Make Ahead

Savory Duck Buns aka Kalua Manapua

June  9, 2011
Author Notes

I love street food because it reminds you where you are, and is one of the tastiest ways I can think of to eat and interpret the world.

Kalua refers to the traditional Hawaiian cooking method of steaming food, often a whole pig, in an imu, or in-ground cooking pit. Manapua refers to the oversized Chinese bao buns that became popular in Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century. Vendors would sell them out of food carts throughout Chinatown.

To recreate kalua meats at home, without digging an imu, a clever trick is to use a slow cooker and simply season meat with sea salt and liquid smoke. In a nod to my favorite food truck, Melt Honolulu, and one of my favorite grilled sandwiches from them, the Duck Confit Melt, I decided to make kalua duck. To give the meat even more flavor, I added a combination of vinegars, thinking of the tang of adobo. I added chipotle for some heat, and then, once the meat is cooked, to balance the flavors of the filling, fresh cilantro and apricot preserves go into each bun.

To complement the duck I wanted to make the bun subtly sweet, so swapped out the milk from my other manapua bun recipe (on this site) for coconut milk. To simplify things, I mixed all of the bun ingredients in one bowl. I think this dough is much easier to work with and the resulting bun has a soft, fragrant interior. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

  • Makes 16 baked buns
  • For Filling
  • 2-2 1/4 pounds duck legs (4)
  • 1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1 whole chipotle in adobo, seeds removed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • Additional fillings for buns (added when stuffing): 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (including stems), 3 generous tablespoons apricot preserves
  • For Buns
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm tap water (90-115 degrees – warm but comfortable against your skin – too high a temperature will kill your yeast)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I use Chao Koh brand – be sure to shake before opening)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup all vegetable shortening, such as Spectrum, melted
  • Sesame oil for greasing the bowl
  • 1 large egg
  • Splash of water
  • pinch of salt
In This Recipe
  1. For Filling
  2. Dry duck legs with a paper towel. Combine white peppercorns and salt in a mortar and pestle; mash until pepper is fragrant and coarsely ground. Sprinkle both sides of duck legs with mixture, pressing salt and pepper into the bird.
  3. Heat a deep wide pot or Dutch oven until almost smoking. Add duck legs, skin side down and cook until skin is golden and has crisped a bit, about 7 minutes. Transfer legs, skin side up into bottom of slow cooker. Pour rendered fat over duck.
  4. Add liquid smoke, chopped chipotle, vinegars and maple syrup to the slow cooker, drizzling each over all four legs. Close and cook for four hours on high. Transfer cooked duck legs to another bowl and remove skin and bones. Shred meat and place in a bowl, allowing it to cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill buns. While meat is chilling, get your buns going.
  1. For Buns
  2. In a small bowl or Pyrex measure, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar and gently stir. Let mixture soften for 5 minutes. Mixture should foam and double in volume. This means your yeast is alive and ready to make your buns. If it does not double in volume, discard and start again.
  3. Measure out flour into a large bowl. Add salt and baking powder, stirring to combine.
  4. Add yeast mixture, scraping the container with a spatula to get it all out. Add coconut milk (I use the same measuring cup that had the yeast mixture), milk and melted vegetable shortening. Stir mixture until it becomes a shaggy mass. Turn dough out onto a cool, lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes.
  5. Grease a large bowl with sesame oil. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft free place for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk. I have had good results by heating one cup of water in a microwave for one minute and then placing the covered bowl in the microwave with the heated water.
  6. When you are about 15 minutes away from filling buns, remove filling from refrigerator. Add the chopped cilantro to the shredded duck and place it near wherever you are going to fill your buns. Place apricot preserves into a small bowl and set it next to the duck filling. Cut 16 pieces of parchment, about 2” x 2” and lay out on a large rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
  7. When dough has doubled, punch down and divide into 16 portions. Gently flatten each dough ball into a circle by pulling out the sides of the circle with the tips of your fingers. You want the very center of the circle to be thicker than the edges – imagine a sunny side up egg. Place a heaping tablespoon of duck filling onto the center (the thickest part of your circle). Top with ½ teaspoon of apricot preserves. Carefully gather up the edges around the filling and pinch and twist to seal the bun. Gently transfer bun to prepared baking sheet with parchment paper, pinched side down. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Let the buns rise for 30 minutes.
  8. While filled buns are rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make an egg wash by combining egg, a splash of water and pinch of salt. Gently brush bun tops with egg wash and bake for 18-20 minutes. Enjoy immediately or allow buns to cool completely and then freeze. I have had good results reheating manapua in the microwave, on the defrost setting for 30 seconds and then an additional 10 seconds. NOTE: As shown in the photo, all 16 will fit on one baking sheet, although most likely the manapua will puff up and fuse to the one next to it. While I thought they might leak, I used a knife to separate them without any problem.

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Recipe by: gingerroot

My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love. Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.