Chinese Steamed Buns with Venison and Pickles

These are Chinese bao buns, the sandwich kind. The other version is a round bun that encases a meat filling, while these are flat, bread-y rolls that can be filled at the table with whatever meat and toppings you desire. Our recipe here is traditional -- for the most part -- except the venison part, inspired by the crispy pork belly bao buns I had at Baos Hog in Garden Grove, California. Complemented by pickled carrot, red onion and crispy cucumber, with the saltiness of hoisin sauce, this is a fun recipe that will allow everyone at the dinner table to pitch in and put together. 

This recipe does take some time to make, especially the bun part, but once you learn how to do it, the next time will go a lot easier. 

For pickled carrot and pickled red onion recipes, I recommend the recipes below. If you can find daikon, use it, if not, skip it and use all carrot.

Servings: 4-6 (16 buns)
Prep and Cooking Time: about 4 hours
Bun Dough
- 1 cup of warm water (105-115 degrees F)
- 3 tablespoons of sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
- 3½ cup of cake flour, plus extra
- 1½ teaspoons of baking powder
- 1/3 cup of milk
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
Venison Filling
- 1 pound of venison shoulder
¾ heaping teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder
- Half an onion
- 1 quart of beef broth
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly cracked pepper
- 2 teaspoons of olive oil
- Sriracha sauce
- Hoisin Sauce
- Sliced English/Persian cucumbers
- Pickled Vietnamese-style shredded carrot
- Pickled red onion
- Fresh cilantro

Special equipment: steamer and parchment paper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub venison shoulder with Chinese 5-spice powder and place into a heavy, ovenproof pot. Add onion and cover with enough broth to submerge. Cover with lid and bake for 2½ hours, or until venison becomes tender. Flip the meat halfway through and add more broth as necessary. 

You can complete this step the day before and allow to cool in the refrigerator for easier slicing.

2. In a small bowl, combine warm water, 1 tablespoon of sugar, active dry yeast and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. It should foam. 

3. Into a large bowl, sift cake flour, baking powder, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and salt. Next, pour the water-yeast mixture and milk into the dry ingredients. Stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms. Then turn out the dough onto a floured surface, and knead until you get a smooth ball. 

Place dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise for 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

4. Turn out the dough again onto a floured surface and punch down. 

5. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Place them onto parchment paper and cover with a damp towel/plastic wrap as you work to keep the dough from drying out. 

Cut parchment paper into 16 4-inch squares. 
6. Roll out dough pieces into 6-inch ovals. 
7. Fold the disks over a piece of parchment paper square to keep them from sticking. Cover with a damp towel/plastic wrap and allow them to rest for 30 minutes. 
8. Line your steamer with parchment paper. Meanwhile, bring 2 inches of water to a boil under/in the steamer. After the buns have rested, add them to the steamer 2 inches apart from each other. Cover and steam for 4-5 minutes, or until the buns have risen and set. Carefully remove them and keep warm under a kitchen towel. Steam in batches if your steamer cannot accommodate all 16 at once. Remember to add more water as necessary. 

9. Slice cooked venison. Brown and warm through in oil with salt and pepper to taste. 
10. Fill warm buns with the browned venison, sliced cucumber, pickled carrot, red onion, cilantro, hoisin sauce and sriracha. 

To warm buns, steam again for 1-2 minutes or microwave for 30 seconds.