Every home cook needs a go to San Choy Bau Recipe. Or should that be a Sang Choi Bow Recipe or perhaps it’s a Sang Choy Bao Recipe? I really don’t know how it’s spelt. It seems that Google isn’t entirely certain of the correct spelling either. According to Wiktionary, there are 18 variations on how to spell the much-loved dish, which seems somewhat ironic given that San Choy Bau is one of the most recognisable menu items in any Chinese restaurant.
San Choy Bau Recipe Origins
So where did the recipe for San Choy Bau originate? Again, there’s not much clear information on the world wide Internet about that either. And unfortunately I don’t have any Chinese foodie friends on hand to ask. Some articles I uncovered in the back pages of Google say that San Choy Bau has Cantonese origins, which makes pretty good sense. For in Cantonese, the words ‘Sang Choi’ translate as lettuce and the word ‘Bao’ means to wrap. So the dish we know and love as San Choy Bau, which is comprised of meat and vegetables wrapped in crispy lettuce cups totally fits.
San Choy Bau Ingredients
There are several key ingredients in any San Choy Bau Recipe.
It starts with lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is the de rigueur for its crispy crunch. Individual lettuce leaves are trimmed with kitchen scissors into neat, round cups to use as a vessel for wrapping for the cooked filling.
The San Choy Bau Recipe filling usually calls for pork or chicken mince, but I have seen variations using duck (OMG!) and even mushrooms for a vegetarian option. The flavour base for the mince begins with garlic and ginger and classic Chinese sauces like Oyster and Soy are added to create a sweet and savoury sauce that loosely binds the filling.
Any decent San Choy Bau recipe will include an element of texture as well. This texture could be from the addition of chopped water chestnuts to the mince or from an added garnish like roasted and crushed peanuts or cashews.
My San Choy Bau Recipe
My San Choy Bau recipe sticks with the classic traditions but with a few tweaks.
As you can see from the photos I used variegated lettuce leaves. But this was purely for reasons of vanity so that the photo looked ‘prettier’. Trust me when I say that they were completely useless for wrapping the filling. Iceberg lettuce is definitely the best option or you could even wrap the filling in rice paper wrappers
I sweetened my recipe slightly with the use of kecap manis and caster sugar. But to bring some balance to the San Choy Bau I also added lime juice for a real sweet and sour contrast.
The crunch in my recipe is from roasted, crushed peanuts, which I salted slightly. I also added some pickled carrot for colour, flavour and more texture.
- 500g pork mince
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1/4 cup oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons kecap manis
- 1/2 tablespoon caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 small iceberg lettuce
- 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, lightly roasted with salt
- pickled carrots
- coriander leaves
- fried shallots
- Heat the peanut oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork mince, garlic and ginger to the wok and cook through. Drain off any liquid to ensure the mince is quite dry.
- In a small bowl combine the oyster sauce, kecap manis, caster sugar, lime juice and sesame oil. Add two-thirds of the sauce to the pork mince and stir through for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove the wok from the heat and allow the mince to cool slightly.
- In a small, dry fry pan, toast the peanuts and set aside to cool.
- Wash, dry and trim your lettuce leaves and lay them out on a tray or patter. Divide the mince mixture among the lettuce cups.
- Top each San Choy Bau with pickled carrot, coriander leaves, roasted peanuts and fried shallots. Spoon over the remaining sauce.
- To make the pickled carrot, mix 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup white vinegar in a non-reactive bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Finely julienne 1 carrot and add to the pickling mixture. Allow to sit for at least half an hour before using.