Recipe: Asado Siopao

Took some patience to make these but quite satisfied with how it came out. 
When I was younger, my parents would always bring home treats of all sorts - Baliwag chicken and liempo, Pangasinan sticky white puto calasiao, chicharon (with laman), kropek, really sour (and my ultimate favourite) Indian mangoes, and a lot more. Sometimes they'd bring home some chips or peanuts and I'd still be just equally happy and excited! (Yes.... it's easy to make me happy). One of those pasalubongs would be Ma Mon Luk siopao and mami. And oooohhhhh, how much we ALL loved this treat. I think it came to the point where we had to really allocate how much there was so we all got a fair share. We were a family of 7 after all. (And yes, I hid an extra siopao in the back shelf of my parent's room fridge instead of the kitchen fridge. Because you know..... claim it.)

Siopao literally means "hot bun". It's the Philippines' take on dimsum buns or char siu buns. Because the Philippines had an influx of Chinese immigrants and merchants, they brought along their cuisine and we obviously embraced this dish and created our own versions - and usually a sweeter version (I really have no idea why Filipinos want everything sweeter - take our Pinoy spaghetti for example). It's a white and fully bun that's filled with a meat mixture, usually pork. The bun itself has also had a ton of variations - airy, super white, fluffy, dense, chewy, mass-produced-texture, etc. As for the filling, the world is your oyster. Filipino siopao variations would either be asado (sweet and fatty pork dish braised in soy sauce, star anise, and sugar) or bola-bola (meatballs made of ground pork, green onions, and even Chinese sausage - and usually marked with a red dot on top of the siopao). The "special siopao" kind usually has salted egg added - what a glorious surprise!

(not my photo)
Now, let's take a moment to revel at the legend that is Ma Mon Luk. (I'm already drooling just thinking of it.😳) This is one of the institutions that has shaped the Manila and Quezon City boundary. They're a straight up old-school Filipino-Chinese restaurant, with the original marble floors and tabletops, stacks of bamboo steamers, super extra-vintage wooden frames showcasing their newspaper and media features, even some celebrity drop-ins, and of course, even the place smells old. They bag your take-away food in the original brown paper bags. I think I've only eaten there once (like actually dined and sat there). We always had the food to go. And frankly, the drive home is just torture because you just want to eat everything already. Their siopao filling is just addicting (even with the urban legend that it's made out of cats... no solid claim btw) and their bread is chewy and fluffy at the same time. Sinking your teeth into one of these buns will leave you in a conundrum to eat slower to savour it and in the same time make you want to chew faster so you can bite again. They've been getting it right since 1920, people! (Search them up through FaceBook, TripAdvisor, or Zomato.)

So in my attempt to make these, I wanted it to be as close to the Ma Mon Luk siopao.

These buns are technically easy (I say this lightly) to make, it just takes a long time. And I was just exhausted after making it because of my back issue, really (lots of standing on my part - even if I had a stool to sit on white forming the buns). But I'm pretty sure you'll do fine making it.
(now my photo)
Asado Siopao
This recipe will yield around 15-16 pieces, around palm-sized (3.5 inches in diameter - okay, my hands are small). You could have more if you make them smaller.

You'll need some mixing bowls, a wooden spoon, a pastry scraper (if you have one, I don't so I just used a spatula), a pot/dutch oven, chopping boards, a rolling pin, plastic/saran wrap, and a tray or a baking sheet.

Siopao Bun Ingredients
1 cup milk, warm
1/2 cup water, warm
1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda, sifted

2 tbsp vegetable oil

extra flour for dusting your surface

Asado Filling Ingredients
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

1 1/2 lbs pork, cubed
2 tbsp oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 star anise

