Steamed Buns with Roast Pork Belly
From the second I first heard about David Chang’s take on pork bao I had to have them. Now I don’t live in NYC. Not even close. So this meal would be left up to me.
I started by hunting around the internet and looking for recipes. Type Momofuku in a search engine and believe me you will get some results. Most of them talking about the famous pork belly steamed buns. However the lion’s share of these posts have kept the steamed bun recipe to themselves. Lots of photos but no hard info. Even Chang himself suggests you just buy the things from the frozen aisle at your local Asian market.
One promising post did show up close to the top of search results. Good ol’ Martha Stewart must have had Chang on her show and was nice enough to post a recipe. Well you may wonder why I am not linking that recipe here. I made her version, although passable, they just weren’t great. I then started discussing with my chef type friends the recipe and was flabbergasted that Martha had done a low standards hack job on the Momofuku recipe as written in his book. That is surprising because she usually does an excellent job of getting the best recipes with all the little details that make them even better.
Now while these weren’t all they could be, they were delicious. The flavor combination of the roasted pork belly and the hoisin with a little vinegar bite from the quick made pickles is damn near addictive. So I had to make these again and decided to bite the bullet and buy the Momofuku book. I highly reccommend you do the same.
So let’s start at the beginning. Start with a pork belly. Whole bellies are about 9 lbs. I suggest just buying a middle piece. My butcher cuts them too small in my opinion. The second one I cooked was about 1.75 lbs before cooking. Season your belly with a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and sugar. Knock off the excess and wrap up tight in some plastic wrap. Store in the fridge overnight. I have come to my own conclusion that doing this for about 12 hours is best. Then the next day either rinse off all the cure or wipe off most of it. A little cure left on the fat side will make a pretty crust. Chang puts his on high temp first and then turns down to slow roast. I like the results better by slow roasting for 2 1/2 hours at 250F. After a while you can take the opportunity to baste a few times. Then cranking up the temp to 450F for about 20-30 minutes to develop a nice color on your tender as can be belly.
Isn’t that just a thing of beauty. Resist the urge to tear in here. Let cool to room temp, cover with wrap, and then put in the fridge to cool completely. The reason for this is to allow for perfect slicing. The slices can be re-heated in a pan or if you plan on using the whole belly just toss the whole thing back in the oven to gently rewarm. (after slicing)
I used my own recipe for a quick pickle. I just tossed a couple of sliced up cucumbers in a quart mason jar with a brine of rice vinegar, water, chile flakes, sugar, and a little mirin. These can be used after just an hour but are best if allowed to sit overnight.
Now for the all important buns. Martha, pay close attention. In a bowl, preferably your KitchenAid, put in the following:
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 4 tsps active dry yeast
- 3 Tbsps nonfat dry milk powder
- 6 Tbsps sugar
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1/2 heaping tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 4 1/2 cups of bread flour ( I used ’00’ with excellent results )
Now turn the mixer on slow and as the dough starts coming together, drizzle in 1/2 cup of lard. You have to warm it up a bit to make it a liquid but don’t make it hot. You can use shortening but lard is so much better. (in every use)
Mix on slow for about 10 minutes. My KA started complaining at about 8 so just use your own judgement. It should be a smooth dough. I pulled out the dough hook, shaped the dough into a ball, and put back into the mixer for the first rise. Keep in a warm spot. My kitchen in Feb. is a little tough so I set on the stove while the oven was still warm from the pork belly. Allow the dough to double in size.
Turn out onto your work surface. Cut in half, then cut each half into 5 pieces, roll those into short logs, cut those logs into 5 equal pieces. I actually only did this for half making 25 buns. The other half I made into a ball and froze with the intention of doing more when I need them.
Roll your small pieces into balls about the size of a golf ball and put on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise/rest for 30 minutes or so. Take this time to cut out enough small squares of parchment. One for each bun about 3″x4″. Take each ball and roll out into a small oval. Not too thin. Keep in mind the size of your pork belly slices as a guide here. Then gently fold the oval in half. Again cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another 30-60 min.
All the hard work is done. Now comes the easy and fun parts. Put the buns on parchment squares in your steamer in batches. I went out and bought a bamboo steamer for this because I think they work better for items like this.
Steam for 10 minutes and viola, perfect steam buns from scratch.
Now assemble. Gently open up a bun and slather with hoisin sauce. Put on a couple pickles and as many slices of pork belly as you can squeeze in. Finish with some chopped green onion and sriracha if you like the spice. So easy that David Chang can do it while drunk as a skunk.
I ate every one on that plate and went back for more around 11pm. These are some of the finest beer drinking snacks I have ever come across.
Notice how much puffier these are than Martha’s version up top?
I am not one of those cooks that has an extensive cookbook collection. For the most part I try to find information online. However, on certain occasions, buying the book is worth every penny. I highly reccommend Momofuku be added to your collection. Cheers!