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Friday, January 4, 2013

Baked Chinese Buns stuffed with Korean Bulgogi

It seems my entire adult life has been spent searching for the perfect dinner roll recipe. I trolled, read issue after issue of Cook's Illustrated and tried zillions of bread book and online recipes. I was looking for something extremely buttery, yeasty, slightly sweet and very soft... almost gooey. Failure. Disappointment. It was just like a phone conversation with my mother. My Kitchen Aid and I were about to throw in the towel. Then one day I found it! Alton Brown had come through yet once again. His Parker House dinner roll recipe was the one. It was everything I had hoped for. His recipe was specifically for making the Parker House version which has you put a piece of butter in the middle of each roll (delicious), but the dough works equally well for any shape you want to make. I've been experimenting with various creative ways to use this buttery yeasty deliciousness because I need more of it in my life.

On my flight home from Dallas to Orlando after Christmas break, I met a passenger who loved to bake as well. She shared stories about all kinds of interesting dishes she'd made while home visiting her family. Her family was of German heritage and one of the dishes in particular stood out to me, bierock. I was so excited about this new discovery that I had to look it up on my Smart phone as soon as we landed. It's basically a dinner roll stuffed with ground beef, onion and cabbage but it didn't have much along the way of seasonings. Compared to the other German dishes I was familiar with, it seemed like it might be a little bland so I filed it away to the back of my mind for further philosophical pondering.

Today, I had exactly 1/2 lb of leftover ground beef. That's not really a lot to work with. What to do with it? Then it clicked.... bierock! Except, I didn't have cabbage on hand and was still hoping to find a way to spice it up just a bit. Suddenly, I had another epiphany - bulgogi! (What? TWO epiphanies in the same day? I feel just like Nostradamus!) Bulgogi is a delicious Korean BBQ-esque dish where beef is sliced very thin, seared then cooked with soy sauce and brown sugar, fresh grated ginger then topped with fresh scallions. (Ironically, I had first had this a few years ago when on an extended trip to Japan, not Korea. As much as I love sushi, after eating it 3 times a day I needed a break so I ordered Domino's pizza and it was one of the pizza topping choices. I've been in love with it ever since!)

I wondered how it would taste if I made the ground beef into bulgogi, then used it to stuff the dinner rolls. Alright! So... a plan of action was now set in motion that would change the culinary world forever. Ok, maybe it wouldn't. But, I was pretty excited about it.

While the dough was rising, I browned the 1/2 lb of ground beef with a little bit of fresh ground pepper and a few tablespoons of white onion diced extremely small. (I didn't add any salt because I knew the soy sauce that was going to be in the sauce would be pretty salty.) I added about two tablespoons of water to the pan so the beef could be really broken down into tiny bits and would come out soft. The water had cooked out by the time the beef was cooked. I drained the meat out by tilting the pan in the sink. It was extremely lean so there wasn't much liquid, but if it had been fattier I probably would have drained it in a sieve.

To make the sauce, I mixed together the following, added to the ground beef and cooked on medium for a minute or two to thicken:

1/2 cup water
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp catsup
1 1/2 tbsp corn starch

I didn't have fresh ginger or green onions on hand and it tasted just a little flat. Chinese 5 Spice would have brought this up to the level I really wanted, but I didn't have any. Fortunately, I did have 2 of the 5 spices required to make it so I decided to wing it by adding about 1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon, all spice, cloves, black pepper and ginger. Voila! MUCH much better. (In the future though, instead of adding the other spices, I'd add a tsp of Chinese 5 spice, a tsp of fresh grated ginger and a tbsp of diced scallions.)

Here's a picture of my buns in progress. I wanted to make sure they were all the same size, so I took what seemed like a reasonable amount of dough and weighed it. It came out to 65g, so that's the amount of dough I planned to use for each roll. (In hindsight, I should've weighed the dough and divided the weight by 12 to determine the proper amount for each roll, but I've always been a pretty good judge of size and I only came out with one extra roll.)

I flattened the 65g of dough in the palm of my hand, then put just over 1 tbsp of filling in the center. I used the "Chinese Dumpling" technique, which involved pinching and twisting the side together working all the way around the circle. I tried to capture it in the picture, but if you want to see a video of someone else doing this, click here. Her dough looked really wet so she had to do it on flour, but mine was very moist and slick from the butter so I was able to do it right in my hand. (I used her sauce ingredients from earlier in the video as my starting point for the sauce above.)

In the original roll recipe, the dough was supposed to rise for another 40 minutes. But it took about 20 minutes to form these so I let them rise for another 20 minutes on the counter.

After baking the buns at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, they were golden brown. You can see where the dough was too thin on one of them and teh filling leaked out. Normally, when you make traditional steamed Chinese dumplings, you pinch them together and leave them upright. I wanted to see how they looked when baking so I left some upright and flipped some over. Since you really want these soft, I think the ones upside down were better because there was less surface area exposed to heat.

Here's how one of the biscuits looked after cooling for 5 minutes. Absolutely delicious! I would consider these a total success. Good thing my new year's resolution didn't involve eating healthier! :)

This adventure makes me wonder what else would be delicious stuffed into a dinner roll. I fear it will not end well for my waistline.

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