June 20, 2011

Braised Beef Bao

I'm back! I guess my hiatus was longer than expected, but I needed a break. Mr. Coffee took over cooking duties for a while, though he didn't document them.

At first the kids were a little wary (the Vegetarian: "I don't think it's such a good idea for Daddy to do the cooking.") but they soon warmed up to the idea of having completely different dinners from the ones I made.

Then spring finally made a late appearance and my desire to cook came rushing back. So here I am.

Pictured above is my attempt to make a bao, or bun, sort of a la Momofuku. I was shopping at a giant Asian grocery store one afternoon and saw the buns in the refrigerated section and thought, "Why not?"

The standard filling is pork belly, but in the same market they were selling delicious looking pieces of boneless beef shin, so I bought that instead. I brasied it in some soy sauce, sugar, star anise, black vinegar, and ginger. Then I steamed the buns and piled strands of the brasied beef on there, along with some of the cooking juice, some cilantro, some quick pickles I made with persian cucumbers and rice wine vinegar, and some sri racha. I debated adding some peanuts, but decided against it.

The verdict? Mr. Coffee pronounced them delicious, tho he would have like the beef juices a touch sweeter. I think next time I'll go for pork belly, and buy some of the pickled mustard greens to go with.

The real revelation for me was how easy the bao are to use. I tend to sometimes get daunted by the thought of using something that seems complicated. But these just required a quick ten-minute steam and they were ready to go. I'm sure there are many people who would swear by making your own, but when I can easily buy these (with no more ingredients in them than the kind you would make at home—trust me on this—I'm an incorrigable label reader—that's why it takes me hours to shop.), I just don't see the point.

I used to fantasize a lot about being stuck out living in the country where I would be forced to cook and bake absolutely everything from scratch, but lately I'm in a phase where I truly embrace the idea that living in NYC means you happily get to let other people make certain foods for you.

Anyway, my main point is that if you have something delicious stuffed into a steamed bun at a restaurant and you think you can't do that at home, not because of the filling but because of the bun, you're wrong!

Get yourself to an Asian grocery store, buy some buns, steam away, and then stuff them with whatever you want.

You'll be happy you did. I promise.

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