Spicy Tofu Buns

Chinese steamed buns are often carriers for pork belly. A bamboo steamer makes the quickest work of cooking them, but a vegetable steamer in a stock pot works as well. Be sure to refill water between buns so that it doesn’t all dry up.

This spicy tofu is crispy and flavorful – it solves the problem of being able to make tofu well at home. It’s the first way I’ve found to make tofu that seems to turn out as well as what is served in restaurants which tends to be deep fried. It involves 3 steps – including freezing – but some can be done in advance. I slice and freeze the tofu the day I buy it so that it’s ready to go. It also allows for stocking up when it’s on sale. The crispy tofu can be used in a variety of ways before you sauce it.

Steamed Buns
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp whole milk
3 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil

Mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder in a wide bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the milk into the well and use your fingers in a circular motion to pull the flour mixture into the milk until it’s absorbed. Make another well, add water, and continue to use your fingers to work the dough. Add oil work the dough until thoroughly combined.

Gather the dough together and knead for 10 to 12 minutes — it should feel smooth, pliable, elastic, and slightly tacky to the touch. If the dough is too sticky to work with, sprinkle a little flour on the work surface and your hands as you knead it (I added an additional 1/4 cup by the time I finished). If the dough feels dry, lightly wet your hands with water and continue kneading. When the dough is smooth and elastic, shape it into a ball, cover with a slightly damp cloth, and let rest at room temperature for about 1 hour. (The dough must be used within 2 hours of the time it was made. It cannot be frozen.)

Resting Bun Dough

While dough is resting, cut 16 squares of parchment paper into 3″ squares.

Portion the dough into 16 pieces by rolling into a log and slicing or by pulling off small pieces of dough and weighing. Cover with a damp towel while working with other pieces. Take one piece of dough and roll dough into an oval, turning as you go and flouring to prevent sticking. Fold dough in half, allowing the bottom to stick out below the top. Place on the parchment paper squares.

Uncooked Buns

Cook in a steamer for 10 minutes. For the vegetable steamer variation, place 3-4 buns on top the steamer, cover the top of the pot with a tea towel and then put the lid on. The towel helps prevent water from dripping down onto the top of the buns and making them wrinkle. Remove with tongs and set aside to cool.

Cooked buns can be frozen for 3-6 months. Steam frozen buns to reheat.

Sweet & Spicy Asian Sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp Sriracha
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp grated ginger
Black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients until combined.

Sweet and Spicy Sauce

Crispy Tofu
15oz extra firm tofu
2 Tbsp olive oil

Slice tofu into strips and freeze. For the sandwiches, I sliced in half length-wise and then into 8 pieces the other direction. Freeze tofu.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and lower the tofu block(s) into the pot. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. As pieces float to the top, remove them with tongs onto a paper towel lined plate. If the tofu has not risen to the top after 10 minutes, remove the blocks and separate slices onto the plate.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add tofu in a single layer (you may need to do multiple batches). Let cook for a few minutes on one side then turn to brown all sides. Once tofu is lightly browned and crispy (8-10 minutes), remove from pan. Stop here to use in other recipes.

For the spicy tofu, return all tofu to the pan and add sauce. Cook on high heat for 2-3 minutes, turning tofu to coat, until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

To assemble the sandwiches, split buns along seam. Place one piece of tofu, a thin slice of cucumber, and a sprinkle of scallions on the roll. If you have extra sauce, slather it in the roll as well. You can add additional toppings such as onion or quick pickled vegetables for additional crunch.

Spicy Tofu Bun

Steamed Buns adapted from Fine Cooking

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