Michael grew up in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. Since we first met, he has talked about manapua, or steamed pork buns. In my trips to Hawaii before I met Michael I had never tried them. Steamed bread dough, with a dollop of bright red pork in the center, didn’t sound particularly tasty.
A few years ago Michael and I took a trip to Oahu and he ate manapua in restaurants and from cases in convenience stores. Manapua is available all over the islands, from street vendors to fine dining restaurants. I tasted one, but still was not impressed.
Food blogging exposes us to things we might never have tried before. Presented in a different way, or captured in a photo good enough to eat, non-traditional foods or even once hated foods find their way onto our plate. This is how it happened with me and manapua. I saw a beautiful photo of sparkling white, steamed buns with a smidgen of that bright red pork in the center. I decided to make them for Michael and in the process, fell in love with them myself.
I did a lot of online research before deciding which dough recipe and cooking method I would use. The Chinese version of these buns are called bao while the Hawaiian’s call them manapua. There are subtle differences such as the use of both yeast and baking powder in the Manapua dough, as well as the addition of sesame oil. Bao are usually smaller with the seam side up, while manapua are round with the seam side on the bottom. They can be filled with all kinds of meats, vegetables or tofu, but the one Michael likes and the most popular in Hawaii, is the char siu pork. The term “char siu” refers to meats which have been marinated in char siu seasoning. The char sui seasoning can be prepared from scratch or from store-bought char sui seasoning in a pouch or a jar. I like the jarred version.
The pork is slathered with the char sui BBQ sauce then roasted in an oven or over a fire. I used pork loin cooked on my indoor grill.
The cooked pork is finely diced and seasoning, onions, and wine are added to make the filling. It should look like this with small cubes of pork, onions, thick sauce and a bright red color.
The dough is divided into 16 equal pieces.
Keep the dough pieces covered with plastic while filling one at a time so they don’t dry out.
Use a small rolling-pin to form them into 5″ rounds, slightly thicker in the center.
Close the dough by pinching the edges together. Traditional Hawaiian manapua goes seam side down on a small piece of parchment paper. Once all the buns are all filled, cover them loosely with plastic and allow them to rise for 30-45 minutes.
Place the buns on the parchment on a steamer insert. Don’t crowd them as they puff up when cooked.
I use my electric steamer. Works great! Steam the buns for 15 minutes.
Raise the lid and allow the steam to escape. leave them in the steamer like this for 5 minutes. The water on the inside of the lid should drain off without wetting the buns.
Use tongs to take the steamed buns out of the steamer.
They should look like this!
Here are some that I steamed with the seam side up. I like the looks of these better. Pssst, “Don’t tell Michael.”
BTW, he said these are the best manapua he has ever eaten. He said the kicker was the way the pork was trimmed to remove all the fat and other things you wouldn’t want to bite into. We will definitely be having these again. Michael says at least once a month. I can do that!
Here is my recipe, the adaptation of countless others on the web.
- For the dough:
- 1½ teaspoons instant dry yeast
- ¾ cup lukewarm water
- 2 TBS canola oil
- 2 TBS sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- Scant 3 cups flour
- For the filling:
- 2 cups diced barbecue pork
- 3 TBS canola oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 tablespoons sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
- 5 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark soya sauce
- 5 tablespoons of corn starch with 5 tablespoons of water
- 3-6 drops red food coloring (optional)
- To make the dough in a stand mixer:
- Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.
- Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in the bowl of the mixer. Using the dough hook, mix at low-speed to combine. Add the yeast/water/oil mixture. With the mixer on medium, allow it to knead the dough until it forms a large ball and cleans the sides of the bowl. If this doesn't happen add warm water, 1 TBS at a time until it forms a large ball and mostly cleans the sides of the bowl. It should feel medium-soft and tacky but should not stick to your finger.
- If you don't use a stand mixer, you can mix and knead the dough by hand. It will take about five minutes of kneading to achieve the desired texture.
- Lightly oil a large glass bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place to rise until nearly doubled. This will take about an hour but timing will vary depending on the temperature of the room.
- To make the filling:
- While the dough is proofing, get ready the ingredients for the fillings. In a frying pan, add 3 tablespoons cooking oil. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add the barbecue pork and stir fry until well mixed. Add the cooking wine, sesame oil, sugar, oyster sauce and soy sauce. Stir fry for another 2 minutes. Add ½ the cornstarch/water solution stirring constantly until transparent. Add more thickener if needed. Add red food coloring if desired. Traditional filling is bright red in color. Set filling aside for later assembly.
- Once the dough has finished the first proofing it is time to assemble the manapua. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and divide it into 16 equal pieces. Using your hands or a small rolling-pin, form the dough into 5 inch rounds. Place tablespoon of filling in the center of each bun. Bring the edges of the dough circle together
- Get a steamer ready with 2 inches of water. This can be an electric steamer or a stove-top steamer. Add the filled dough to the steamer and steam the buns over high heat for about 12-15 minutes. Turn off the steamer and open the lid ever so slightly to let the steam escape. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before removing the buns from the steamer. Best served warm.
“Aloha nui loa” to Tim and Cheryl. You need to make these at home or come down and we’ll make them for you!