These sticky buns elude traditional, ethnic qualification. In the spirit of David Chang, a culinary dynamo with an innovative and eccentric style, I sought to expand my culinary horizons while demonstrating how to cook fun food for a crowd. Sure to please, the buns are tangy, sweet and savory. The pickled mustard seed and cucumber sauce and sriracha are perfect accompaniments to this modern, culturally ambiguous take on a Chinese chicken sandwich.
This recipe does take a few hours, but there is a significant amount of down time that makes this perfect for ADHD individuals like myself. It lends itself to multitasking and entertaining a crowd, after the grunt work is finished. The recipe scales well, too! Plan on 3-6 buns per person, depending on whether they are being served as hors d’oeuvres or an entree. The flexible nature of sandwiches allows for multiple variations. For instance, the cucumber mustard sauce can be replaced with tahini or hummus, hollandaise or a rich salsa. The buns and chicken are both neutrally seasoned, leaving ample room for creativity. The following is sure to be a hit at your next party, pre-festival, big game, or light dinner for two (the buns freeze exceptionally well).
2lbs chicken breast
2 1/2c. Bread flour + additional for dredging
1 1/2tbs. nonfat evaporated milk powder
1/3c. Coconut oil, butter or rendered pork fat
2 1/2tsp. Dry active yeast
1/2c. white wine or equal parts water and rice wine vinegar
1c rice wine vinegar
4tbs. sugar (I prefer palm sugar)
3tbs. Dijon mustard
1tbs. hot Chinese mustard
1/2 large cucumber
6tbs. yellow mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
First things first, making dough for the buns. The following proportions are for 18-25 buns comparable in size to tea sandwiches.
2 1/4c. bread flour
1 1/2 tbs. nonfat evaporated milk powder
3/4c. room temperature water
2tbs. + 2tsp. butter, coconut oil, or rendered pork fat at room temperature
2 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
1/4tsp. each baking powder and soda
1/4tsp. each salt and black pepper
White wine as needed to moisten the dough
In a small bowl, combine the water and yeast. Next, in the bowl a large mixer, or large mixing bowl if kneading by hand, combine the flour, milk powder, salt, pepper and fat. Work the fat into the flour with a large serving fork or similar utensil until it becomes grainy, then stir to insure even distribution. Next, create a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and add the yeast and water mix. On medium-low with a mixer, or vigorously with a whisk, then hands once the whisk is ineffective, knead the dough mixture for 8-10 minutes. The dough should ball up and stick to the mixer’s arm. It shouldn’t be too tacky, and if it doesn’t come into a ball, simply add white wine 1tbs. at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.
When your dough is just right, oil a mixing bowl, place the dough inside and cover with a dry kitchen towel. Place the bowl in the warmest part of your kitchen (inside the oven with the pilot light on is ideal) and let it rest until the dough has doubled in size; 60-90minutes. During this time, cut 40 3x3in. squares of parchment or wax paper and move ahead.
While the dough is proofing, it is a good time to make the pickled mustard seeds and cucumbers for the sauce.
1c. Rice wine vinegar
1tbs. Sea salt
6tbs. Yellow mustard seeds
Combine the above ingredients in a small sauce pot and bring to a light, almost imperceptible simmer for 45 minutes. Check occasionally to insure the mustard seeds are covered, and add water in small amounts if necessary. The final product can be filtered through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth and leftovers can be refrigerated for months. While the seeds are simmering, cut 1/2 a large cucumber in 1/2 lengthwise. Cut into almost paper thin slices and place in a mason jar. After the mustard seeds are done, strain the hot liquid and pour over the cucumber slices. Allow to rest at least 15 minutes.
Pickled cucumber and mustard seed sauce:
3tbs. Pickled mustard seeds
3tbs. Dijon mustard
1tbs. Chinese hot mustard
1/2c. Pickled cucumber
1/4c. White wine or 2tbs. Each water and rice vinegar
1tbs. heaping Minced cilantro
Black pepper to taste.
Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine.
In a large Tupperware container, place chicken breasts, 1tbs. sugar and 2tsp. sea salt inside, cover, and shake vigorously for 30-40 seconds. If it helps, do a little dance in anticipation of some awesome grub! When the chicken is evenly coated, let it hang out until your doughballs have been rolled and are proofing.
It’s now time to divvy up the dough! Ideally, each doughball should be roughly golf ball sized. Simply pinch off pieces and roll them into little balls of roughly equal size. You should end up with 18-25 balls to be flattened and rolled into 4-5″ ovals with a rolling pin. Coat a chopstick or the stem of a fork with coconut oil, place in the middle of each oval and fold the dough on itself to make the bun shape. Place on the paper squares and let rest for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and a skillet directly between medium-medium high heat, then add 2 tsp. coconut oil to the pan. While the oil is melting and coming to a shimmer, dredge your chicken breasts in flour in a shallow bowl. It is important to work flour into the breast well, then shake the excess. The flour serves as a protective barrier for the easily burned sugar, and produces a lovely golden brown finished product. Being careful not to crowd the pan, sear breasts for 3 minutes on both sides and bake for 6 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, and dice into small cubes.
In batches, steam the buns for 10 minutes and set aside to be filled and dressed. While your next batch is steaming, cut a few leaves of Bibb lettuce into small strips. Slather mustard seed sauce onto opened buns, add your chicken, then lettuce. Serve with sriracha and additional mustard sauce on the side. Enjoy your sticky buns!