Siopao (Filipino Sweet Steamed Buns)

Siopao has to be one of my ultimate favourite Filipino snacks. It is essentially the Filipino adaptation of the Chinese barbecue pork bun (“char siu bao”). It consists of a sweet bread-like dough filled with a saucy barbecue or hoisin-style meat. The bun is steamed in a Chinese bamboo steamer resulting in a light and fluffy white bun that is slightly glossy on the outside.

Siopao (pronounced “sio-pau“) is a popular Filipino street food. It is typically filled with pork, although there are other variations with minced chicken and mixed meats and salted duck egg as fillings. In my version I use shredded chicken. Siopao can be enjoyed pretty much any time of the day – from breakfast to a heavy snack to a light lunch. In the Philippines it is often requested as a snack by kids on their way home from school. My fussy child absolutely loves to eat siopao when she gets home from school.

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Siopao Recipe

Makes: 10 buns
Preparation Time: 1 hour
Leavening Time: 2 hours
Cooking Time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS

For the buns:

  • 400 g plain flour
  • 70 g sugar
  • 7 g fast acting yeast
  • 0.5 tbsp baking powder
  • 160 ml milk lukewarm
  • 80 ml water lukewarm
  • 3 tbsp butter cubed and at room temperature

For the filling:

  • 625 g chicken diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 stalks spring onion white part finely chopped
  • 1.5 tsp five spice
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 0.5 cup water
  • corn flour slurry (2 tbsp corn flour mixed with 80 ml water)

Additional:

  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil for oiling the bowl and the dough
  • cornflour for flouring your work surface
  • half a small cup of water for sealing the buns
  • 10 flattened out cupcake cases
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar (used during steaming)

METHOD

  1. Prepare the dough for the buns. In a large bowl add the flour, sugar, yeast and baking powder and mix well.
  2. Add the milk and water and use a wooden spoon to start to bring the ingredients together into a dough.
  3. Mix in the butter and knead the dough using a dough hook for around 6 minutes or manually for about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the bowl and then add the dough back to the bowl. Turn the dough over to ensure it is slightly oiled all over.
  5. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave the dough to rise for around 90 minutes.
  6. Next prepare the filling. Sautee the garlic and spring onions for 3 minutes. Add in the chicken, five spice, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sugar, pepper and water. Simmer on a low-medium heat with the lid off until the sauce has reduced, around 15-20 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes to ensure that the sauce doesn’t dry out.
  7. Add the cornflour slurry and mix well until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat, use two forks to shred the meat, and then leave it to cool.
  8. Once the dough has risen divide it into 10 equal sized pieces. Use cornflour to flour your surface and roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls back in the bowl and cover with a damp clean tea towel.
  9. Working with one of the dough balls at a time roll the ball into a circle around 15 cm in diameter.
  10. Spoon some of the meat filling onto the centre of the dough circle. Dab your little finger into the water and moisten a 1 cm thick circle at the edge of the dough.
  11. Seal the bun by pulling opposite sides of the dough circle around the meat towards the centre of the circle and squeezing them together. I usually squeeze together eight opposing sides.
  12. You can then roll the bun in your hands slightly to even it out if needed. Place the bun seam side down on the cupcake case.
  13. Repeat steps 9 to 12 for each of the dough balls and until all the meat filling is used up. Place the buns on a large baking tray, cover loosely with cling film and then a tea towel and leave to leaven for a further 30 minutes.
  14. Next pour 1 litre of water and the tablespoon of vinegar into a deep frying pan or a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium heat. I use my favourite 28 cm Anolon Sauté Pan for this, click here for more details.
  15. Place the buns into a wooden steamer ensuring that there is 1-2 cm between each of the buns and the sides to allow them to expand as they cook. Steam the buns for 20 minutes. I use my BestCool Bamboo Steamer for this. It is a two tier steamer roughly 25 cm in diameter – one tier can comfortably hold two or three buns, so I steam the buns in two batches.
  16. Carefully remove the buns from the steamer and place them on a baking tray to cool for 5 minutes. Serve the buns while they are hot, remember to peel off the cupcake cases first.

