Char Siu Bao – Portuguese Pulled Pork Version

Being american, I obviously love pulled pork. For this recipe I used a pressure cooker, which is common in many portuguese kitchens. Nowadays, not many people use it, maybe because they are afraid of them, a few cooks also say it takes away flavor. In my opinion, I think it is a very interesting physics experience. To use a pressure cooker means to make slow food cook fast. Obviously this is not the answer to all of your cooking laziness, not everything can be cooked in it, nor will every meal resemble a slow hour after hour flavor developed feast. There are a few tricks I use and are very useful, also a few negative effects on using this cooking method without choosing the right ingredients and/or time/temperature relation.

So, what does a pressure cooker do? By inducing high temperatures in a trapped environment, steam is trapped and food will overlaps water’s boiling point (100ºC). Any tough connective tissue will be easily tenderized in a short period of time. This is good, but doesn’t allow for flavor development. Don’t get me wrong, it will be yummy (if you use the right ingredients and/or seasonings) but a 30 minute meal compared to a four hour meal will have a different outcome. Also, low temperatures allow for less flavor and moisture loss. You might be thinking now – so why is Mel doing a pressure cooker recipe in the first place? Well, because in many cases it can be a life saver, like when you have little time to cook, whenever you feel like eating a tender piece of pork, or just experiment and apply some physics knowledge into a recipe.

Basically, this idea just came about when cleaning the freezer. Found a huge hunk of pork, that was desperately in need of being cooked. So, here is what I did to it:

  1. Marinated palm sized pieces of pork shoulder (for 1 hour) in: red wine, garlic, bay leaf, red wine vinagre, freshly ground pepper, rosemary, pimentão doce (PT version of paprika) and salt;
  2. Heat the pressure cooker with extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat on each side (depending on how much meat you use, you might have to do this in turns, just remember to not overload the pan as it won’t fry the meat, it will just steam, and you don’t want that – yet).
  3. Add a bit more olive oil and fry some thinly sliced onions and shallots, and smashed whole cloves of garlic (the skin gives out great flavor);
  4. Add in the previously seared meat, the marinade, chopped plump tomatoes (without the skin) and just enough water so about one centimeter of the meat is sticking out.
  5. Cover the pan, don’t forget to attach the nozzle. Bring the heat up to high, when the nozzle starts to spit out vapor and spin, set the heat to medium (you don’t want it frantically spinning) and time 25 minutes.

Here is the thing about timing whatever you are about to cook in the pressure cooker: it has to be just the right amount of time, and if in doubt, set less time, because if you overcook it, there is no turning back. If it is undercooked, you can try out a few more minutes till perfection is achieved.

For safety precautions, turn the stove off, and let the pan set until the nozzle stops whistling. By then, remove the nozzle with a heat proof mitten or tea towel and let the rest of the steam escape. After two minutes, it’s safe to remove the lid, and don’t put your arms or hands above the part you are removing, as the concoction is pretty hot, and wether you are or not sensitive to heat, just stay as safe as you can and keep body parts out of the way!

This was how I made a quick version of a pulled pork, portuguese style, with plenty of sauce. Always rectify seasonings, as this is not one of those try it as you cook it type of meals. If you think it should cook a bit longer for added flavor, so be it. This technique is basically a handicap for tenderizing food, it is a jumpstart that you can use in various ocasions. Prelonging cooking time after, without the pressure, is perfectly normal and acceptable.

You can also use the pressure cooker for beans, chickpeas, any dried legume that takes generally a long time to soak in water, or even potatoes which will cook in less than 10 minutes. You can find many charts online, that can aid you in cooking whichever ingredient you want.

closed char siu bao

Now, for the dough:


  • 400 grams all-purpose flour
  • 5 grams dry yeast
  • 7 grams baking powder
  • 30 ml peanut oil
  • 250 ml cup warm water

Procedure: Mix the yeast, sugar and warm water with two tablespoons of flour, let set covered for at least five minutes. Add this mix plus the oil to the flour. Knead the bread by hand or with the help of a stand mixer swirl paddle, between 7-12 minutes until it is smooth and non-stick to the touch. Let set in a oiled bowl, covered with a moist towel, for about two hours or until doubled in volume. Make a hole in the middle of the dough and add the baking powder, mix well and let set yet again in the fridge overnight or at least another couple of hours.

many char siu bao

char siu bao filling

Here is the pulled pork ready to be packed into a pillowie piece of dough.

char siu bao filled

char siu bao in steemers

The original recipe requires a steaming basket, this one I used has two levels, which can be great for large quantities of for steaming two different things at once. As this was my first time making a Char Siu Bao replica, I decided to also cook part of the batch in the oven, and the differences in both versions were outstandingly delicious.

char siu bio oven version

Here is the oven baked version: crispier exterior, browned because of the high temperatures and Maillard Reaction. Downside – the filling dried out more, while the steamed buns maintained a very moist and juicy filling.

oven vs steamed

On the left – steamed. On the right – baked.

The steamed ones turned out to be my favorite, mainly because the interior kept so saucy, and the dough turned out extremely soft.

steamed char siu bao

The steamed.

oven baked version

The baked.

steamed char siu bao bitten

The bite.

3 thoughts on “Char Siu Bao – Portuguese Pulled Pork Version

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