This recipe takes time, but it’ll be worth the wait for the tenderest sticky beef served in a soft Chinese-style steamed bun.
For the beef short rib
- 500g/1lb 2oz beef short ribs (bone in)
- 1 tbsp neutral oil (such as groundnut), for frying
- 250ml/9fl oz light soy sauce
- 100g/3½oz soft light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 spring onions
- 6 star anise
- 1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 tbsp cardamom pods
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 3 cloves
- 50g/1¾oz honey
- 100ml/3½fl oz Shoaxing rice
For the bao buns
- 1 tbsp neutral oil (such as groundnut)
- 1 tsp fast action dried yeast
- 50g/1¾oz plain flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling
- 125g/4½oz strong white bread flour, pasta flour or Chinese high gluten flour
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- black sesame seeds, to finish
For the pickled carrot and radish
- 125ml/4fl oz distilled white vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 tbsp flaked sea salt
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- ½ tsp crushed pink peppercorns
- 2 medium carrots, peeled into long, thin shreds
- 2 watermelon radishes, into long, thin shreds, or 100g/3½oz small radishes, thinly sliced
For the cucumber salad
- 1 tbsp Chinkiang black rice vinegar or rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp chilli oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 4 mini cucumbers (or 225g/8oz cucumber), cut into 15mm/⅝in chunks (see tip)
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- handful fresh coriander, leaves roughly chopped
- 4 tbsp peanuts, crushed in a pestle and mortar or food processor
- handful micro garlic chives
- Preheat the oven to 170C/150 Fan/Gas 3.
- To prepare the beef, put the short ribs and the oil in a medium flame-proof casserole and brown over a high heat for 3–4 minutes, turning 2–3 times. Add all the remaining ingredients and 300ml/10 fl oz water. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and put into the oven for 2½–3 hours, or until very tender. (Check after 2 hours and add a little extra water if necessary.)
- While the beef is cooking, prepare the bao buns. In a jug, mix 100ml/3½fl oz warm water and the oil.
- In a bowl, mix together the yeast, flours, sugar and baking powder. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Bring together to form a rough dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5–10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Put in a bowl and cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour.
- For the pickled carrot and radish, add the vinegar, salt, sugar and peppercorns to a small pan and heat gently until the sugar and salt dissolves. Leave to cool. Place the vegetables into the pickling. Leave to pickle for at least an hour, then drain well.
- Take the dough out of the bowl and divide into 4 portions. Roll each one into a ball and place on a tray lined with baking parchment, spacing well apart. Cover loosely with oiled cling film and leave to prove in a place for 45–60 minutes, or until well risen and puffy.
- Heat some water under a steamer and line with baking parchment. Make small holes in the parchment with a skewer to allow the steam to rise. Place one of the buns in the steamer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and steam for 10–12 minutes or until firm and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining buns. Slice all the buns carefully in half using a serrated bread.
- While the buns are cooking, prepare the salad, mix the rice vinegar, soy sauce, chilli oil, sesame oil and sugar. Toss the cucumbers in the dressing and leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds just before serving.
- To serve, drain the hot beef, place on a board and shred with two forks. Fill the bao buns with the shredded beef, drizzle with a little of the cooking liquor and top with pickled carrot and radish. Serve with the cucumber salad, fresh coriander, peanuts and micro garlic chives.