Braised Pork Belly Steam Buns

So everyone on the internet knows these as Momofuku Pork Buns but screw it Chang, I had these as a child in hole in the wall restaurants in Chinatown and from street vendors in Taiwan years before I ever heard about you existing. So I always think of these as Taiwanese burgers, the way my mom referred to them for years.

But I did sort of follow David Chang’s recipe so whatever.

Before I even started making the buns, I needed to render lard. I could have bought a can of shortening from Jenny Lou’s but the only one I saw was a giant tub that I would never finish off and was quite expensive. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of all those hydrogenated oils and preservatives and what not. For a fraction of the cost I bought kidney fat from a pork stall at Sanyuanli to make leaf lard, which is apparently the best type of rendered lard for pastry. It cost me all of two dollars for about a pound.

I cut it into small chunks and put it in a pot with half a cup of water, then turned on the heat to medium low. It didn’t smell nearly as bad as people made it out to sound, but maybe it’s just because I’m in Beijing and inured to the lesser foul smells. It did look particularly grey and unappetizing.

After about an hour the lard started to pop and hiss as the last of the water evaporated out, and the cracklings started to rise to top. According to my research, this is when I was supposed to start stirring much more frequently. I was too terrified of fat exploding in my face, so I hid around the corner, used a pot lid as a shield, covered my arms and hand with pot mitts, and stirred from as far back as I could. One the cracklings sank, I strained the solids out and carefully poured the liquid lard into a jar to chill overnight.

Steam Buns on their second of three risings

The next day, put together the buns. My first try was horrible–not sure what I did wrong, because I followed the measurements exactly, but the dough was stiff, dry, crumbly, refused to rise, and after several hours of waiting and trying to roll them out, I eventually threw the whole bunch out and started over. This time it worked out well, although I didn’t finish until almost midnight.

1 1/2 cups warm water + 1 1/2 Tbs instant dry yeast + 1 Tbs sugar. Mix this in a bowl and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
4 1/2 cups flour + 5 Tbs sugar + 3 Tbs milk powder + 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp baking soda + 1/2 cup lard.
Mix all the dry ingredients together, then work the lard into the flour. Then, slowly pour the yeast mix into the bowl. Mix it all up into a dough, adjusting water and flour for stickiness. Once it forms a smooth not-too-tacky ball, set it in an oiled bowl with a dry towel on top, and let rise for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Cut the dough in half, and then each half into 5 equal parts. Cut each part into 5 ping-pong sized parts and roll into balls. Cover with plastic and let rise half an hour. Then flatten and roll into an oval shape. Fold over a greased chopstick and then place onto a square of parchment paper (or greased tin foil, if you’re being all MacGuyver-like). Let rise another 25 minutes, then steam 10 minutes.

Once steamed, consume or let them cool, stick them in plastic bags and freeze them for later nomming, after freezing a quick steam will revitalize them.

Ugly but tasty

I soaked pork belly in a brine of salt and sugar overnight. Then, skin/fat side up in a baking dish, I covered them with a mixture of sugar, soy sauce chicken stock, water, Magi and pepper. Covered the dish with tin foil and into the oven for 2+ hours at 300F or about 150C. Remove the foil, turn the oven up to 450F or 220C, and leave in for another 20 minutes. Beware grease flareups. Allow the pork to cool, then slice.

Slow braised, melts-in-your-mouth pork belly

Sandwich the pork with some slices of cucumber that have been quick brined overnight in salt and sugar. Pork belly heaven.

Pork Belly, Salt-Sugar Brined Cucumbers and Steam Bun Sandwich


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