I’ve been on an epic quest for Chinese frozen steamed buns for a few months. It started back when we lived in the DC suburbs and I would, on occasion, order a dinner box from Blue Apron. Have you ever tried it? Blue Apron delivers a box of your choosing filled with ingredients delivered fresh to your door for dinner. I used it every now and again when work and life got overwhelming, which was quite often in the weeks and months leading up to our international move. One of my favorite recipes was for these hoisin chicken buns with miso sesame slaw. I’d always assumed that I couldn’t make a variation of this classic Taiwanese recipe at home because I am terrible at making the buns from scratch (I tried once, years ago, using this David Chang recipe).
Instead, by using store-bought Chinese steam buns and just working on the filling, this recipe was reduced to a mere 30-40 minutes. Mind. Blown. The key, however, to this entire house of cards is finding good quality frozen steamed buns to cut short the time and effort required to make my own Chinese chicken buns. I quickly discovered that this was no easy feat.
And so the Quest for the Steam Bun Began.
I started out assuming that it would be pretty easy for me to find some good steam buns, because we were living in a part of the DC suburbs with a fairly large Asian population and three gigantic Asian supermarkets within a close drive from our house. Um, I was dead wrong. I wasn’t able to find any at all. At every store I asked (both in Chinese, when I could, and English) where I could find the steam buns, and people looked at me like I might as well have asked where I might find the leopard print leather boots in size 14, thank you very much. One lady looked at me and just laughed. I got mocked by my own people, guys.
I had pretty much given up on ever being able to make my own version of Chinese chicken buns until we moved to London. When we finally ventured up to the Chinese grocery store in Cricklewood (about a 20-minute drive from our house), I ran up and down the aisles, arms outstretched, trying to control the insanity that had descended on my family. The kids and the hubby hurtled Asian food products into our cart as if we were on some sort of invisible game show, with a clock ticking down how much time we had left to stock up.
“We don’t need four different brands of coconut milk!” I screeched.
“But Ma, how will we know which one is the creamiest?” Ge Ge pleaded.
The hysteria kicked into high gear as soon as I found them in the frozen food aisle — glorious, puffy steamed buns, fanned out in neat rows in their packages. I scooped up four packages, figuring I would probably need to tinker with the steam buns on their own. You know, it’s so important to taste anywhere between one and, oh, I don’t know, ten, just to make sure they taste good. You know how you should really taste test them? With melted butter and a cup of hot coffee for breakfast. Mmmm…
When I finally got around to making our Chinese chicken buns for a weeknight dinner, I used thinly julienned snow peas as the base of my miso sesame slaw, since our kids are iffy on raw cabbage (they love it cooked or stewed so it’s nice and soft, but in raw form I think there’s a bitterness they’re not fans of). I also made some pickled cucumbers and radish the day before, and garnished our chicken buns with cilantro and crushed peanuts for a fresh finish. The buns are full of flavor, texture and are really filling. Of course, that didn’t stop each of us from eating multiple chicken buns. I mean, really, who is just going to have one Chinese chicken bun for dinner?
That’s just crazy talk.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 12 packaged frozen steam buns (at least); get them from the frozen food aisle at an Asian grocery store; in a pinch, use small flour tortillas instead for an Asian-inspired "taco"
- 4 cups fresh snow peas (also known sometimes mange tout), julienned (cut into thin strips)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon miso paste
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
- ½ seedless English cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 cup distilled vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus extra for seasoning)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- optional, for serving: fresh cilantro, roughly chopped peanuts
- Make ahead: put vinegar, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Put the radishes and cucumber in a nonreactive bowl (glass or plastic) and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool to room temperature before refrigerating up to a week before serving.
- Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the chicken breasts and cook, 3-5 minutes per side, until browned and cooked through. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the chicken breasts to a plate and set aside.
- Prep the steam buns: Fit a plate inside of a large pot with a lid. Remove the plate and add about 2-3 cups of water. Heat the water until it is barely simmering, then carefully put the plate back inside the pot. Arrange the frozen steam buns on the plate and cover the pot. Steam the buns according to the package directions, usually between 8-10 minutes.
- Make the slaw: whisk together the miso, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Pour over the snow peas in a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top, and toss to combine.
- Whisk together the hoisin sauce and mayo in a large bowl. Using two forks, shred the chicken breasts and add to the large bowl. Toss to combine.
- Serve immediately with steam buns, radish and cucumber pickle, cilantro and crushed peanuts.