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Steamed Pork Buns Recipe

For years, I’ve heard numerous friends wax poetic about David Chang’s legendary Momofuku [1] restaurants.  Even non-foodie friends have raved to me about it.   Alas, I have never been there.  And feeling left out, I’ve tried to get in the act by buying Chang’s cookbook and recreating some of his [2] popular [3] recipes [4].   But there was one recipe that I was dying to try, and just never had the opportunity to – until now.   Yes, dear readers, I have finally (and successfully) made, drooled over and scarfed down Momofuku’s Steamed Pork Buns.  And everyone was right.  They are incredible!

One of the reasons I’d never tried Chang’s recipe was because it’s long.  Long recipes scare me.  They translate to “very complicated”,  “tedious” and… well…”long”.  This recipe is really none of those things.  Okay, maybe it is a little long, but it isn’t complicated or tedious.  And once you break it down by component, it’s actually quite manageable.   While these  steamed pork buns would never qualify as a quick, week night dinner, they’re definitely worth a go when you have more time to spend.

Another reason I’d never made these buns before is because pork belly is scare around these parts.  I can usually find it frozen, but rarely ever fresh.  I hate to buy frozen meat.  I hate to buy fresh meat and freeze it too.  It’s just one of my little quirks.  Don’t judge me.

A few weeks ago, I stopped into Whole Foods to stock up on my favorite yogurt.  As I passed by the meat counter, I glanced over to admire the meat, and lo and behold – I saw fresh pork belly.  I think my heart skipped a beat.  I sidled up to the counter and picked up a few pounds, knowing exactly what I would make with them.   Seriously, if I had known then how fab this recipe would turn out, I would have bought more!  

When I got home, the first thing I did was brine the pork belly in salt and sugar, as per the recipe.   Chang says to brine at least six hours or overnight.  I chose overnight.  The next morning I slid the meat into the oven and roasted it until it looked like this:

Oooh!  Get a load of that crispy, melty, porky goodness!

Once the pork belly is cool enough to handle, you need to wrap it up nice and tight in plastic wrap or foil and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.  Don’t skip this step, no matter how tempted you are to dig into that pork!   It will fall apart if you try to cut it now.  The meat needs to be thoroughly chilled in order to get good, clean cuts.

See?  Good, clean cuts.

But, here’s the thing.  Once the pork is cold, you have to heat it up again in order to eat it.  Chang says to just heat it up in a skillet for a few minutes.  I decided to take this as an opportunity to add another layer of flavors.  Yeah, I know.  I can never leave well enough alone.

I minced some garlic, ginger, scallions and a hot chili pepper from my garden and sautéed them together in a pan.

Then, I made a little sauce by swirling in some soy sauce, rice vinegar and brown sugar. When it got nice and bubbly, I slipped in the pork belly slices and let them simmer for a few minutes.   At the very end, I swirled in a splash of fresh lime juice to brighten things up a little.

While the pork belly slices were heating up, it was time to make the steamed buns.  Chang includes a recipe for “made from scratch” buns in his book.  And if you have the time and inclination, it’s certainly worth giving it a try.  But, I found the most brilliant cheater recipe [5] over at Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen [6] site using none other than refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough.    Yup.  You read that right.  Refrigerated dough!   Is that not genius?!?!

You just take the biscuits out of the tube and roll each out into a four-inch oval.

Then, you fold each oval in half, set them on little squares of parchment and steam them.  It doesn’t get much easier than this, people.

I used a bamboo steamer set over a wok to steam mine.  If you don’t have one, you can use a rack or just set a small ovenproof bowl upside down in your wok and lay a plate with your buns on top.

See how nice and puffy they get?

To assemble the buns, carefully unfold each one and spread a little hoisin sauce inside.  Next, lay a slab of that luscious, unctuous pork belly in there too.  Top with some Quick Pickled Cucumbers [2] or pickled daikon [7], or both – like I did.  Then, grab a few napkins and a cold beer, and dig in!    Just be prepared to swoon, because that’s what you’re likely to do.

The hype is well deserved, people.  Momofuku’s steamed pork buns are a revelation – a cacophony of flavors and textures all exploding in your mouth at once.    You all need to find yourselves some pork bellies and make. these. now.