Duck bao buns, or to use correct terminology, duck bao (bao essentially translates to bun, so no need to say it twice) are cute little Chinese steamed buns loaded up with juicy duck breast, flavoured with Chinese five spice and veg. They’re just as fun to make as they are to eat, and talk about loaded with flavour.

I make my bao from scratch, and even if you haven’t worked with yeasted dough before, they’re very simple to make. Much easier than they look.

The filling here is kept simple too. The duck is dusted with five spice first, then sauteed. Don’t be intimidated by cooking duck (as I once was), it’s actually really easy to do and easy to get that crisp, golden skin.

The remaining fillings are just cabbage, coriander (cilantro), chilli and a 2 ingredient hoisin mayo. I add my own homemade sweet and spicy dukkah (recipe further down in the post) or you can just scatter over some sesame seeds and/or crushed peanuts.

Closeup of a bao full of duck and vegetables.

Ingredients you’ll need

These duck steamed buns are a recreation of some chicken-filled ones that I had at a restaurant. They were mind-blowingly tasty for such minimal fillings and aside from the swap from chicken to duck, these taste exactly the same. I chose duck, firstly because I thought it could easily be changed up to peking duck flavour too and also because I’ve been wanting to master the art of pan-frying duck breast perfectly.

Ingredients for duck bao buns on a baking tray.

Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.

  • Bao: You may know them as bao buns, though the “buns” part is technically superfluous. These are a yeasted Chinese steamed bun and this folded style, almost like a taco, is known as a lotus bun. You can use my homemade bao buns recipe or buy them from the freezer section in supermarkets / grocery stores.
  • Duck breast: Boneless duck breast is all you need. This recipe is written for skin-on duck breast, though you could certainly make it without the skin too.
  • Chinese five spice powder: Chinese five spice is a spice blend of 5 (or sometimes more) dried spices – generally cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel and Szechuan pepper. It’s loaded with flavour and along with salt, is all you need to season the duck breast.
  • Kewpie mayonnaise: Kewpie mayonnaise is a Japanese mayonnaise that has a real savoury flavour. You can swap for a regular mayonnaise though.
  • Hoisin sauce: Hoisin sauce is what’s used when making peking duck pancakes and it’s delicious. Sweet and savoury all at once.
  • Vegetables: These are kept simple just using some red cabbage, fresh coriander (fresh cilantro) and slices of red chili. You can also add carrot or use Chinese cabbage / Napa cabbage instead.

Want to try some peking duck bao buns? In place of the cabbage, chilli and coriander, just use sticks of cucumber and thin strips spring onions (scallions / green onions). Leave the mayo out and just use hoisin sauce. Tadaa! Peking duck buns.

How to make bao buns (step-by-step)

Starting your duck bao with homemade bao buns is my preferred option but, if you don’t want to try your hand at creating them from scratch, most supermarkets stock bao in their freezer section.

The steps to cook the duck are actually really simple and I found the most amazing fool-proof tutorial for cooking duck over at hunt gather cook.

Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.

Cook the duck

Duck breasts on a chopping board being seasoned.
  1. Prepare the duck: Start by taking the duck out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes prior to cooking. This will help it cook more evenly. Use a sharp knife to score the skin in a criss-cross pattern (trying not to cut through to the meat) (photo 1). Oil and salt the duck and rub all over, then rub the five spice seasoning just into the meat side (photo 2). The duck cooks skin-side-down for a full 8 minutes and it can burn the five spice in this time so I find it best just to spice the meat side.  
Duck breasts cooking in a stainless steel skillet.
  1. Cook the duck: Place the duck into a cold pan, skin side down (photo 3), over medium heat. As soon as you hear it start to sizzle, set your timer at 8 minutes. Now flip it over (photo 4) and cook on the other side for 3-5 minutes, depending on whether you want it medium or well done. The last step is to stand the duck breasts on their thickest side up against each other (photo 5, below). This will help cook that thick part through.
Cooked duck breast being sliced.
  1. Rest the duck: Like any meat, resting it helps the juices inside redistribute keeping it juicy all the way through. I let them sit for about 3-5 minutes before slicing (photo 6).

Don’t fret when you see the amount of fat that comes out of the duck skin. It will go into the pan almost dry, then as it cooks, more and more fat will be released and it will cover the base of your pan. You can strain it and save it for cooking, though keep in mind it will likely be slightly five spice flavoured.

Steam the buns

While the duck is cooking, you can steam the buns.

4 uncooked bao buns in a bamboo steamer.
  1. Just bring an inch of water to a simmer in a large saucepan or wok.
  2. Add the steamer basket, making sure it’s high enough that the water doesn’t come up through the holes.
  3. Place your buns on small pieces of baking paper into the steaming basket and cover them.
  4. Steam for 8 minutes.

