Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns (Xian Rou Bao)

Steamed Pork Buns (Xian Rou Bao)


These steamed pork bao make for a fragrant and satisfying breakfast according to the recipe developer Betty Liu. While they’re commonly found in Shanghainese breakfast markets, they can also be a savory snack or a welcome addition to any meal. In this rendition, ginger-scallion water is added to the pork filling to ensure the bao are both juicy and full of flavor.

1 hr
15 mins
2 hrs 30 mins
12 buns
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  1. To make the dough: In a medium bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the dough ingredients and knead — by hand or with a mixer — to make a soft, elastic dough, about 8 to 10 minutes in a stand mixer. (It’ll take a bit longer if kneading by hand.) 

  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it's nearly doubled in bulk.  

  3. To make the filling: First, make ginger-scallion water. In a blender or food processor, combine water, scallion, and ginger and blend until smooth. Strain through a sieve to collect the flavored water. Compost or discard the solids and set aside the remaining liquid.  

  4. In a medium bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients except for the ginger-scallion water. With a spatula, mix the filling in one direction (this is said to align the fibers of the meat, incorporate air, and create a fluffier filling).  

  5. Stirring in the same direction, add the ginger-scallion water, one tablespoon at a time, being sure to incorporate the water in the filling before adding another tablespoon. Stop adding ginger-scallion water when the filling is sticky, airy, and almost paste-like in consistency. It should not be gritty like the original texture of the ground pork. Set aside. 

  6. To shape: Gently deflate the dough and divide in half (about 350g each). Cover one piece as you work with the other; it’s helpful to prepare the bao in two batches. 

  7. Cut 3" squares of parchment or use steamer liners. Roll the dough into a log and divide into 6 portions (about 58g each). Place one piece cut-side down on a lightly floured surface and flatten into a disk with your palm. Use a rolling pin to roll the disk into a 4" to 5" round, making sure the edges are thinner than the middle (this will make it easier to pleat). To achieve thin edges, hold the dough in your non-dominant hand, rotating it gradually as you roll out the edges of the circle using a pin in your dominant hand. (A wooden dowel or a small tapered rolling pin is the best tool here.)  

    Steamed Pork Buns – Step 7
  8. Use a tablespoon scoop or measuring spoon to place heaping tablespoon (about 41g) of filling in the center of the rolled out dough. Pleat into a bao, leaving a small steam hole opening at the top. (For more detailed shaping instructions, see “tips,” below.) Place each shaped bao on a parchment square and place in the steamer basket or on a baking sheet to rise. Be sure to leave a few inches of space between the buns. 

    Steamed Pork Buns – Step 8
  9. Shape and fill the remaining five pieces of dough; this completes the first batch. 

  10. Place the bao, covered, in a warm place to rise for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.  

  11. While the first batch of bao are rising, set up your steamer. You can use multiple bamboo steaming trays, or a stock pot with steaming inserts. Begin shaping the second batch of bao using the remaining log of dough and filling. 

  12. Steam the bao for 15 minutes over medium steam, until the bao are firm and bounce back when poked. Repeat with the remaining batch until all the bao are steamed and cooked through. 

  13. Storage information: Serve immediately. Allow any leftovers to fully cool before storing, covered, in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for longer storage. To reheat from the refrigerator, re-steam the bao for 2 to 3 minutes. To reheat from the freezer, re-steam for 6 to 8 minutes. 

Tips from our Bakers

  • Using fatty ground pork provides the best flavor and texture for these buns. Betty recommends a 6:4 lean to fat pork ratio. The ground pork that she finds at the Chinese grocery store is usually just about right. Alternatively, Betty suggests asking your butcher to mince some pork belly and combine it with ground pork or adding 1 teaspoon pork lard or butter to the filling.  

  • In a pinch, 1 tablespoon of mirin, sherry, or sake can be substituted for the Shaoxing wine. Similarly, in place of the light and dark soy sauce, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of whatever soy sauce you have on hand, if needed. 

  • Some of the less common ingredients can be found at Chinese markets, specialty food stores, co-ops, and online retailers: toasted sesame oil and Shaoxing rice wine.

  • If you’re new to shaping bao, follow these detailed instructions for pleating from the recipe developer Betty Liu: “With your right thumb inside and right index finger out, firmly pinch an edge. With the tip of your left index finger, push a fold of the dough onto the nail bed of your right index finger, using your right index finger as a guide for consistent width. Slide your right index finger out, and then firmly pinch the pleat between your left index finger and right thumb. Return your right index finger to its previous position and repeat pushing and pinching the disc until the whole bao is pleated, using the palm of your left hand to rotate the bao as you pleat. When you return to your first pleat, there will be a neat hole in the center. Continue with a second round of small pleats and then pinch sealed, with a tiny steam hole opening at the top. If the filling is spilling out, push it down with your left thumb and gently pull the dough upward with your right fingers when pleating, so the dough comes over the filling.”

  • From sweet to savory and classic to contemporary, you can use this base dough to create several other spectacular buns. You can find all the recipes here.

  • From the book: MY SHANGHAI by Betty Liu Copyright © 2021 by Betty Liu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.