Happy Chinese New Year!
Whilst it might not be a holiday I normally celebrate, I could hardly pass up the excuse to celebrate Chinese food. My favourite part of going for a Chinese meal in the UK, was, without a doubt, the crispy aromatic duck. The starters were always good, although I often lost the battle over who got the last spare rib and ended up eating spoonfuls of crispy “seaweed” (who knew that it was actually cabbage?!). By the main course, everyone was normally so full that we only managed a few mouthfuls of the endless dishes we thought it would be a good idea to order. But the crispy duck came at just the right time and was always the highlight of the meal for me.
You can imagine, then, how devastated I was when I moved to Zurich and found out that the British version of Peking duck has not made it beyond the Channel. Don’t get me wrong, when I finally got over the shock and tried the slices of duck breast that I was served in our local Chinese restaurant in Zurich, they were delicious, perhaps even (objectively) better than the strands of pulled duck and crispy skin that I had become so used to. But they just weren’t the same.
So, this Chinese new year I have decided to make my very own version crispy aromatic duck a-la England!
Not only that, but I thought I would take it to a whole new level by encasing the duck not in thin pancakes, but in wonderfully light, fluffy Bao buns. Now there are easier, quicker versions of these buns out there, but since today is a Chinese celebration, I wanted to go as authentic as possible, and trust me, it is totally worth it!
What’s great about these is that you can use the dough in two different ways. You can leave the buns open and let everyone fill their own – perfect for fun family dinners or casual entertaining. Or you can make them a little more special by turning them into sealed buns with little hidden pockets of duck in the middle.
The salty, crispy duck and a little hoi sin sauce work wonderfully with the buns, but you could also try them with BBQ chicken or pork (Char Sui) which is what they are traditionally served with. Either way, they are delicious and 100% worth a try!
- 525g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1½ tbsp caster sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
- 50ml milk
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- , plus extra for greasing and brushing
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt
- Dissolve the yeast and a pinch of salt in 1 tbsp warm water, then mix it into the flour along with the milk, oil, vinegar and 200ml water to form a dough
- On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 10-15 mins until smooth, then place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp teatowel and leave to rise for 2 hrs (it should be doubled in size)
- Tip the dough out of the bowl and punch it down to remove the air. Flatten it down, then sprinkle over the baking powder and knead for 5 mins
- Roll out the dough into a long sausage, about 3cm thick, and cut into 18 equal sized pieces, about 3cm wide
- Roll each piece into a ball and leave to rest for 2-3 mins
- For open buns: Use a rolling pin to roll out each ball into an oval about 3mm thick. Rub the surface of the ovals with oil and brush a little oil over a chopstick
- Place the oiled chopstick in the centre of each oval. Fold the dough over the chopstick, then slowly pull the chopstick out
- For closed buns: use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a circle about 3mm thick
- Transfer the buns to a tray lined with baking parchment, cover with a clean tea towel or lightly oiled cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for 1 hr 30 mins until doubled in size
- Heat a large steamer over a medium-high heat
- If you are making closed buns, place your filling in the middle of the dough circles, the bring the sides up around the filling and pinch the dough at the top (watch this video to learn the proper method)
- In batches, steam the buns for 8 mins until puffed up
- Serve while still warm
- 1 whole duck (or for a smaller portion you can just buy duck legs separately)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp five-spice
- 2cm fresh ginger, grated
- Preheat the oven to 170 C
- Rub the duck all over with the salt and five spice, then grate over the ginger
- Place the duck in a roasting tray, and cook in the oven for 2 hours, spooning away the excess fat every so often to make sure the skin goes nice and crispy
- If you want to give the skin that extra crunch, after 2 hours, turn the heat up to 200 C for a final 10 minutes of cooking
- Remove the duck from the oven and allow to cool slightly before pulling the meat and skin away from the bone with two forks
- Place the meat on a serving plate and enjoy in a Bao bun with a drop of hoi sin sauce and some shredded spring onions