Assemble the duck bao

  1. Make the sauce: The sauce is literally just a combination of Kewpie mayonnaise and hoisin sauce. Just mix that together in a small bowl.
  2. Add the fillings: Now add the finely sliced cabbage and coriander (cilantro) to the buns, top with a couple of slices of duck, then drizzle over that sauce.
  3. Finish them off by topping with slices of chilli and some peanuts or sesame seeds.

My Asian style sweet and spicy dukkah

You can finish these off with a simple scattering of sesame seeds or crushed peanuts, however, I make a sweet and spicy dukkah that I just love. It only takes 3 minutes to make and it’s delicious.

Closeup of the peanut dukkah.

Roughly chop ⅓ of a cup of salted toasted peanuts or crush them up roughly in a mortar and pestle. Now just stir in 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of Korean chilli flakes, 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds and a pinch each of sea salt flakes and Chinese five spice. Done!

Korean chilli flakes are much milder than dried chilli flakes (red pepper flakes) so go easy if substituting.

Fillings for bao

Much like a taco, bao lend themselves well to multiple types of fillings. Instead of duck buns, try anything from slow cooked pork to shredded chicken or crispy chicken – they all work well meat-wise. You could even use roasted duck for these ones. Then add any vegetables you like.

A hand holding a duck bao bun.

FAQs

Where can I buy bao buns?

Most large supermarkets / grocery stores stock bao buns in their freezer section.

How to cook frozen bao buns

Bao buns will take about 8 minutes in a steaming basket set over simmering water. If you don’t have stackable bamboo steaming baskets (my favourite), you can use any type of metal or silicone steaming basket. If you don’t have any type – use your colander. Whatever you use, make sure to cover it with a lid of some kind. Bamboo baskets come with their own lid but the other options can just be covered with foil. Also, make sure to place a piece of baking paper under each bao, so they don’t stick to your steamer.

What to eat with duck bao?

There is only so much you can fit inside a bao bun so feel free to add a side salad for a more balanced meal. This Asian slaw would be great.

Yield and storage

Two duck breasts stretch quite far when it comes to these duck bao – they will work for 8-10 bao.

Leftover cooked duck breast should be stored in the refrigerator, in an airtight container or covered well with plastic wrap for up to 3 days.

Top down view of 3 duck bao.

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5 duck bao buns on a serving board.
4.6 from 5 ratings
These duck bao buns are pillowy-soft bao buns filled with perfectly pan-seared duck breast, cabbage and a hoisin mayo. Loaded with flavour, their quick, delicious and fun.

Ingredients

  • 10-12 bao buns

DUCK FILLING

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (notes 1)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Chinese five spice
  • ½ cup kewpie mayo
  • ¼ cup hoisin sauce
  • 1-2 long red chillies, finely sliced
  • 2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
  • Fresh coriander (cilantro), to serve
  • Sesame seeds and/or crushed roasted peanuts

For best results, always weigh ingredients where a weight is provided

Equipment

  • Bamboo steamer (best) or other steamer
  • large frying pan / skillet

Instructions
 

  • Take the duck breast out of the fridge 30 minutes prior to cooking. Using a sharp knife, score just the skin of the duck breasts (don’t cut through to the meat) in a ½ inch criss cross pattern.
  • Tip the oil and salt over the duck breasts and give them a good rub all over. Now, skin side down, sprinkle the Chinese five spice all over the meat side and rub it in with your hands.
  • Place the duck breasts, skin side down, into a cold large skillet / frying pan over medium heat. Cook to render the skin for about 8 minutes then turn when it’s looking golden brown and crispy.
  • Cook for a further 2-5 minutes depending on how done you want the inside. Finally, lean the duck breasts up against each other so that the fattest side of each one is searing on the pan for just 1 minute.
  • While the duck is cooking, prepare your other fillings and steam the bao. Mix the Kewpie mayo and hoisin sauce together in a small bowl.
  • Place duck on a chopping board skin side up and let it rest for 2-3 minutes.
  • Slice the duck thinly, then layer it up with the other fillings inside your steamed bao buns.
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Notes

  • Tablespoons: I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (equal to 4 teaspoons). Check yours before measuring.
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Have you tried this recipe?Don’t forget to leave a rating and comment below and let me know how it was! I love hearing from you. Nutrition information is approximate and derived from an online calculator. The brands you use may cause variations.
Nutrition Facts
Duck Bao
Amount Per Serving
Calories 456 Calories from Fat 279
% Daily Value*
Fat 31g48%
Saturated Fat 5g31%
Trans Fat 0.1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 14g
Monounsaturated Fat 9g
Cholesterol 100mg33%
Sodium 838mg36%
Potassium 515mg15%
Carbohydrates 20g7%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 8g9%
Protein 25g50%
Vitamin A 692IU14%
Vitamin C 49mg59%
Calcium 49mg5%
Iron 7mg39%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.