12 April 2015

I Like Moose Buns and I Cannot Lie

You don't have to braise all the indecipherable cuts of moose from the freezer.  Get your steamers ready, folks.

Steamed moose buns are a great bit of Canadian-Asian fusion to help us through the terrible Newfoundland season of winter-spring (@littleredchicken #StealingYourBonMots).  Great lunch or appetizer.  Even breakfast, why not?

Fefe's Steamed Moose Buns

inspired by The Woks of Life; dough adapted from AmyBites

This is a two day project.  Or an all day project.  Whichever way, it is time consuming. HOWEVER, you will end up making a massive supply of buns for your freezer.  The effort you put in up front will pay itself back in gold when you are wandering around the kitchen complaining that there's no food, only ingredients... but then you remember the moose buns.  In almost no time at all you'll be having the best lunch in town.

for the filling

The cat is generally less concerned about what cut this is.
1-1/2 lbs moose* (to yield a little more than 1-1/4 lbs after cleaning)
1-1/2 tbsp + 1 tbsp lard 
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp five spice powder
5-8 carrots (8 ordinary ones; Fefe only used 5 because two were "honking great things"), grated
6 spring onions, finely sliced
2 fresh chilies**, finely diced
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
If you live in a place where hot peppers are unpredictably
available, buy them when you can find them and toss any
you can't use right away into the freezer.  From frozen, you
can grate them into hot pepper snow with a microplane (or
just chop like you would fresh and carry on).
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp white vinegar (if you haven't run out of rice vinegar like we did, use that!)

*if you don't have moose, you can substitute venison, goat or beef for a similar flavour, but then you have to call them Mock-Moose Buns...

**or BETTER, use frozen ones and grate them into hot chili snow with a microplane (we learned this trick from Jamie Oliver, it's brilliant)

for the dough

1-1/3 c milk
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 eggs, beaten
6 c all-purpose flour

To make the filling, cut the moose away from the bone***, and clean it really well, removing all the gristle and as much fat as possible.  Mince by chopping really finely then blasting with a food processor or if you have such a thing as a meat grinder, go ahead and use it.  (If you have pre-ground meat, that's okay too.)

***DO NOT THROW AWAY THE BONES.  Use these to make some beautiful soup stock.

Clean the moose very well, chop finely and then blitz with
your food processor.  Or, if you are so lucky as to have a
meat grinder, use it.
Heat 1-1/2 tbsp lard in a skillet.  Brown the moose with the and five spice powder, then remove to a large heatproof bowl and set aside.  Add another 1 tbsp lard to the pan and saute the carrots, onion, and chilies until soft.  Add the carrot mixture to the moose and stir together with the remaining filling ingredients.
Make the filling a day ahead if you can.  If you have to make
it the same day, let it cool as much as possible before filling.

The colder the filling is, the easier it is to work with.  So if you can make it a day ahead and refrigerate overnight, do that.  Otherwise, cool it as well as possible.

To make the dough, heat the milk and butter together in a saucepan until the butter is melted.  Set aside.  Mix the yeast with water and let sit to soften, about 5 minutes.  When this 5 minutes is up, combine the milk mixture, yeast mixture, sugar and egg.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl (or the the bowl of a full sized food processor), reserving about a 1/4 cup in case you don't need it.  Slowly pour in the milk mixture, stirring constantly (or pulsing the food processor) until the dough comes together in a big sticky ball.  It should be sticky, but look like a ball... if it's shaggy, add more flour as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes.  Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

After the dough is risen, punch down and divide into quarters.  Work with one quarter at a time.  You have a lot of buns to make, this will help it be less overwhelming...

To stuff the moose buns, line 4 baking sheets with parchment (or some combination of baking sheets, serving trays and plates****).   Punch down the dough and divide into quarters.  Working with one quarter at a time (keeping the remaining dough covered), break dough into 12 fairly even pieces about the size of ping pong balls (so, a total of 48 buns by the time you are done with it).  Form each section into a ball, then roll into a circle about 1/4" thick.

****You will want freeze any uncooked buns for another day, so consider freezer safe-ness when choosing these.  Freeze them like you would berries or meatballs, in a single layer until frozen then transfer to a freezer bag or other airtight container. 

