Japanese Pork Buns: The perfect anytime food
I first tried Japanese Pork Buns when I visited Japan in 2019, and I have been making them ever since. They are the perfect blend of fresh steamed dough and savory pork filling. And, once you have made a batch of them, they’re easy to steam in your steamer of choice. I have used my rice cooker, my electric pressure cooker, and a pot on the stove. In just 10-20 minutes, you’ll have a delicious snack, side dish, or meal. I like to serve these as a side dish with my Katsu Curry Don, that is if I don’t eat it before I get to the table 🙂
Tips to make the perfect dough
A good dough is critical to a good Japanese Pork Bun. When cooked, it should be light and fluffy, but also hold together well. That might sound difficult, but as long as you take your time, anyone can do it. And if you have a stand mixer, it’s actually quite easy.
- Tip 1: Don’t add all of the flour at the beginning! Add only 4 cups of flour to the mixing bowl and add the fifth as you knead the dough. This will avoid adding too much flour, which would make the dough too dense. This takes us to tip 2.
- Tip 2: Don’t use more flour than you need! It is very likely that you won’t need all 5 cups of flour in the dough. As you knead the dough (by stand mixer or by hand), add 1 tbsp of flour at a time and work it into the dough before adding the next. Check the dough after every other tablespoon for stickiness, and stop when it is no longer sticky. And keep in mind, if you are kneading by hand, the dough will naturally take in more flour from your floured work surface, so you will need less of the fifth cup than someone kneading in a stand mixer.
- Tip 3: Add just enough water. I recommend adding water by half cup increments, and letting all of the water incorporate before adding more. If you notice after the first cup of water that your dough is already close to smooth, just add splashes of water until the dough is fully smooth. If there is too much water in the dough, you will have to add extra flour to smooth it out. In small quantities this is fine, but if you have to add too much extra flour, it may throw off the ratios of the other dry ingredients.
- Tip 4: Don’t worry if it takes a long time to get a smooth dough. You should expect to knead the dough for a minimum of 5 minutes in a stand mixer, and that’s after the dough has come together. If kneading by hand, expect it to take 10-15 minutes. Slow and steady is the best way to knead this dough, and take your time until you have the smoothest dough possible.
How do I fold my Japanese Pork Buns?
Making the pleated folds typical to these Japanese Pork Buns can seem really daunting, and it can be quite a challenge. The important thing to remember is that the folds don’t have any impact on the taste! The method I describe in the steps has really worked for me, but if you’re struggling, there are a few other options.
- Make larger folds. I probably do 7-10 folds per bun, but there’s no reason you have to. Just make 3-5 large folds and make sure it’s mostly sealed on top and your buns will cook up wonderfully.
- Don’t fold at all. Instead, pull up the sides of the dough around the filling and pinch it at the top to seal.
- Be liberal with the water I suggest for securing your folds. Even if your dough sticks to itself well, the water acts as a glue between the folds and will hold securely once you press the sides together. This gives a little more confidence that the first folds will hold while you keep folding.
- Don’t worry if any particular bun isn’t pretty. If you overwork the dough while pinching, you’re apt to make a mess. These buns will look a lot prettier once steamed.
Other fillings for pork buns
For my Japanese Pork Buns, I really like the combination of cabbage, mushroom, and pork filling, but there are a lot of variations you could try.
- Really any smoked meat in small chunks and a sauce would be delicious. Consider:
- Smoked Brisket: Chop it into small pieces, toss in enough bbq sauce to coat but not so much that it’s too wet and fill away.
- Smoked Pork Butt: In Chinese cuisine, there is a type of bun called Char Siu Bao which is stuff with Chinese bbq pork. You could easily take my Smoked Boston Butt and chop the meat into smaller pieces, mix with bbq sauce of your choice, and there you have a delicious bbq pork bun.
- My cabbage pierogi filling of cabbage and bacon would also be delicious in a bun. For a vegetarian option, substitute the bacon with diced mushrooms.
- If none of those are quite what you’re looking for, you can get creative too! Just make sure the filling isn’t too wet, and the world is your oyster. If you make a filling you really like, put it in the comments!
How to serve Japanese Pork Buns
You can serve these pork buns in a myriad of ways. They go great with some soy sauce to dip in. After you freeze a set of buns, they’re really easy to pull out and steam as an appetizer for a larger meal.
