Recipe: Shay Shay Tien's Pow

Steamed meat buns, called pow in Trinidad (an adaptation of the Chinese term bao) are a local favorite in Trinidad. It is widely agreed that the ones made at Shay Shay Tien, Trinidad's oldest Chinese restaurant, are the best. Owner Johnson "Chin" Achong shared the recipe when I was researching my cookbook. I like the flavor of hoisin and black bean sauces, but traditionally, char siu sauce is used, and you may do so here as well by simply substituting the char siu sauce for the amount of the hoisin and black bean sauces combined. To make miniature pow for an appetizer or starter, cut 6 pieces from each dough rope in step 5 and only use 1 rounded teaspoon of filling for each pow. Red food coloring is authentic for the look of the filling, but you can omit it. The recipe is adapted from my book Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago (Hippocrene 2010).

Shay Shay Tien's Pow i
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR
Shay Shay Tien's Pow
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR

Makes 20

For The Filling

3 cups water

2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt

1 star anise pod

3/4 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground anise

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon black bean sauce

1 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)

For The Dough

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup, plus 3 tablespoons (plus 1/2 teaspoon) sugar, divided

1/2 cup warm water (100 degrees)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg white

1 tablespoon vegetable shortening melted with 1 tablespoon hot water

20 (5-inch) squares waxed paper

For The Filling

Bring 3 cups of water, the salt and anise pod to a boil in a large pot. Add the pork and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove the pork, cool and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Discard the anise pod.

Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion and garlic and fry on medium-high until dark brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and discard. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the dark brown sugar to the oil and let it caramelize for 1 to 2 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the pork and stir well. Brown the pork on all sides, then add ground anise, hoisin sauce and black bean sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until nearly dry.

Add the red food coloring and mix well, so all the pieces of pork are evenly colored. Cook until totally dry. Remove from the heat and cool completely. (The meat may be made up to one day ahead and refrigerated.)

For The Dough

Place the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in a deep bowl and add the warm water. Set aside until foamy.

Combine the flour, baking powder and remaining sugar together in a bowl using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture, egg white and melted shortening. Mix at high speed for 4 minutes, then at the lowest speed for 6 minutes. The dough should be smooth and highly elastic. Test the dough by pressing it with your finger — it should spring back without leaving a mark.

Workers at Shay Shay Tien make pow, placing the meat filling onto discs of dough that will go in a steamer basket i
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR
Workers at Shay Shay Tien make pow, placing the meat filling onto discs of dough that will go in a steamer basket
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR

Flour a clean dry work surface. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. With your hands, roll the pieces of dough into ropes about 3 inches in diameter. Cut each rope into 5 pieces. Knead each piece for 30 seconds, then form into a ball. Set the dough balls on a floured surface.

Flatten one ball of dough into a 3-inch disc. Place a heaping tablespoon of the pork mixture in the middle of the disc. Gently pull the edges of the disc around the filling and pinch together to form a sac. Then gently twist the edges together and push down into the dough ball. The pow should be a smooth, round ball.

Place the filled pow, seam side down, on a square of waxed paper in a bamboo or metal steamer insert. (If you do not have a steamer, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Fill a large casserole dish or other oven–safe dish with 4 cups of water and place on the lowest rack of the oven. Arrange the pow on the cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Brush pow evenly with egg wash -– 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Bake until risen and lightly browned. Place in the oven on the middle rack.

Repeat until all the pow are filled. (Do not crowd the pow in the steamer tray; allow 2 inches of space around each pow. If you do not have a bamboo steamer with more than one tray, set some of the pow on waxed paper on a flat surface.) Allow the pow to rise until their diameter has doubled. If your kitchen is warm, this will occur by the time all the pow are separated and stuffed. If not, cover the steamer trays with damp towels and set aside in a warm place. Set the steamer trays in a wide pot with enough water to rise 1/4 of the way up the bottom tray, being careful that the water doesn't seep into the tray and touch the pow. Bring the water to a simmer and steam the pow for 15 minutes. Serve warm. (Pow can be reheated in a microwave for 45 seconds on high or in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.)

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