Siopao Bun Procedure
1. Combine the milk, water, yeast, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Let this sit for 15-20 mins to let the yeast activate and grow. (Sugar sustains and feeds the yeast. Once you add salt, it will stop the yeast from growing and blooming.)
2. In another bowl, sift the flour and the baking soda. Add the oil and stir until beady. Make a well in the centre and add milk-yeast mixture. With a wooden spoon, stir until mixture clumps and sticks to the spoon. This will be a sticky dough. (Don't say I didn't warn you. If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, go ahead and use it with the dough attachment. Yes...... I don't have one. Let me find a corner and cry a little.)
3. Transfer the dough on a well-floured working surface and knead for about 5-10 minutes until it forms a smooth ball. Use the pastry scraper to help you if the dough sticks on the surface. Don't shy on the flour dusting either.
4. Brush a clean bowl with vegetable oil and place the dough in the middle. Brush the top of the dough ball with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let this rest and rise for 2 hours. (You will be amazed at how this rises. I love seeing this process!)
----While you're waiting, you can make the filling mixture!----
5. Punch/Poke the dough to release the air pockets. Transfer to a well-floured working surface and divide the dough into 4 portions and roll into logs. Divide each log to 4 pieces (Yes, you should have 16 equal portions but I divided 1 portion to add on to 2 smaller portions I had.)
6. Smoothen/Roll each portion into a ball, you can use the floured surface or your palm. Set aside on a tray, cover with plastic wrap so it can rest the balls for 10-15 minutes. Do this for all portions. (Balling the dough - you do this so you smoothen the dough balls and trap the air inside, the carbon dioxide. This process will also strengthen the protein threads [aka gluten] so it can rise and hold well when you steam it to cook.)
7. On a floured surface, roll and flatten each ball out to create a disc/circle. Try your best to make it well proportioned with all other portions.

Asado Filling Procedure
1. Heat up the oil in medium heat and sauté onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add the pork chunks/cubes and cook until it's slightly caramelized.
2. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, and star anise and stir. Lower the heat to low-medium and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Stir the pot every 10 minutes to ensure everything soaks up the flavour.
3. Remove the pork pieces from the pot and turn off the heat. Discard the star anise.
4. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in water to make a slurry (a thickener made of cornstarch/flour and water which cooks and swells as heat is added). Whisk and stir the slurry into the sauce and let this thicken with the residual heat from the pan. This should be ready in 2-3 minutes, once you draw/scrape the bottom of the pan and it draws a clear line, it's ready. Set aside.
5. Now you have a choice to cut up the pork pieces into chunks or you can shred it just like making pulled pork. I opted for smaller chunks (mainly because it was faster and I was getting hungry already... priorities). Return shredded/cut-up pork chunks into the pot and mix thoroughly to get every piece coated with sauce. Set aside and let this cool for 15-20 minutes. (This is the time you can taste it, adjust the sweetness level to your liking.)

Assembling and Steaming the Siopaos 
1. Remember, mise-en-place is key. Prepare the elements of the dish and your work station. For each dough disc, lay in on your left palm. Add about 2-3 tablespoons of the filling mixture in the middle and cup the dough. Using your right hand, pinch the edges of the dough with your fingers until you've gone through all the edges of the disc, in a counter-clockwise direction. (Now you should have a little round dumpling in your palm. It's hella cute and you'll just want to hug it or stare at it. 😕) Just a tip, try to get a dry helping of the filling mixture - not so much of the oil from the pot. Because it will weigh down and really grease the bottom of the buns.
2. Place the bun on a piece of parchment paper as it's base. (Soooooo.... I didn't have enough parchment paper so I used cupcake liners instead. Gotta use what you got! And it came out so much better because they were all the same size and my stash of 100 cupcake liners has now decreased.)
3. Continue to assemble all the buns. Let these buns (of awesome steel!) rest on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let it hang-out for 15-20 minutes to rest and rise some more.
4. Start up your steamer - weather bamboo, stainless steel, or the plastic steamer. (I personally prefer the bamboo steamer because it adds that flavour you won't ever get from the steel or plastic kinds. Almost like you're fooling yourself that you've gone out for authentic dimsum.)
5. Steam the buns for 15 minutes. (....and just shrivel up and almost die waiting some more ðŸ˜³ðŸ˜±)
6. Finally...... after all that.... you can now ENJOY!!!!
*You can also do a Bola-bola mixture instead of asado. It's basically ground pork, green onions, sesame oil, light soy sauce, brown sugar, and cornstarch. You can also always add a wedge/slice of salted duck egg too! There are many variations of this recipe. The benefit is that you don't really have to cook this separately. You make the mixture and directly stuff the dough. 

**You will ALWAYS need siopao sauce. If you don't have it, make it. (It would be like Starsky and Hutch but Hutch went MIA. They're a tandem!) It just adds so much umami to the dish and the overall experience. Again, we like it sweet and savoury. Here's a Siopao Sauce recipe.

2 cups beef or vegetable stock
half an onion, chopped
2 tbsp garlic (about 3 cloves), chopped
6 tbsp brown sugar
1 star anise
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

1.  Simmer all the ingredients on medium heat (except the cornstarch and water) for about 5-8 minutes. In a separate bowl, make the slurry and add it to the mixture stirring constantly. Cook for another 2 minutes. 
2. Strain the mixture and let it cool. Taste and adjust sweetness or saltiness to your liking. 

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