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Salapao (Thai Pork Steamed Buns)

You may have had steamed buns before, but have you had salabao? This Thai street food favourite uses a dough made from sweet potatoes and has a delightful pork and salted egg filling. They’re famously served from a little hole-in-the-wall stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown and no visit to the city is complete without trying them. But, if you can’t get on a plane anytime soon, here’s how to recreate my version at home.

WATCH THIS RECIPE

Salapao (Thai Pork Steamed Buns)

PREP TIME
2 hours~
COOK TIME
20 mins
SERVES
24
Ingredients

Starter

250g (8.8 oz) cake flour*

175ml (6.1 oz) water

7g (0.25 oz) instant dry yeast

 

Dough

250g (8.8 oz) cake flour, extra for dusting

7g (0.2 oz) baking powder

2 medium-sized Japanese sweet potatoes*

40g (1.4 oz) white sugar

30g (1 oz) vegetable oil

 

Pork filling

2 tsp white peppercorns

½ tsp coriander seed

500g (1 lb) pork mince

60g (2 oz) finely chopped yam or Mexican turnip (alternatively, use canned water chestnuts)

4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, woody stems removed, finely chopped

2 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp oyster sauce

½ tbsp fish sauce

10g (0.3 oz) tapioca flour

6 salted egg yolks, quartered

24 squares of baking paper (about 10 x 10cm/4×4 inches)

Steps
  • Step 1

    To make the starter, add the yeast and room temperature water to a small bowl and stir until the yeast has dissolved. Now add the cake flour to the bowl of a stand mixer followed by the yeast mixture. Use a fork to mix the wet and dry ingredients together (don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy at this stage), cover, then set aside to rest and for the starter to activate for 30–45 minutes or until it’s looking relaxed and (dare I say) a little gloopy.

  • Step 2

    Meanwhile, place the sweet potatoes in a steamer basket set over a pan or wok filled one-third of the way with boiling water and steam for around 15 minutes or until soft. Carefully remove from the steamer basket (you can leave the water in the pan still as you’ll need it again later) and leave to cool slightly until you can handle the potato comfortably. Scoop out the flesh and pass it through a fine sieve – you will need 250g of flesh for the dough. Set aside.

  • Step 3

    Back to the dough. Sift in the flour and baking powder into the bowl. Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, mix the dough for 5 minutes on medium speed until it forms a wet-crumbly texture.

  • Step 4

    Swap the paddle for a dough hook, then add the sweet potato paste, sugar and oil to the bowl. Mix on medium speed for about 15 minutes until you’re left with an elastic dough ball (you can also do this part by hand if you prefer, but you may need to add some extra flour as the dough is quite wet). Line a large baking tray with some baking paper.

  • Step 5

    Next, lightly flour your benchtop, then empty the dough out of the mixing bowl and give it a light dust with some extra flour on top. Roll out into a log shape, then divide the dough into 24 equal portions. Gently roll each portion into a ball shape, and then pop on the lined tray. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough. Cover the tray with a clean tea towel or some cheesecloth, then let them rest for 1 hour.

  • Step 6

    Meanwhile, let’s make the filling. Lightly toast the white peppercorns and the coriander seeds in a dry pan over medium heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Use a mortar and pestle to grind to a fine powder, then transfer to a large bowl. Add in the pork mince, yam, chopped shiitake mushrooms, spring onion, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and tapioca flour. Give everything a good mix until the ingredients are well combined and the mixture is smooth and sticky.

  • Step 7

    Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Take one dough ball and roll out into a circle roughly 6cm (just under 2.5 inches) in diameter and 3mm (1/8 inch) in thickness, then use your roller to go over the edges so that you have thinner edges and a thicker middle (this will make the pleating much easier). Lay the wrapper in the palm of your non-dominant hand, then add 1 tablespoon of your pork filling into the centre of the wrapper. Pinch and pleat around the top in a full circle. When you get to the end, pinch and twist the top to seal the bun (check my dumpling folding guide for a short video on how to do this). Place the folded bun on a square of baking paper, then repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. Cover the folded rounds and set aside to prove for 20-30 minutes.

  • Step 8

    Bring your water previously used for steaming the sweet potatoes back up to a boil, topping up if necessary. Place the buns into your bamboo steamer, add to the pot of boiling water and steam for 12 minutes or until the filling is cooked through. Transfer your finished salapao to a plate and serve.

  • Notes
    Notes:

    • Cake flour has a lower protein content, which gives you a softer and more pliable dough, resulting in a lighter, fluffier end result. However, you can use plain (all-purpose) flour, too.
    • Japanese sweet potatoes have reddish-purple skin and pale yellow to white flesh. Japanese sweet potatoes can be found at some Asian or Japanese grocery stores.
    • You can buy salted eggs from an Asian grocer. You just need the yolks for this recipe. 
Marion's Kitchen is for everyone who finds joy in flavour and happiness in every bite. Marion's Kitchen is for everyone who finds joy in flavour and happiness in every bite.

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