Sunday, 31 August 2014

Bau wow

By: Mrs Robot

Today I made Chinese dumplings - bau. I love bau, but until today I've only ever bought frozen ones.

Let's go back in time, back to when I was a 15-year-old squirt with my first Saturday job, doing food prep in the kitchen at the local Chinese. I wish I could say I learned to cook there, but in truth I mainly learned how to chop buckets of mushrooms and onions! But I did get to try things like mooncake, and learned to reduce ingredients to paste with a cleaver. Knowing I was working there, some elderly friends of my mum gave me a Chinese cookbook, which they'd bought in Hong Kong. It's called The Cuisine of Cathay by Genia Lee, and it was scary. Such strange ingredients, the likes of which you'd never find in the tiny town supermarket. No matter how many onions I'd chopped, I wasn't about to try anything from the book, though I'd look at the pictures and dream of making such delicious things.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century. Mr Robot and I have been exploring Asian cookery more, and have amassed all sorts of ingredients. Suddenly, The Cuisine of Cathay isn't scary at all. In fact, it's probably more user-friendly than a lot of Asian cookbooks we own, as it was made in a time when a lot of Westerners hadn't had much experience of cooking Asian foods, so Genia Lee starts out by describing various ingredients in depth, from various kinds of rice to different types of bamboo shoot (gwei-giew, spring, fuzzy and more) to melons and gourds and more greens than I'd know what to do with. She doesn't make too many concessions to western tastes, though: sea cucumbers and fish maws are in the ingredients section, and the very first recipe calls for a dozen duck feet.

We get through buckets of spring onions nowadays...
Looking at her recipe for bau, I realised I could make them. I only needed to buy pork and spring onions; we had everything else already. The dough is remarkably similar to the one I used for pizza; it calls for 'all-purpose flour' so I used bog-standard plain. The filling is an easy blend of pork, spring onion, soy sauce, sesame oil and a few other things. Just as she very carefully shows you all manner of Chinese ingredients at the start of the book, alongside each recipe Genia has step-by-step walkthroughs of unfamiliar techniques, and she has very precise instructions and a sequence of photos explaining how to make the bau. Mine rose less than the ones I'd bought in the shops, but perhaps I just need to give them more rising time next time. They certainly tasted delicious.
You have to make the dough thinner at the edge, so it's not
too thick when all pinched together.
So, now I can have bau whenever I like, with whatever fillings I like. And now I'm no longer scared of The Cuisine of Cathay, I look forward to trying many more of the recipes in it, starting this week with Szechuan-style shredded beef. Bau? Such wow, as the doge might say...

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