How to make Japanese Pork Buns
Japanese Pork Buns
- 5 cups All purpose flour (don't add all at once)
- 4 scant tbsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 tsp Baking powder
- 2 tsp Instant yeast
- 2 tbsp Canola oil Any neutral oil will work
- 1 1/2 cups Water Start with 1 cup and add more as needed
- 4-5 Dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup Water To soak the shiitakes
- 2 Green onions, thinly sliced
- 12 oz Green cabbage, cored and chopped into small pieces
- 1 tsp Kosher salt To remove water from cabbage
- 1 1/2 lb Ground pork
- 3 tsp Minced ginger
- 2 tsp Sugar
- 2 tbsp Mirin
- 2 tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Sesame oil
- 2 tbsp Potato or corn starch
- Sprinkle of freshly ground pepper
- Combine all ingredients except the water and 1 cup of the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Then add ½ cup of the water.
- Set the stand mixer to run at a low speed. As the water is worked into the dry ingredients, add another ½ cup of water and continue mixing. As the ½ cup of water is absorbed, repeat until all the water is added.
- The dough should be relatively sticky now, though it is likely forming a nice ball. Add a tablespoon of the reserved cup of flour and continue mixing until it is worked in. The dough will become progressively smoother and less sticky as you add flour. Repeat this step at least 4 times, until you’ve added ½ cup of the flour. Turn off the stand mixer and touch the dough to see how sticky it is. It should not stick to your fingers and should be easily picked up. If not, continue adding flour by the tablespoon until it is.
- Once your dough is smooth, remove it from the bowl (you can hold it in one hand or put it on a clean surface), add 1-2 tbsp of canola oil to the bowl and swirl it to coat the bowl about ⅓ of the way up the sides. Put your dough back in the bowl and coat it in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and place somewhere warm to rise for 30-60 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- Soak 4-5 shiitake mushrooms in 1 cup of hot (not quite boiling) water. Set a bowl or other object on top of the mushrooms to keep them submerged. Let soak for 30 minutes.
- Put your chopped cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tsp kosher salt. Let it rest 5-10 minutes so that it releases its extra water.
- Once the shiitakes have re-hydrated, remove the stems and dice into small pieces.
- In a large bowl, combine shiitake mushrooms, ground pork, and green onions. Squeeze the cabbage and drain the liquid from its bowl, then add the cabbage to the large bowl with the other ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients from the filling list and stir or knead with your hand to combine until it is sticky and well mixed.
- Dust a clean work surface liberally with flour and dump the dough, which has doubled in size, onto the surface. Cut it into four even pieces.
- Roll out each piece into a log, about 8 inches long. A little shorter or longer is ok.
- Cut each log into 6 even pieces. If you prefer large rolls, stop cutting now. If you’d like smaller rolls, divide each piece in half. You can also divide only some of the pieces for a variety of sizes. Now form each piece into a ball (or as close to a ball as you can), and cover with a clean, damp dish towel for 10 minutes.
- Prepare a small bowl of water and place it next to your work surface.
- Roll out one piece of dough into a circle until it’s a little more than ¼ inch thick. Hold the dough in your non-dominant hand, and using your other hand, add 1-2 tbsp of the filling. Use less filling for smaller buns, or more for larger ones. Pull one side of the dough to the top of the filling and begin folding the dough into pleats around the top of the filling. If the dough does not stick to itself easily, dip your fingers in the water and use that to hold the dough pleats together. If you can see the filling easily in the center of the pleats, use a little more water and light pressure to seal the center of the pleats together.
- Repeat step 5 until all pieces of dough or all of the filling is finished.
- Freezer Preparation: If you plan to freeze the buns, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the rolls on it so that they are not touching. Cover with foil and put into the freezer. Once frozen, cut the parchment paper around each bun and move the buns with their parchment paper to a freezer safe bag and use over time. Cook as described in step 8.
- Steaming Instructions: Add 1-2 cups of water to a pot and set a steamer basket over it, ensuring the water is below the bottom of the steamer basket. Add your buns with their parchment paper to the basket so that they are not touching, leaving extra space for expansion. Steam for 10-20 minutes or until the bun’s internal temperature is at least 165F. Remove from the basket and enjoy! 🙂