The trick is to get the right amount of moose filling.  Too
much and it will squish out the top; too little and you will
feel deprived.
Spoon some moose filling (about a tbsp) into the center of the dough. It's a matter of getting a feel for the ratio of filling to bun.  You want as much delicious moose stuffing as possible without risking not being able to close the dough up.  If you have the time and interest, you can spend a great deal of it looking at the miracle of the internet to find beautiful, intricate and traditional ways of folding up and sealing the bun.  Fefe simply draws up the edges and smooshes***** them together at the top.  Let the filled buns rest for 20-30 minutes before cooking or freezing.

*****That's the technical term, just ask her.

To cook the moose buns, prepare your steamer if necessary.  We make our stainless steel steaming basket non-stick by lining it with vented parchment.  Take a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the bottom and sides of the steamer and cut it into a snowflake.  Bring a couple of inches of water in the bottom of your steaming pan to a boil, reduce heat to moderate the vigor of the boil but keep it high enough to have a good constant steam.

If you don't have a non-stick steamer, you can make it non-stick by lining it with a parchment paper snowflake.  This is a good job for the kids.

Gently place the buns in your steamer, leaving some space in between to allow for expansion.  Put the steamer over the boiling water, stick a tight-fitting lid on it, and cook for 12 minutes (15 minutes if cooking from frozen). The buns are done when the dough is expanded and soft but firm enough they don't hold a finger indentation.

Serve with sriracha or other garlicky hot sauce for dipping.


I started writing this blog post before Fefe finished making the moose buns.  She spent several minutes telling me how clever she was mixing half-batches of the dough in our teensy tiny mini-chopper that we pretend is as good as a full sized food processor.  I just heard her swear.  It seems the motor may be blown out.

What Fefe Noir did (left) was break the mini-chopper.  What worked better on the following recipe test (right), was to go old-school and use a bit of elbow grease.


Food supplies in grocery stores have been a bit unpredictable lately because it's been a hard year for ice... sea ice delays ferries and grocery shelves become empty.  Strangely, not just empty of exotic off-season foods like tomatoes and broccoli but also of ordinary things we can actually raise on this island, like pork and beef.  Meat has to come in from away because the big chain grocery stores won't carry meat that isn't inspected and graded and the only federally licensed slaughterhouse in Newfoundland and Labrador is for chicken.  I will admit to not fully understanding the problem, except to know that it's obvious something is broken.  I am not convinced that federally registered abattoirs is the answer; centralization increases the scale of contamination risk, drives up prices for the producer which can be a disincentive to raise livestock, and it can create a very troublesome gap between husbandry and slaughter.  Clearly, we need better support for agriculture in this province, from policy and from consumers in order to gain a scale of production that could reduce our dependence on that very unreliable chain of transportation.

But I digress.

Forget the beef, pork and Australian lamb marooned in the ice on the Cabot Strait.  The lack of meat on store shelves is only part of what has many of us digging to the bottom of our freezers and thawing out bits of ignored meat.  Like the goat we forgot we had, or that packet of moose that keeps getting put back after staring at it long enough to realize you haven't got the foggiest idea what part of the moose that was.  It's also nearing the end of winter.  We ate the easy stuff already.

This recipe makes a lot of steamed buns, but just freeze the
excess.  They cook from frozen in just 15 minutes when
you need a quick meal.
I know I say this every time we cook moose, but we have a lot of indecipherable cuts in the freezer. It seemed unlikely that the cast-off moose would include t-bone.  On the other hand, I hate to underestimate the generosity our friends and neighbours.  But probably blade roast cut like a steak?  With a slice of round? What do you call the picnic shoulder on a moose?

Here's some good news: you don't have to braise every uncertainty from the freezer. It's a good rule for unknown cuts, but you can also guarantee tenderness by mincing it.  And if you make something really delicious, you won't have to worry about maybe wasting a good steak.

These buns are a good project for April (or whatever time of year represents the dregs of winter where you live).  You won't really have time to make them once you start your outdoor-season projects, and you won't have to find something to fill an entire day or two consecutive afternoons once the weather improves.  Make them on a day when you are feeling stir crazy.  Cook them from frozen on days when it's taken you twice as long as expected to get home from work due to a late-season ice storm. Or when you are feeling listless from depression caused by the never-ending winter.

Serve the steamed moose buns with sriracha sauce, or other lovely garlicky hot sauce.  Mmmmmm.... 

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