One of my favorite places to find recipes is Joanne Choi’s Week of Menus website. That’s where I found a nice recipe for Minced Chicken with Pinenuts served with Shao Bing, something like a Chinese sesame pita bread. The chicken is prepared in a Shanghainese style with ginger, oyster sauce, and water chestnuts. The Shao Bing, something that you can buy ready-to-bake in the US, was an unfamiliar bread I would have to make from scratch since I am here in Thailand.
The Shao Bing was a bit of a mystery. Examples of it on the internet varied both in size, shape, and even technique. I pulled three different recipes from presumably reputable sources, compared them, and decided to try the one from Ming Tsai on the Food Network. After all, he’s Ming Tsai, so how could I go wrong?
The ingredients are pretty basic: vegetable oil, flour, yeast, baking powder, water, sugar, sesame seeds, and salt and white pepper.
You basically make three components to the dough: the first is a roux, a mixture of equal parts oil and flour, heated until the mixture thickens a bit. The second is a sponge, a relatively wet mixture of flour, yeast, sugar, baking powder, and warm water, which is allowed to sit and begin to rise. The third is a dry dough, a combination of just water and flour.
After letting the sponge rise and the dough rest, you combine them and knead until completely integrated. After another rest, you roll the dough out to about 1/16-1/8th of an inch. The oil-flour roux is spread on the surface of the dough. Despite following the recipe carefully, I found the roux was too runny – I’m not sure why this happened but it proved to be problematic.
Roll the dough into one-inch thickness, then cut into four-inch lengths. You can see that the roux was running out the ends. The subsequent instructions involve sealing the ends, rolling the dough thinner, folding it into thirds, basically creating what amounts to a typical pastry dough with alternating layers of dough and fat. The instructions for doing this confused me. Take a look:
Place 1 of the rolls seam-side up and seal the end using a small rolling pin (this will prevent the oil paste from escaping). Fold the roll into thirds, so that the seam is covered. Then roll this tripled roll into a flat dough about 5-inches by 2-inches. Fold this piece into thirds. The stack should be about 2 by 3/4 inches thick. Flip the piece over so that the seam and fold are on the bottom. Cover and set aside. Repeat the process for the remaining rolls.
I did the best I could, but wound up with roux everywhere and too much flour on the dough. I sprayed one side of the dough with water and pressed it into the sesame seeds. These were baked in a 350 F oven for about ten minutes on the bottom side, then flipped over for another five minutes.
The interior of the resulting Shao Bing looked like this, with distinct layers. The flavor was too floury and it was difficult to really open them like pita pockets. Maybe too many layers? After this meal, I tried cooking a leftover bread in a toaster and spreading it with peanut butter. Worked out much better then!
The second half of the dish was the filling you are meant to stuff into the pockets. The original recipe calls for chicken but I used a mixture of chicken and pork for more flavor. Instead of coarsely chopping whole pieces of meat, I used ground meat. It was marinated in a mixture of garlic, ginger, sake (substituted for Shao Xing wine), and soy sauce.
The other ingredients are a mixture of chopped celery and water chestnuts, pine nuts, and a sauce composed of more Shao Xing wine (or sake), oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
The meat is fried, then the celery and water chestnuts are added, then the sauce is added. Add the pine nuts when the mixture is finished. That’s all it takes.
For the final result, serve the Shao Bing with the minced meat mixture, stuffing it into the bread like you would with a pita. The dish was tasty, although the Shao Bing was a bit floury. In absence of the bread, you could actually use lettuce cups, which would be very nice, indeed.
I’ll need to try a different recipe for Shao Bing and see what the results are. The other two recipes I have for Shao Bing have different ratios of oil to flour for the roux. This recipe I used was 1:1 and the result was too thin. Another recipe is 3:2, which would be thinner. The final recipe, the one I think I will try next time, is 1:4. Amazing how different they are, no?