Making these bao was like inviting three of your friends, that are not acquainted, over for lunch. I am familiar with the components – the kim chi, the bao and the sticky salmon – and I knew that the three would hit it off. It was a bit of a 3-way-friend-blind-date. The outcome? Pretty sure they’re picnicking this afternoon, hitting the beach on Sunday, and perhaps even spending Christmas together.
Years ago, as a university student on exchange in Hong Kong, I was endeared by the traditional ‘smiling’ bao at a no-frills yum cha joint, with pleats at the top that, when steamed, split like little mouths holding sweet smoky pork. However, the pillowy buns, soft but slightly doughy, are the ideal pocket for a host of fillings. Bao may just be the new taco.
This recipe fills bao with salmon infused with a sticky soy marinade – crisp and caramelised on the outside, with juicy pink flesh beneath, and the heat of garlicky kim chi draped around it. The sweet, sour, spicy and salty flavours hold hands and skip merrily through a field of daisies together.
This kim chi is a nifty shortcut on the traditional Korean staple (which is usually fermented for days), without any compromise on flavour. Everyone needs a whopping jar of kim chi in their fridge – it gives a kick up the tail of any meat, or for a speedy lunch, can be thrown through steamed rice and topped with a fried egg. It is used in hundred of Korean dishes, with various permutations. Apparently, people in Korea declare ‘kim chi!’ when posing for a photo.
Make no mistake, this is not a mid-week meal. It is not difficult, you will just need to allocate a Saturday morning, but I promise you the fruit you will reap is so worth it. Ideal for summer sunshine eating, they can be navigated single-handedly, freeing your other hand for the beverage of your choosing, or commanding snags on the barbecue. (Or, as we had them, lamenting the lost spring picnic washed away by the torrential Melbourne rain).
For the bun
(adapted from Gourmet Traveler)
You will need:
- 1/4 cup caster sugar
- 1 packet dry yeast (7 grams or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1½ cups plain flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon white vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water, cover and set aside
- Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, make a well in the center, add yeast mixture, oil, vinegar and ½ tsp salt and mix until well combined.
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface, knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic, pat with a little oil, cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.
- Punch dough down, rip off a small chunk of dough, about 3 tablespoons large, and roll into a ball. With a rolling pin, roll the ball out to a 15cm wide circle. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Brush each circle with a drop of oil to prevent sticking, and fold in half. Steam in batches for about 15 minutes each.
For the Kim Chi
(Adapted from SBS Food)
You will need:
- 1 head Chinese cabbage, cut along its width into slices of about 5cm
- 1 1/4 cup sea salt dissolved in 2 litres of water
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2cm piece roughly chopped ginger
- 1 small apple peeled and diced
- 1/3 cup cooked white rice
- 3 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 3 spring onions
- 2/3 cup chili flakes
- Add the cabbage to the salted water. Place a plate over the cabbage to submerge it. Soak the cabbage for at least 2 hours until the cabbage is limp and lifeless. Rinse the cabbage thoroughly under running water and dry it off.
- Puree the onion, garlic, ginger, stock, apple, and rice in a blender. Combine the mixture in a bowl with the chilli, fish sauce and sugar.
- Mix the spring onion and kim chi paste through the cabbage (I recommend using your hands) in a large bowl. Season to taste and transfer into an air-tight container. I have always eaten this within a week, so that is the maximum shelflife I can guarantee!
For the salmon
You will need:
- 750g of salmon fillets (skin on or off depending on your preference)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 5cm piece grated fresh ginger
- 3 cloves grated garlic
- 2 finely sliced chillies
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 4 tablespoons honey
- juice of 2 limes
- Place the salmon in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the honey, and all remaining ingredients in a bowl.
- Pour over the salmon, cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate for at least half an hour.
- Cook on a very hot grill with a drizzle of the remaining honey, until caramalised on the outside (about 5 minutes on each side).