NOTES

  • You can use either chicken breast or thigh fillets in this recipe. If you want a more even texture then use chicken breast as it is easier to shred. I personally prefer chicken thigh fillets as the meat is more succulent.
  • The vinegar is added to the steaming water to stop the buns from becoming overly yellow in colour as they are cooked.
  • These can be made as appetizers by dividing the dough and the filling by 20 to make smaller size buns. These are also more kid friendly.
  • Tip: To get even sized buns you can weigh the risen dough, divide the weight by 10 or 20 (or however many buns you wish to produce) and then make sure that each of the pieces of dough in step 8 are this weight. Similarly you can weigh out the filling too.

Spiced Fruit Babka

This treat is ideal for the festive season. Over the past few months I’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts from my foodie friends about babkas. A babka is a type of sweet brioche-style bread rolled up with a sweet filling. It originates from Jewish communities in Poland and the Ukraine. They particularly caught my eye due to the delicate marble effect of the bread and the filling when sliced. So I had a go at making my own using Nutella and then cinnamon sugar as the filling – they were delicious, and my family devoured them really quickly. I then thought about adding a Caribbean twist to the babka and came up with this recipe for Spiced Fruit Babka. It takes as the filling the key ingredients from the traditional Jamaican Black Cake: dried fruit soaked in rum, mixed spice and almond extract.

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Now, this recipe takes a little forward planning as the dried fruit has to be soaked in alcohol for at least two days in advance in order to get the correct flavour, but it is completely worth it. The result is a soft and airy, slightly sweet bread, enveloped around jam-like layers of moist spiced boozy fruit. Irresistible when freshly baked, and perfect for an afternoon tea on these cold days.


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Spiced Fruit Babka Recipe

Makes: 2 loaves
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Macerating Time: 2 days
Baking Time: 50 minutes

INGREDIENTS

for the bread:

  • 235 ml milk warmed (plus an additional 2 tbsp for egg wash)
  • 7 g fast action yeast
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 115 g unsalted butter cubed at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 530 g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 3 tbsp salted butter for spreading on the dough

for the filling:

  • 250 g dried fruits roughly chopped
  • 120 ml dark rum
  • 120 ml sweet sherry or port
  • 0.5 tsp mixed spice
  • 0.5 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 0.5 tsp almond extract
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD

  1. Start by macerating the fruit. In a non-reactive bowl add the chopped fruit, rum and sherry and mix well. Cover with cling film and leave to macerate for 2 days.
  2. Prepare the bread. Add the milk to a mixing bowl and mix in the yeast, sugar, butter one egg and one egg yolk. The mixture will look lumpy but don’t worry about this.
  3. Mix in the flour in one quarter at a time until a dough is formed. Knead until the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl. Ideally use a mixer with a dough hook, I would recommend the Kitchen Aid Hand Mixer, click here for more details.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the bowl, place the dough back in the bowl and turn it over so that all sides of the dough are oiled. Cover the bowl with cling film and place a tea towel on top. Leave the dough to rise for around 2 hours.
  5. In the meantime, add the mixed spice, almond extract and vanilla extract to the macerated fruits and stir well. Blend the fruit for around 2-3 minutes until a smooth paste is formed. I used my Nutribullet for this – click here for more details.
  6. Grease two 2lb (23 cm x 13 cm) loaf tins using cooking oil. Divide the risen dough into two and reserve one half covered in a bowl for later. I would recommend the MasterClass 2lb Loaf Tin, you can click here for more details on this tin.
  7. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is around 22 cm x 33 cm (just a little bigger than a sheet of A4 paper).
  8. Use a knife or your fingers to spread the salted butter on the top surface of the rolled out dough – take care not to pierce or tear the surface. Spread half of the spiced fruit mixture on top.
  9. Roll the dough along the long edge to form a log. It will be a bit messy, but don’t worry. Ensure that the seam is at the bottom of the log and cut the log in half along it’s length.
  10. Twist the two halves of the log together then place this in the oiled loaf tin.
  11. Repeat steps 8 to 10 with the other half of the dough.
  12. Allow both loaves to rest for around 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C fan (200 °C conventional oven)
  13. Make the egg wash by mixing the remaining egg white with 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash.
  14. Bake the loaves in the oven for 50-55 minutes until nicely browned.
  15. Remove the loaves from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes before removing them from the tins.

