My husband is renowned for many things: His writing; his editing; his analytical skills …

… and his Chinese cooking.

When he worked in North Carolina, he entertained the newspaper staff once a year with a Chinese dinner party. Once we married, he continued the tradition, stir-frying and steaming for a dozen-plus guests every February. Using Gloria Bley Miller’s “The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook” as his guide, he turned out gorgeous platters of beef, fish, chicken and pork dishes while I kept the wine glasses and rice bowls full.

As the years progressed, I began adding a few appetizers and desserts to the mix. By no means authentic, they fit the general theme: Green tea cheesecakes; shrimp & snow pea skewers; steamed wontons.

bun dinnerWe haven’t had a Chinese dinner party in awhile. But the next time we do, these pork buns will be on the menu: Chewy, spicy, filling bundles of thin yeast dough rolled around ground pork and thinly sliced scallions and served with a spicy dip of soy sauce, chili garlic sauce and rice vinegar. The dough — which takes less than 5 minutes to pull together — can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. The rest of the dish goes from ingredient list to dinner table in about 20 minutes.

This was the perfect dish for a snowy February night.

No party required.

Spicy Pork & Scallion Buns

The original recipe, which appeared in February 21’s edition of “The Wall Street Journal,” calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour. I used a mix of all-purpose and whole-wheat flours to add some texture and nuttiness to the dough. I also tinkered with the sauce, which worked well, and the cooking pan, which did not. You must use a nonstick pan for these buns; otherwise, their bottoms glom onto the bottom of whatever you’re cooking them in and create quite a cleanup mess (which my husband happily tackled).

For dough:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional … the original recipe doesn’t call for it, but we found the dough a little bland without it)
  • 3/4 cup warm water

For filling:

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
  • 3 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower, grapeseed or canola oil

For sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar

For the dough: In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the flours, yeast, baking powder, sugar and salt, if using. Add the warm water and stir together with a fork, until you have a shaggy dough:

bun dough

Using your hands or the mixer’s dough hook, knead for 1 minute, until the dough comes together into a smooth ball:

bun dough together

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot. Let the dough rise for 2 hours. Proceed with the recipe, or place the dough in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. (If you refrigerate, let the dough sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.)

For the filling: Place the pork, the five-spice powder, the soy sauce and the chili-garlic sauce in a saute pan. Brown the meat over medium heat until thoroughly cooked. Using a slotted spoon, move it to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12- by 16-inch rectangle. (The dough will be about 1/4-inch thick.) Place the meat on the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle the scallions on top of the meat:

bun filling

Starting at one long side, roll the dough up over the filling into a log. Pinch the ends together, then slice the log into 8 equal portions:

bun cut1

Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s shimmering, place the rolls in the pan, seam-side down.

Saute for 1 minute, then carefully add 1/2 cup of water, making sure not to pour the liquid over the buns. Place a tight-fitting lid on the skillet and steam for 7 minutes.

Add another 1/2 cup of water to the pan, replace the lid, and steam another 7 minutes, making sure the liquid doesn’t completely evaporate. (Add more water if you need to.)

Remove the skillet’s lid and check the buns. They should be glossy and springy to the touch. You’re going to think they’re still raw; they aren’t. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

As the buns finish cooking, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Taste and add more rice vinegar if desired.

Remove the cooked buns to a plate. Serve with the sauce and simple stir-fried vegetables.

bun dinner

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