml scant 1/2 cup cold water
3 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
3 tbsp say souce
3 tbsp chilli oil
To make the filling, put all the ingredients into a food processor and mix at high speed for 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
To make the dough, mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until they form a smooth dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 20 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly Houred work surface and knead lightly until smooth. Roll it into a 32cm/13in log, then divide the log into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then fatten and use a rolling pin to roll out into 6cm/2kin diameter circles.
Wet your index finger with water and moisten the outer rim of a circle of dough. Place 2 heaped teaspoons of filling in the centre of the circle. If you are right-handed, hold the dough in the cupped palm of your left hand, or gently but firmly on a lightly floured worktop. Bring the dough up around the filling and pinch the edges together using the thumb and index finger of your right hand, working anticlockwise while turning the bun clockwise, creating litle pleats all the way round. Close the top of the bun by twisting the pleated edge together and pinching to completely seal in the filling. Reverse this if you are left-handed. Repeat to make eight buns.
To cook the buns, heat a lidded frying pan-preferably non-stick-over a medium heat and add the oil. Place all the buns in the pan. Its OK if they stick together. Turn the heat to low and fry the buns for about 5 minutes untl the base is golden brown and slightly crisp.
Pour the cold water into the pan, to a depth of about 1.5cm, cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes until all the water has evaporated, This will steam the buns and cook the filling.
To make the dipping sauce, mix the ingredients together in a small bowl, Serve the sauce with the hot buns.
Tips for Shengjianbao
If your pan is not big enough, you may need to cook the buns in two batches to ensure they are fully cooked. Once the water has completely evaporated the buns should be ready to serve. Don’t use too much oil to crisp the base, otherwise the dough will become very oily.
To fry the buns, use rapeseed (canola)oil, sunfower or groundnut (peanut)oil, but not olive oil, which has a low smoke point.