Chinese Bao Board

published Jan 19, 2023
Chinese Bao Board Recipe

What is a Chinese bao board, you ask? It basically deconstructs the delicious buns found at Chinese bakeries and dim sum restaurants, making it perfect for parties and gatherings.

Serves8 to 10

Makes30 buns

Prep30 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook10 minutes to 20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Bao board
Credit: Photo: Linda Xiao; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

One of the things my Cantonese family would order at restaurants on special occasions was roasted duck. It would be carved up on a platter and surrounded by fluffy steamed bun pockets. Each person would smear some hoisin sauce into the bun, fill it with crispy duck skin and meat, then top it all off with some cilantro and cucumbers. It was sweet, savory, comforting, and fun to assemble — especially when I was a kid.

I’ve built many a charcuterie board for work and for parties, and it finally dawned on me a few years ago: Why not a Chinese bao board? Inspired by the roast duck platter, a bao board basically deconstructs the elements in the delicious buns found at Chinese bakeries and dim sum restaurants and presents it on a board, making them perfect for parties and gatherings. 

Credit: Photo: Linda Xiao; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

After a lot of time dreaming about what it would look and taste like, I made a list and went shopping in Chinatown for the ingredients, including Cantonese roasted meats and pre-made sauces (although you can certainly make a lot of elements yourself if you aren’t near Chinese grocers). Next, I used the doughs from cha siu baos and pineapple buns to make slider-sized milk bread and steamed buns. I finally assembled a board loaded with sauces and fresh garnishes and the bao board became reality. Friends and family went wild for it, and I plan to make it a regular occasion — especially around Lunar New Year when it’s time to feast and celebrate.

Credit: Photo: Linda Xiao, Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

What You Need for a Chinese Bao Board

Here are all the categories of foods you’ll need to make a bao board.

Buns

This is the only homemade thing that you should make, as nothing beats fresh buns! Make both baked milk bread buns and Chinese steamed buns. I recommend making them a day or two ahead to spread out the prep. You only need to reheat the steamed buns when ready to serve; the baked buns can be room-temperature.

Proteins (3 to 4)

For ease of preparation and to support a local business, I recommend picking up Chinese roasted meats from your local Chinese restaurant or takeout deli. Aim for about 3 pounds of bone-in meat, or 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless meats. Get a range of already-prepared meats, such as the following:

  • Cha siu (sweet roasted pork or pork belly)
  • Crispy-skinned roasted pork (also known as siu yuk in Cantonese)
  • Steamed chicken or soy sauce chicken
  • Roasted duck

Other easy protein options you can cook at home are as follows:

Garnishes (at least 4)

Next come garnishes, which add freshness and texture. I highly recommend getting the first three on the list, adding more, if you can, from there.

  • Scallions
  • Cucumbers
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Chinese pickled mustard greens
  • Fried shallots or French’s fried onions
  • Chopped roasted peanuts

Sauces (2 to 3)

A sauce really ties things together and brings some moisture to the little sandwiches. Get a range of sweet and spicy sauces to appeal to a wide range of tastes. You can go homemade or just buy most of these at a well-stocked Asian grocery store.

A Few Tips for Making a Chinese Bao Board

  1. Spread out the prep. Make the buns ahead of time so that you’re just reheating before assembling the bao board.
  2. Buy bone-in meat. I prefer to buy the meat bone-in and in one piece so that it doesn’t dry out. When I’m ready to serve, I cut the meat off the bone in big chunks and reheat in the oven or in the steamer before slicing. 
  3. Cut crispy pork upside down. If you are using crispy-skinned roast pork, cut it skin-side down so that you can cut through the crisp skin easily and keep it from separating too much from the meat.
  4. Don’t crowd the board with buns. Yes, this is a bao board, but the best part visually is seeing all the fillings. Just place a few buns around the board and serve the remaining on the side.
  5. Serve the steamed buns warm. Cold or room-temperature steamed buns tend to be dense and can dry out. They reheat quickly in a steamer, so just replenish the board as needed or serve them straight from the steamer.

Chinese Bao Board Recipe

What is a Chinese bao board, you ask? It basically deconstructs the delicious buns found at Chinese bakeries and dim sum restaurants, making it perfect for parties and gatherings.

Prep time 30 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes to 20 minutes

Makes 30 buns

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

Buns:

Proteins (3 to 4, total of 3 pounds bone-in or 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless meat, preferably uncut):

Garnishes (at least 4):

  • Scallions

  • Cucumbers

  • Fresh cilantro

  • Chinese pickled mustard greens

  • Fried shallots or French-fried onions

  • Chopped roasted peanuts

Sauces (2 to 3):

Instructions

  1. If the proteins and steamed buns need to be warmed up or resteamed, heat the oven to 325ºF and prepare a steamer. Place the proteins that need to be reheated in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet (if the meat is whole and bone-in, cut large sections of the meat off the bone first). Bake until warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes. Gently steam Chinese sausages or steamed chicken for 10 minutes if needed. Reheat a few steamed buns in the steamer for 3 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, cut up the garnishes: Thinly slice cucumbers into half-moons or cut into matchsticks. Cut scallions crosswise into 2-inch pieces, then cut lengthwise into thin threads. Trim fresh cilantro into pieces that will fit neatly in the buns. Coarsely chop Chinese pickled mustard greens.

  3. Use a rimmed baking sheet or large platter or serving board that’s about the same size. Lay all the ingredients out on the work surface, then arrange the ingredients on the board in this order:

    • Place sauces and garnishes that would be served with a spoon or are very wet (like the mustard greens) in very small bowls. Place on the board, spacing them out.
    • Split milk bread buns in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Place 3 to 4 milk bread buns and 3 to 4 steamed buns on the platter, stacking them slightly askew. Place the remaining milk bread buns in a basket or on a plate next to the board. Keep the remaining steamed buns warm in a steamer or warm and replenish as needed.
    • Cut the proteins crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices (trim tofu to fit buns if needed). Cut Chinese sausages crosswise on a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces. Shingle and arrange the proteins on the board, piling them as needed but not overcrowding (you probably won’t fit all the protein - the remaining can be used to replenish the board as needed).
    • Fill in the last gaps on the board with the cucumbers, cilantro, and scallions.
    • Add small spoons or spreading knives to the bowls of sauces and garnishes.
    • Place a small plate of warm steamed buns next to the board right before serving.
  4. Replenish with the sauces, garnishes, and more warmed steamed buns as needed.

Recipe Notes

Bun substitutes: The milk bread buns can be substituted with Hawaiian rolls and frozen steamed buns can be substituted for the homemade.

Make ahead: The steamed buns can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The baked buns can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. The cucumber, scallions, and cilantro can be cut up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated in separate airtight containers.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.