Steamed Buns with Minced Pork and Tree Ears

木耳肉包

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes 20 buns, each about 2½ inches in diameter, enough to serve

    4–6

    as a hearty meal with soup .

Appears in

Small steamed buns, fluted on the top and stuffed with a mixture of seasoned ground pork, are a favorite in northern and central China. The variations on the seasonings are limitless, but the traditional way to steam and serve them is in a bamboo steamer lined with a large blanched cabbage leaf, which one can munch on after the buns are gone. In the unlikely event that there are any buns left over, you can pan-fry the bottoms brown, add some light stock or water to the skillet to steam-cook them through, then serve them up as a close cousin to pot stickers.

  • This filling is easily put together and does not need to be cooked before the buns are stuffed. Making and shaping the dough may be done in as few as 3 hours or as many as 8 to 10, depending upon whether you want to give it a quick, warm rise or a slower, cool one.

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Ingredients

For the filling

  • cup tree ears
  • 2 medium whole scallions, or 1 small whole scallion and 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 walnut-size nugget fresh ginger
  • 1 pound pork butt, cubed seasonings:
  • tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or quality, dry sherry
  • tablespoons Chinese or Japanese sesame oil, or 2 tablespoons sesame oil and 1–1½ teaspoons sesame-based hot chili oil
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup unsalted chicken stock

Individual dipping sauce (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon well-aged Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
  • a small clump of fresh ginger slivers cut hair-thin, “young” ginger especially delicious
  • or
  • Garlic-Soy Dip

Method

Making the filling

Cover the tree ears with 1 cup cool or warm water, and soak until supple, about 20 minutes. Drain, swish repeatedly in ample cool water to loosen grit, then drain and repeat. Pick over and discard any unchewable or gelatinous bits, rinse a final time, and shake to remove excess water. Cleaned, the tree ears may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight.

Cut the scallions into 1-inch lengths, add with the ginger to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, and process until finely minced, scraping down as needed. Add the tree ears and the coriander if using it, then process until chopped. Add the cubed pork and the seasonings, and process with on-off turns until the mixture is blended but still rather coarse. Do not overprocess to a paste. The filling will taste best if it has some texture.

Alternatively, mince the scallions and ginger finely by hand. Chop the coriander and tree ears into peppercorn-size bits, then chop the pork with one or two equally weighted knives until the size of tiny peas. Put the pork in a large bowl and scatter the scallion, ginger, and seasonings on top. With chopsticks or a fork, stir briskly in one direction until blended, then pick up the mixture with your hand and throw it lightly against the side of the bowl 6–8 times to compact it.

Seal the filling airtight with a film of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface, and refrigerate until use, overnight if desired. If you are not working in advance, make the filling while the dough is first rising.

Making the dough, and shaping and steaming the buns

Follow the. Extend the steaming time to 20 minutes.

Shortly before serving, mix the soy, vinegar, and sesame oil in individual dip dishes. Scatter the ginger threads on top, and let stand 5–10 minutes for the ginger to infuse the liquids.

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