Filipino Garlic Fried Rice

This classic Filipino dish is known colloquially as “sinangag” and consists of rice that is fried with fresh garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper. It is usually eaten for breakfast in the Philippines and is often served with dishes such as fried eggs, corned beef or fried beef tapa. In my home we sometimes eat it in place of toast when we have a fry up (eggs, bacon, sausage and beans). However it can also be made as a dinner time side dish. This is a brilliant way of using up any left over rice you have – in fact it actually works better with day-old rice that has been stored in the fridge as it is firmer than freshly prepared rice, therefore the grains will tend to stay whole as they are fried. This is such an easy dish to make and is so full of flavour.

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Filipino Garlic Fried Rice Recipe

Serves: 6

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp light olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 600g cooked basmati rice
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 0.5 tsp salt

METHOD

  1. Add the oil to a wok or a heavy bottomed frying pan and heat using a medium heat.
  2. In the meantime use a large wooden spoon to break down the cooked rice and separate the grains.
  3. Add the garlic to the wok and stir for around 2-3 minutes until it is soft and is starting to go brown.
  4. Add the rice and the garlic powder, pepper and salt and stir four 5-6 minutes until the grains are tender.

NOTES

  • For a Filipino breakfast serve with fried eggs, beef tapa or fried corned beef and onions.
  • This is also perfect as a dinner side dish.

Filipino Beef Tapa

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Beef Tapa typically consists of pieces of lean beef marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, calamansi (a kumquat-mandarin orange hybrid fruit) juice, garlic and brown sugar, before being fried with onions. This dish is commonly eaten in the Philippines for breakfast along with garlic fried rice (sinangag) and fried egg (itlog). When all three are featured together in a meal it is known colloquially as “tapsilog”, a blend of the words “tapa”, “sinangag” and “itlog”. In my home we actually eat this as a dinner dish instead of breakfast.

The beef itself is tender a little tangy due to the calamansi in the marinade. It has that rich deep and savoury unami flavour from the soy sauce and the fried onions. Then there is the sweetness from the sugar which caramelises slightly in the frying process. It’s so tasty.

This dish is really easy to prepare, but needs a bit of organisation due to the long marinating time – marinating is a must! The calamansi juice for the marinade can also be difficult to obtain, so this can be substituted with lemon juice. I also include an additional step, which is to boil the marinated meat in water to tenderise it further, before frying. However, this is not a necessary step, I just prefer my meat to be a little more tender, also my fussy toddler is more likely to eat this dish if the meat is a little softer.


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Filipino Beef Tapa Recipe

Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Marinating Time: 8 hours to overnight

Cooking Time: 30 – 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 750 g beef steak strips
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed or grated
  • 4 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 15 ml calamansi juice (you can get this here) or juice of half a lemon
  • 120 ml reduced salt soy sauce
  • 1 and a half medium onions sliced
  • 450 ml water
  • 3 tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil

METHOD

  1. Place the beef in a non-metallic bowl. Add the garlic, brown sugar and calamansi juice and mix well. Add in the soy sauce and mix well again. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 8 hours or over night.
  2. Use a slotted spoon to drain the marinade from the meat.
  3. OPTIONAL: Place the meat in a tall frying pan or wok – I would recommend the Sky Light Wok Pan, it’s a versatile good quality wok, you can find out more about it here. Add the water and boil on a high heat until the water has evaporated. This takes around 20-25 minutes.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to a clean pan. Add the onions and fry on a medium high heat until soft and translucent. Set onions aside.
  5. Add the remaining oil to the same pan and fry the beef on a medium high heat for 7-10 minutes. Stir in the fried onions.

NOTES

  • Serve with garlic fried rice, fried egg and slices of fresh tomato for the classic Filipino tapsilog.
  • Sautéed mushrooms also work really well as a side for this dish.

Arroz Caldo

Arroz Caldo is a Filipino chicken and rice soup or rice porridge. In this dish the chicken is cooked with a sauteed onion, garlic and ginger base before adding in rice, fish sauce and chicken stock. When served the soup is garnished with a boiled egg, spring onion and crunchy toasted garlic. Additional fish sauce and calamansi (a type of citrus fruit that is a hybrid of a kumquat and an orange, native to the Philippines) are also normally at hand to bring the flavours out even more if desired.

In the Philippines this dish is typically eaten during the cooler rainy season days, sometimes as a breakfast dish. However, my mum makes this for my daughter and I when we’re feeling under the weather. It is the ultimate Filipino comfort food.

