Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Happy Chinese New Year! Its time to say farewell to the year of the horse, and usher in the year of the sheep. Or goat, or ram. Whichever you choose. The Chinese character translates to something like horned animal, so it covers all three. Fun fact of the day for you there!
In the Chinese tradition, sheep (or goats, or rams..!) are seen to be docile people, private people who prefer to follow rather than lead. These traits aren’t the most sought after, so don’t expect a baby boom year in China, but sheep are supposed to be lovely people to know once they let you into their world.
This year, unlike last year, or the year before, I won’t be celebrating in Hong Kong. It feels very strange that everywhere isn’t filled with little orange trees hung with red packets, and I haven’t spent the last few weeks with this song stuck on repeat in my head. It’ll be a year without fireworks, without boughs of blossom, and without boxes and boxes of sweets and cookies. A year without lions dancing in our doorway, bringing with them good luck and fortune for the new year.
We’ll still be celebrating this year of course. Where ever we are in the world, I wasn’t about to let one of my favourite adopted holidays sneak by un-noted! We’ll be have a family dinner out a Chinese restaurant tonight, enjoying some of the traditional dishes for bring luck in the new year; steaming plates of longevity noodles, a whole fish for prosperity. As we’re in England, I’m sure we’ll sneak in some less traditional dishes too, prawn toast I’m looking at you!
On Sunday I’ll be in London’s China town for dim sum and lanterns. I can’t tell you how excited I am for dim sum. I haven’t had any since the leaving meal we had with some of Andy’s colleges before leaving Hong Kong way back in August! I fully intend to order the entire menu, and I will have no shame in polishing off basket after basket of steaming delicious morsels!
The tradition of family, eating together and special foods is never more important than at Chinese New Year. Its a time for coming together, returning to family, a time of cooking and of eating. I love that the sharing of symbolic food is such a unifying tradition across nationalities and cultures. It seems to be the one factor that is shared by every special celebration or holiday I can think of.
These Char Siu Bao aren’t traditionally a Chinese New Year dish, but they are very delicious indeed. They’re filled with char siu pork, a sticky, sweet, rich barbecued pork. Choose a piece of pork belly with fat rippling through it, the fat will become delicious juicy and succulent, and take on the sweetness of the honey and the spices. You could use a jar of char siu sauce if you’ve got a Chinese supermarket near you, but i’ve made my own, flavouring the pork with hoisin sauce, honey, garlic and ginger. Marinated overnight, the meat becomes tender and more-ish. You won’t be able to resist biting through the bready wrapper and into the steaming, sumptuous filling.
The wrappers aren’t quite like the fluffy, white bread buns you would expect to get when you go out for dim sum, but apparently this can’t be achieved without a special, super fine flour (of course if anyone can give me tips please do!). The buns are still fluffy inside though, with the outside falling somewhere between that white airy texture, and the closer texture you’d associate with other steamed dim sum, such as shumai. Its delicious dunked into dishes of sweet sticky hoisin sauce, or a little touch of spicy chilli.
My wrapping skills need a little bit of work, but the slightly rustic appearance doesn’t affect the taste at all. Between me and Andy 12 buns were gone in the space of an afternoon!
I’m getting hungry just thinking about them!
Will you be celebrating Chinese New Year this year?
Are there any special recipes you’ll be cooking?
– recipe adapted from www.chinasichuanfood.com
– select a piece of pork that has a decent amount of fat running through, this will add to the flavour.
– if you need help on shaping your buns, there is a tutorial here which may help.
– If you don’t have traditional bamboo steamers, the metal vegetable steamers that sit over pans work just as well. Line them with a sheet of greaseproof paper, and give the buns plenty of space to rise.
- 500g pork belly
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 4 tablespoons honey
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 packet (7g) instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 150ml water
- 300g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon of root ginger, peeled, finely chopped and soaked in 1 tablespoon of warm water
- 5 shallots, finely diced
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Begin by making your sauce to marinade the pork.
- Put the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, honey, salt, 5 spice and water into a small pan. Heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the sauce is turning sticky.
- Place the pork into a bowl and cover with the sauce. Cover, and leave to marinate for at least 4 hours, or over night, turning the pork occasionally.
- Prepare your dough.
- Dissolve the sugar into 150ml hand warm water. Add the yeast and leave in a warm place for about 5 minutes to activate. When its ready the water will seem frothy.
- Put the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour the yeast mixture in. Stir until combined, then knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth. It will be sticky at first, but should come together as you knead. Place in a light greased bowl, cover the bowl with cling film, and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, make the pork filling. Preheat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ 428F. Take the marinated pork and place in an oven proof dish with a few tablespoons of the marinade. Place into the hot oven and cook for 30 minutes, turning the pork during cooking, and basting about 3 times with additional marinade. Remove from the oven and rest until cold enough to touch.
- To make the filling, cut the pork, including the fat, into small chunks. Mix with the ginger including its water, shallots, sesame oil, and about 4 tablespoons of the marinade.
- Knock back the risen dough and gently knead until smooth again. Roll into a sausage about 5 centimetres thick, and slice into 12 evenly sized pieces.
- Roll each piece out into a disk about the size of the palm of your hand. Place a tablespoon of the pork mixture into the centre of the disk, and start to bring the edges up, pinching as you go, until the dough meets at the top and the buns are sealed. They will reopen during steaming.
- Place your steamers over a pan of cold water. Line them with a circle of greaseproof paper. Put your buns into the steamers, leaving room to rise. I put three buns into each steamer. You may need to cook them in batches. Cover and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.
- Turn on the heat and, once the water beneath is boiling, steam for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the buns covered in the steamer for 5 minutes, then take out and serve warm.