Shengjian bao/shengjian mantou, or Shanghai Pan-Fried Pork Buns in Chinese, are a culinary classic.
They are as popular as the legendary four Shanghai breakfast warriors at any meal of the day. Those crunchy pan-fried bottoms complement the filling’s umami and juiciness (or “soup”). To understand what I mean, you need to give it a try.
My daughter has loved these juicy buns—maybe even more than soup dumplings—since she was old enough to eat solid food. To find pan-fried pork buns in the United States that taste as good as those on the streets of Shanghai, Shanghai-style, is a challenge.
I’ve made it my mission to perfect this recipe.
The Uniqeness Of Shanghai’s Pan-Fried Pork Buns
Shanghai soup dumplings have gained a devoted fan base among non-Chinese people everywhere, especially in the United States. Soup dumplings’ crunchy, fried cousin is the Shanghai Pan-Fried Pork Bun.
When compared head to head, it is clear that these are in a close contest. They’re both great in my book! Making them is just as challenging as making anything else.
It’s easier to taste the freshness and delicacy of the ingredients in Shanghai soup dumplings. The Shanghai-style pan-fried pork buns are more substantial, with a fried, crispy bottom. Because of their high fat and calorie content require a tangy condiment like vinegar to balance the richness.
These shengjian mantou are served with Shanghai rice vinegar, while Chinese black vinegar is used to flavor soup dumplings.
This vinegar is not as heavy and pungent as others, but it is still strong enough to cut through the fatty bun.
The dough of Shanghai pan-fried pork buns is chewy rather than light and airy, like other pan-fried buns.
The top of the bun must sink in while cooking so that it reveals the filling. Looks and feels like a pan-fried pork bun from Shanghai.
You’ll need help tracking down a true example in the United States because most buns are too light and bready.
For The Aspic:
- 1/2 lb. of pork skin
- 1/2 lb. of pork and/or chicken bones
- 3 cups of water
- 2 tbsp. of Shaoxing wine
- 3 slices of ginger
- 1 pc. of scallion
- salt (to taste)
For The Filling:
- 1 lb. of ground pork(70% lean 30% fat)
- 1/4 cup of Shaoxing wine
- 3/4 tsp. of salt
- 1 tsp. of sesame oil
- 1 tbsp. of sugar
- 3 tbsp. of water
- 1/2 tsp. of dark soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of light soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp. of ground white pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of ginger (grated)
- 1/4 cup of scallions (minced)
- 1 1/2 cups of aspic (diced into ¼-inch pieces)
For The Dough:
- 2 cups of cake flour(can substitute 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour and ¼ cup cornstarch sifted together)
- 1 cup of all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- 1/2 tsp. of instant yeast
- 3/4 cup of water (may need an additional tablespoon depending on the humidity)
- 1/2 tsp. of neutral oil (such as avocado oil or vegetable oil, for brushing)
To Cook The Buns:
- neutral flavored cooking oil(such as avocado, vegetable, or canola oil)
- toasted sesame seeds (black and white sesame seeds both work)
- 1 scallion (finely chopped)
The Day Before: Make The Aspic
- Add the pork skin and bones to a medium-sized pot with a thick bottom and fill it with water until they are submerged. Then, boil for a minute to kill any bacteria. Remove the pork from the heat and wash the skin and bones in running water. Remember to scrub the kettle.
- Cut the pork into thin slices after the fat has been removed from underneath the skin. Since this is the case, releasing the collagen is facilitated.
- Three cups of water should be added to the clean pot. Shaoxing wine, ginger, and scallion can be added to the pork skin and bones. Get it boiling, then turn the heat down to medium. Simmer for an hour. (Keep it at a low simmer, where it will bubble gently.)
- The pork skin should be fork-tender after 1 hour, and the stock should have a thick, almost milky consistency. Remove the solids with a strainer and season with salt to taste. Place the liquid in a sealed container and chill it in the fridge for at least one night to harden.