Some people make this with glutinous rice, but I use basmati rice. I’m not a huge fan of fish sauce so in my version I substitute this with oyster sauce. Calimansi is also difficult to find here in the UK, so I substitute this with lemon instead. For extra depth of flavour I marinade chicken thighs overnight in garlic powder and soy sauce, this gives the chicken a richer brown during the initial browning.


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Arroz Caldo Recipe

Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Marinating Time: 30 minutes – 12 hours
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kg skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp reduced salt soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed
  • thumb sized piece of ginger finely chopped
  • 1.5 l chicken stock
  • 200 g basmati rice
  • 1tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 stalks spring onion finely chopped for serving
  • lemon slices for serving
  • boiled eggs for serving
  • fish sauce or additional oyster sauce for serving

METHOD

  1. Marinade the chicken: Cut 2 slashes into each chicken thigh, add them all to a large bowl and combine with the garlic powder and soy sauce. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least half an hour or overnight.
  2. Toast the garlic: Add the oil and chopped garlic to a large saucepan. Put over a medium heat and stir as it all heats up. Cook garlic until golden brown. Pour into a metal sieve and place the sieve on a plate lined with kitchen roll to absorb the excess oil.
  3. In the same pan brown the chicken thighs in batches on a high heat for around 5 minutes per side. Then set aside.
  4. In the same pan fry onions on medium heat until soft. Add in the crushed garlic and the ginger and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  5. Add in a little stock and stir well to de-glaze the bottom of the pan. Then add remaining stock, rice and the chicken and stir well. Simmer for 25 mins.
  6. Serve in bowls topped with a boiled egg, spring onion and toasted garlic garnish and a slice of lemon.

NOTES

  • Yes, the fried garlic garnish is a bit of a faff (peeling garlic is so tedious), but it definitely makes this dish pop – the effort is so worth it.
  • Tip: when peeling the garlic slice off the hard end of the clove (where the cloves join together in the bulb) then place the clove under the handle of your knife. Press down firmly on the handle to very slightly crush the clove. This will loosen the skin and make it easier to peel off.

Saltfish Fritters

Saltfish fritters are a popular snack across the Caribbean, but growing up in the UK I’ve been more accustomed to having them at West Indian parties. They consist of dried salted white fish (usually cod) mixed up in a batter with onion and spices. They are normally shallow fried until brown and crispy on the outside and slightly soft in the centre. The salted fish gives it a unique flavour and texture. Although they are common to many of the Caribbean islands they go by different names. In Jamaica they are known colloquially as “stamp and go”, and in Barbados they take the moniker “Bajan bakes“, whereas in Dominica they are called “accra”. It is thought that they originate as an adaptation of the Ghanaian black eyed peas fritters known as akara or accara. Whatever you call them I’m sure you’ll agree on how deliciously more-ish they are.


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Salfish Fritters Recipe

Makes: Around 20 fritters

Preparation Time: 12 hours

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 360 g dried saltfish
  • 130 g plain flour
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp scotch bonnet pepper sauce
  • 0.5 tsp all purpose seasoning
  • 0.5 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 spring onion stalk finely chopped
  • 120 ml water
  • 60 ml vegetable oil for shallow frying

METHOD

  1. Rinse the dried saltfish under the cold water tap and place in a large bowl. Fill the bowl to the top with cold water. Cover with clingfilm and leave to soak overnight.
  2. Drain water then place the fish in a pan, fill with cold water. On a high heat bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Drain the water and when cool break the fish into small chunks.
  4. In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients apart from the oil (saltfish, flour, thyme, pepper sauce, all purpose seasoning, onion, spring onion and water) to form a thick batter.
  5. Put the oil in a deep frying pan and heat over a medium heat.
  6. Use one tablespoon to scoop the batter from the bowl and another tablespoon to push the batter gently into the hot oil. Fry the fish fritters for around 5 minutes each side until golden brown.
  7. Drain well on kitchen roll before serving.

NOTES

  • Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Ackee and Saltfish

Ackee and saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica. In Jamaica it is eaten as a breakfast dish, but I think it is perfect for any time of the day. Ackee is a fruit, and like in this dish, it is often cooked as a vegetable. When cooked it resembles and has the texture of scrambled eggs, but has a mild nutty and slightly sweet flavour. The saltfish is dried salted white fish, normally cod (but sometimes pollock or snapper), that has been soaked or boiled in water to rehydrate it and remove most of the salt it was preserved in to make it palatable. The preservation method definitely gives the saltfish a flavour that you cannot obtain from using fresh fish. When combined together the nutty sweetness of the ackee melds so well with the texture and flavour of the saltfish, and it’s so deliciously unique.

