Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Char siu bao, left, and lup cheong bao came fresh out of the steamer during a class on manapua-making Saturday at Leeward Community College.

Take a bao

A chef and author reveals
the mysteries of manapua

Titus Chan's recipe
Baby baked manapua

By Betty Shimabukuro

"Respect the steam," Titus Chan says as he lifts the lid on a tray of bao and stands back.

A wispy cloud of vapor rises, then dissipates.

"Open the darn thing up, then step away so you don't burn your nose."

Inside is a cluster of bao -- soft, snowy white and filled with promise.

"Chinese call it bao, Hawaiians call it manapua, Americans call it bun," Chan instructs. It's all the same and falls under the larger umbrella of dim sum.

It's Saturday morning in the Leeward Community College cafeteria, and a small crowd has assembled for Chan's class, "The Art of Bao." The demonstration and tasting is the first in a Chinese cooking series that continues next month with lessons in entrees, appetizers and a visit to a dim sum restaurant.

Titus Chan demonstrated the making of bao dough.

Chan's step-by-step instruction is peppered with practicalities -- such as his advice on steam -- delivered with heavily accented humor that cuts through the niceties. His favored all-purpose noun is "darn thing."

For example: Always put a square of paper under your bao to prevent sticking, but the exact nature of "the darn thing" doesn't matter. "Wax paper, whatever. Typing paper, whatever," he says.

"You work in an office? Before you leave, you steal a few pieces paper."

Or: Always serve dim sum with a follow-up dish of noodles.

"Dim sum is hand-made; you work yourself to death." A simpler dish of noodles fills up your guests, "so you don't work so hard."

Chan suggests a similar approach when ordering dim sum in a restaurant, to cut costs. "It's our tradition. That's a clever idea, yeah?"

Mirasol Española, left, and Wanda Miyasato reached for bao samples during Saturday's demonstration.

Chan, a former restaurant chef, has written three cookbooks and hosted nationally broadcast cooking shows. He now takes his show on the road through catering and cooking classes.

His bio names him a master chef, but that doesn't make him a dim sum expert, Chan says. That takes at least five years of training.

His knowledge was "stolen," he says, from eight Hong Kong chefs who helped him reopen the Oceania restaurant in 1981.

He picked up technique and recipes through observation, which the chefs didn't care for much. "They said, 'You cannot!' I said, 'You want American money? Then you let me watch.'"

More practicalities:

>> Get yourself a good Chinese knife -- heavy, with a wide blade. Besides being the most versatile knife for Chinese prep work, it serves to flatten and form the dough when making bao. Press down with the flat side of the blade and turn clockwise. Beneath the knife will be a thin, round bao "skin." Like magic, at least the way Chan does it. You could also use a cleaver, or the widest, heaviest knife that you own. If you don't have anything suitable, "that would be a problem," Chan says. Try a rolling pin.

>> Use a good-quality bamboo steamer. A cheap version will cause extreme sticking. Metal is OK, but because the lid is not porous, the steam will rain back down on the bao, affecting the texture. If using metal, place a towel over the bao and under the lid to absorb the moisture, letting the edges hang over the sides. This makes a mess, he warns, as the water will drip from the towel onto the stovetop.

>> When combining yeast and water to make dough, the water must be hot but not too hot. Add steaming hot water to cold water, bit by bit, checking the temperature by touch. It should be "as warm as your finger can stand," Chan says. "If you put a finger in here, you hear a scream, that's a little too hot."

>> Arrange the bao in your steamer trays a half-inch apart. Don't crowd. "Some people say, 'I'm hungry.' I want to cook more in a tray, but you got to have space to expand." And never stack more than two trays at a time in the steamer, rotating trays after eight minutes or so. Stacking more trays might seem more efficient, but it's a false economy that produces uneven results.

>> Bao may be made ahead and refrigerated and warmed up until the next day, but complete the process, from dough to filling to steaming, Chan says. "If you just make dough and put it in the refrigerator, the darn thing sits down on you."


Char Siu Bao

>> Dough:
1/4 cup sugar
1-3/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
3 cups enriched cake flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons shortening
>> Filling:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 pound char siu (red sweet roasted pork), diced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 cups water or chicken broth
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons water

To make dough: Dissolve sugar in warm water (water should be as hot as your finger can stand to touch). Add yeast. Let stand 10 minutes as yeast foams and rises.

Sift flours together twice. Place in a large bowl. Add shortening, then slowly add the yeast mixture, incorporating it into the flour gradually. Form into a ball.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add more flour or water if necessary. Place in a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place for 2 to 4 hours, until at least doubled in bulk.

To make filling: Heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add remaining ingredients, except the cornstarch slurry, and stir-fry until hot. Bring to a boil, then stir in slurry to thicken. Cool.

To assemble bao: Remove warm dough from bowl and knead on a floured surface 5 to 7 minutes, adding more water if too dry, or more flour if too wet. Form into a long roll and divide into 24 equal portions. Lightly oil a Chinese knife or cleaver. Place a section of dough cut-side down on a flat surface and pound with the flat side of the knife. Then press down on the dough with the knife and turn the knife clockwise to form the dough into a thin circle, about three inches in diameter. Use the knife to lift the dough and place it in your hand.

Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the circle, gather up the edges and pinch closed in the center. Place on a square of paper. (Dough is easier to work with when warm. Beginners may wish to work with half the dough at a time, keeping the remainder in a warm place.)

Let filled buns rise in a warm place 15 minutes.

Oil steamer baskets and arrange buns 1/2-inch apart. Fill a wok 75 percent with water and bring water to a boil. Steam buns 15 minutes over high heat. If buns are in two stacked trays, switch the trays midway. Serve hot. Makes 24 bao.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per bao (made with water instead of broth and without salt to taste): 175 calories, 5 g total fat, 1.5 g. saturated fat, 15 mg. cholesterol, 225 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein.*


No-yeast dough: Combine 3 cups flour and 3 cups enriched cake flour with 2 tablespoons baking powder, and sift together twice. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons shortening. Slowly add 1-3/4 cups warm water, incorporating to make a smooth, elastic dough. Cover dough and leave in a warm place 1 hour.

Follow instructions for Char Siu Bao to form and fill dough, but steam immediately, without waiting the extra 15 minutes. (This dough is quicker and easier to make, but the bao won't be as soft as with the yeast dough.)

Lup cheong rolls: Cut 12 lup cheong (Chinese sausage) in half and steam. Cool. Place a piece of sausage in the center of a flattened circle of dough, folding the edges around the sausage. Place fold-side down on a piece of paper. Proceed as with Char Siu Bao.

Chinese Cuisine of
the Middle Kingdom

Cooking classes taught by Titus Chan through Leeward Community College. All classes include samples. Call 455-0477.

Chinese Entrees for the Holidays: Covers hot-sour soup, sweet-sour fish, oyster sauce chicken and beef chow mein; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 9 in the LCC cafeteria. Cost is $30.

Pupu Making: Covers ginger chicken, spring rolls, pork chow mein and shrimp chips; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 16 in the LCC cafeteria. Cost is $30.

Dim Sum Restaurant Visit: Cooking demonstration covers the many varieties of dim sum, followed by lunch; 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Golden Palace Seafood Restaurant. Cost is $42.

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