- This should make about 1 1/2 cups of aspic, which is perfect for this use.
The Day or Night Before: Make the Filling
- Mix the ground pork, Shaoxing wine, salt, sesame oil, sugar, water, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, ground white-pepper, grated ginger, and minced scallions in a large bowl. For 5 minutes, whip it in one direction until it resembles a thick paste.
- Cut the aspic into cubes that are a quarter of an inch cubed. To ensure it is evenly distributed, stir it into the filling very slowly. Put the bowl into the fridge right now. Allow to chill for at least an hour, preferably between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, while you prepare the dough.
1 1/12 To 2 Hours Before Serving: Make The Dough
- Put the cake flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and instant yeast into the bowl of an electric mixer. Put the mixer’s dough hook in place, and switch it to its lowest speed. Flow into the water slowly. Ten minutes of kneading should result in a smooth dough. The dough must be pliable but not sticky.
- Round out the dough, oil the top, and place a plate over the bowl to keep it from drying out while you work. Allow 30 minutes for proofing at room temperature.
Assembling The Buns:
- Use a large, nonstick frying pan. Although a cast-iron skillet can be used instead, keeping the buns from sticking can be more of a challenge. Put it in the oven at its highest setting until it starts to smoke, then cover it with a thin layer of cooking oil and set it aside to cool completely. Proceed with the bun assembly now.
- After the dough has finished proofing, knead it for three minutes on the lowest speed of your stand mixer. (Knead for 5 minutes if using your hands.) Take out a third of the dough, and keep the rest covered, so it doesn’t dry out.
- Take the filling out of the fridge when ready to start rolling out the dough. Put the filling bowl in an ice bath to keep it cold while you assemble the buns if your kitchen is warm (especially in the summer).
- Roll the dough into a long tube on a clean, lightly floured surface and divide it into 20-gram pieces using a kitchen scale. This recipe yields about 30 buns, so remember to divide your third of the dough into ten 20g pieces.
- Flatten each piece by pressing it into a ball after you’ve rolled it. Rotate the dough as you roll it out from edge to center. Wrapper dimensions should be 4 inches in diameter and taper from the edges to the center.
- Place 2 tablespoons of filling in the center and fold the top to secure. Keep your fingers as germ-free as possible throughout this procedure. Sealing the buns is easier if your hands are wet or greasy.
- Buns should be placed in a pan that has been greased before you start making them. It is customary to place the buns with the pleated side down, but you should only do so if you are certain that the buns are properly shaped and sealed. Otherwise, the pleated side should face up. The separation between each bun should be half an inch.
Pan-Frying The Buns:
- Put the first batch into the pan and heat it over medium heat. Toss the buns in enough oil to cover them by about a sixteenth inch.
- While the oil is heating up, rotate the pan so that the outer edges get hot. As the buns begin to shallow-fry slowly, the oil around the pan should begin to bubble lightly. PLEASE resist the urge to crank up the temperature. The bottoms must not be burned. Furthermore, any cooking implement should not touch the buns at this time. They are not yet set, so that any damage will show immediately.
- After 8-10 minutes, you should see a uniform bubbling throughout the oil. The buns will rise slightly as they cook, and the bottoms should be lightly browned.
- As such, fill the pan with water until it is about half an inch (1.25 cm) high. The ideal height of the water for buns is one-third of their height. Cook for another 8-10 minutes on medium-low heat with the lid on the pan firmly in place.
- Take the lid off the pan. Most of the water should have evaporated. Replace the lid and cook for another 5 minutes over medium-low heat after adding the sesame seeds and chopped scallions. (If there is still a lot of water in the pan, you can increase the heat a little; however, be careful not to burn the buns.)
- To finish the buns, cook them until the bottoms are golden brown and the water has evaporated. Do not risk puncturing the buns by using a sharp kitchen tool to remove them. A rubber spatula of sufficient rigidity will do the trick.
- Take care when eating the hot soup inside and serve immediately with Shanghai rice vinegar.