Ok, so by now if you were not already familiar with ackee and saltfish then you’re probably thinking of exploring the other parts of my blog or leaving my site completely, BUT PLEASE DON’T RUN AWAY! As exotic as ackee and saltfish seems, it is actually such an easy dish to cook. The ingredients can be found in the “World Foods” section in many of the larger UK supermarkets. And the flavour explosion you’ll have is definitely worth sticking around for.

Now, from my “About” page you may already know that I’m half Jamaican. I’m very proud of my Jamaican heritage, which is why I’d love to share a little bit more about the history and origin of this dish which is steeped in colonialism. I think ackee and saltfish is a perfect reflection of the history of the Jamaican people and is so fitting as a national dish.

Ackee is actually indigenous to West Africa and was brought over from Ghana to Jamaica in the eighteenth century. The fruit itself grows on trees and the closest thing I can liken it to in appearance is a sweet pepper (or bell pepper). As the fruit grows it changes colour from green, to red to orange and as it does this it splits open to reveal three black seeds, and this is how you know it is ripe and ready to be picked.

As for saltfish, this was introduced to the Caribbean in around the seventeenth century. It was brought over from North America in trade ships which would return from the Caribbean with delicacies of this era such as rum and sugar. The preservation method of the cod was ideal for preventing the fish from perishing during the long transatlantic journey. Due to the abundance of cod at the time saltfish was bought as an inexpensive source of protein for the enslaved people. It blows my mind to think about how people going through so much injustice, pain and sorrow could find the passion and creativity in their hearts to produce a dish as resplendent and flavoursome as ackee and saltfish. I’d like to imagine that when this dish was eaten it provided a moment of comfort and hope, even if it was just a fleeting moment.


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Ackee and Saltfish Recipe

Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 35-40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 250 g skinless and boneless salt fish
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 0.5 tsp dried thyme)
  • 3 spring onions (white and green part separated and finely chopped)
  • 2 tomatoes diced
  • 0.5 Scotch bonnet chilli finely diced
  • 4-5 pimento berries crushed
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 540 g tinned ackee (drained)

METHOD

  1. Hold the salt fish under the cold tap to rinse off the visible flakes/grains of salt. Then place in a medium sized saucepan.
  2. Cover the fish with cold water and bring the pan to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Use a fork to break off a small piece of and taste it to check the salt levels.
  4. If it is too salty then drain the water and repeat steps 2 and 3 until the salt level is just right for your taste. Remember, you want to remove most of the salt, but leave in just enough for the flavour.
  5. Once the salt level is to your taste drain the water and use two forks to break the fish into large chunks. Set aside for later.
  6. Next, preheat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan using a medium heat.
  7. Add in the onions, the white parts of the spring onion, chilli, pimento, and thyme and give them a good mix. Then add in the garlic.
  8. Once the onions have softened and are translucent add in the chopped tomatoes and stir for about 3 minutes.
  9. Stir in the salt fish and season with black pepper (and salt if you feel you have removed too much during the boiling of the salt fish).
  10. Add in the ackee. Gently use a wooden spoon to distribute the ackee evenly in the pan, but do not mix it as it is very soft and delicate and will start to break up. Cover the pan with the lid and leave to steam for five minutes. Garnish with the green part of the spring onion before serving.

NOTES

  • As I mentioned above, saltfish, ackee, pimento and the scotch bonnet pepper can normally be found in the larger supermarkets here in the UK. Head to the fruit and veg section for the scotch bonnet pepper. The ackee, saltfish and pimento should be found in the “World Foods” section. The ackee will be in a tin, the saltfish will be packaged in a plastic tray normally wrapped in a clear plastic film, and the pimento berries are normally packaged in a plastic tube.
  • Break the saltfish into large chunks around 2-3 cm long as it will break down further when cooking.
  • Tinned ackee is very soft and fragile (it is boiled first prior to being tinned) so always add it in last and do not stir heavily.
  • Serve with white rice, fried dumplings or hard food (a combination of boiled yam, green bananas and dumplings).