Whether you’re eating bao, siopao, or regular hamburger buns, getting the perfect texture can only be achieved with a steamer. Or can it? The truth is, there is more than one way to steam a bun, and some get results that are just as good.
You can steam buns in the microwave or with a standard kitchen sieve. You can also deep fry them or bake them for equally tasty results. Learn more about all of these bun cooking methods below.
In the Microwave
The microwave is the fastest and most delicious way to steam a bun on short notice. Just follow the instructions below, and you’ll have a steamed snack in no time.
1. Wrap in a wet paper towel.
The key to this method is to keep your bun moist, so the heat from the microwave doesn’t dry it out and spoil its soft texture. This is accomplished with a wet paper towel.
Take a square about one foot long and one foot wide and dampen it with warm water from your sink. Then, squeeze out the excess water. Don’t squeeze too hard, as you will want to spread the towel back out again once it’s moist.
When it’s ready, wrap the bun with the moistened towel so that it is fully enclosed and place it on a microwave-safe plate.
Microwave your bun on medium power for one minute. It is important to cook for only short intervals at a time to keep the bun heated evenly. Overcooked buns will develop hard, tough patches that aren’t appetizing.
3. Check it for doneness.
After one minute, squeeze gently to test for softness. Be careful, as the bun may be hot at this stage. If it still feels hard or cold, microwave it for another 30 seconds. Otherwise, you can serve it immediately.
With a Sieve
If you have the right equipment on hand, you can actually build your own steamer to use in a pinch. It works just as well as a regular steamer, though it takes a bit more effort to set up. To start, you need a sieve or colander, parchment paper, a pan large enough to hold the sieve, and a lid for the boiling pan.
Start by filling your large pan with a few inches of warm water and placing your sieve in the pan. Make sure the water does not rise above the lowest point of your pan. Otherwise, your food will get soggy. Ideally, your large pan will be deep enough to contain the sieve, but if not, you can work around this.
2. Position food.
With your pan and sieve in place, position your food in the sieve. You’ll want to use parchment paper, large lettuce leaves, or something similar to keep the buns from sticking. Also, make sure that your buns aren’t touching, or they will stick together.
When your food is fully loaded, it’s time to make an airtight seal, so it steams properly. If you have a large enough pan, simply placing the lid on top will do the trick. Otherwise, you can use a wet kitchen towel to cover it, as long as you keep it far away from the flame.
With your improvised steamer fully assembled, you can now steam your buns. Turn your burner to the highest setting and cook for ten minutes before checking the buns. Make sure not to raise the lid during this time, or you will let the steam escape, ruining the cooking process.
If you’re looking to try something a bit different with your buns, steaming them could be a good option. It’s a great choice for those that are smooth, like bao, but less so for those with a softer, porous texture, like hamburger buns, as they absorb the oil like a sponge.
1. Heat Oil.
Start by heating some oil in a pan big enough to submerge your buns fully. You’ll want to use an oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable, canola, or peanut oil. Next, heat over a high flame with a frying thermometer until the thermometer reads 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can start cooking your buns when the oil is up to temperature. Make sure to lower them gently into the oil to avoid splashing. You will also want to clean them of any ice crystals or other moisture, as this will make the oil pop.
Don’t overfill your oil. Your buns should have enough room to stay fully submerged without crowding each other.
3. Turn While Cooking.
As the buns fry, you’ll want to turn them to make sure they cook evenly on all sides. Once they are medium brown across their entire surface, you can remove them from the oil and place them on a paper towel to absorb the excess grease.
Serve immediately for a crisp and chewy snack.
In the Oven
While most people think of the stovetop when steaming, the oven can actually serve as one giant steamer. The key is to set up a few common pieces of kitchen equipment correctly. All you need is a foil pie tin, a boiling pan with a lid, and some parchment paper.
1. Set Up Your Steamer.
Start by cutting a circular piece of parchment paper the same size as the base of your baking tin. Then, place the paper on the bottom of the tin, and poke a dozen evenly-spaced holes through the paper and the foil. It may not look like much now, but this is the base of your steamer.
2. Pour Water and Place Food.
Now, fill your pan with a few inches of water and place the steamer inside, with the food on top. Then cover and place the whole thing in the oven.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, and check for softness when done.