Before I explain the cryptic and silly title of this entry, can I just say: 50 posts! Can you believe it, folks? Who would have thought it mere months ago?
Whoo! Ok, now that’s out of my system, let’s talk buns! Specifically, the Pork Belly Buns from the Momofuku cookbook. Well, sort of – we’ll get to the ways that they differ in due time. I have not actually had the pleasure of visiting Momofuku in person, so I can’t say whether mine are as good, but I will say this – they were pretty danged delicious!
I received the cookbook for Christmas from my dear parents, who seem happy to indulge my obsession with food, as they were the ones who gave me my pride and joy, a white KitchenAid mixer, for my thirtieth birthday. So they didn’t bat an eyelash when I requested this slightly extravagant book from a restaurant I’ve never been to, and I’m glad they didn’t, because it’s great! David Chang, the wunderkind chef/mastermind behind the titular restaurant, has a slightly obnoxious narrative voice, but he clearly has a passion for the amalgamation of fast-food and cuisine that his restaurants make, and the pictures in this book are to die for. I decided to start with the pork belly buns for several reasons:
1. I absolutely adore char siu bao, the salty-sweet dim sum buns that this sandwich is based on. Only jin doi has a more special place in my heart.
2. I really wanted to try a pork belly recipe. The belly is typically the cut used for American bacon, but recently it’s become a popular meat with high end chefs because its sticky fat gives it a richness and texture that can be wonderfully decadent in the right preparation.
3. It seemed like a bit of a project. Not difficult mind you, but full of fussy little steps that reward patience. I was on vacation, and for those of you who know me, you know I’m a sucker for a project.
So, with those three things in mind, I trotted off to C-Mart to buy my ingredients and began my quest!
Pork belly, hoisin, scallions and Kirby cucumbers were acquired with ease, but I ran into my first snag when it came to the ingredients for the bun dough. Chef Chang uses a pretty sweet dough that includes powdered milk. Alas, the only powdered milk I could find (admittedly, not by looking all that hard) was in a gigantic box at Johnny Foodmaster. Since I needed 3 tbsps, this seemed ridiculous. Since Chang said his buns were a variation of traditional mantou dough, I decided to simply make that. It’s a less rich, less sweet dough, but I figured the filling would be intense enough. As a yeast bread, the mantou went through several rises and making the buns was an all day affair.
These little guys freeze pretty well, so I made about fifty buns. They proved to bounce back beautifully after a few minutes being resteamed. They’re a bit bland, as I said, but have a satisfying chewiness from the steaming while remaining tender thanks to the yeast.
Next I had to prepare the pork belly, or as it seems to be labeled at every Asian grocery, bellie. Chang’s directions are pretty simple but require some precise timing – the pork belly is rubbed with salt and sugar and then left in the refrigerator for no less than 6 and no more than 24 hours to cure. It’s cooked at a high heat for an hour until it’s glazed and crisp-crackling, then for another hour or so to render the fat and collagen into melting tenderness. Pulled from the oven it was gorgeous, amber-brown and fragrant.
Still, having taken up several hours of my day I could not yet make the buns! I sliced the belly into the requisite pieces and shelved the project for one more day.
When I was finally ready to make the sandwiches, a small disaster struck – my cucumbers went bad! The recipe calls for quick salt pickled cucumber slices, but alas, all I had was mush. After days of putting together this recipe, however, I elected to forge ahead and eat them sans pickle. The belly got a quick sear on the frying pan while the buns re-steamed. A smear of hoisin, a sprinkling of scallions, and a squirt of sriracha and my buns were complete! I braised some Napa cabbage for a side and finally sat down to take a bite.
They might not have been perfect or precisely authentic, but they were fantastic! Chewy bread with sweet hoisin and wonderfully salty meat. The hot sauce cut through the richness – I wouldn’t leave it off unless you are truly anti-heat. Despite stretching into a saga that took days to complete, this was a worthy project, and I can’t wait to try more of the recipes!