Whenever I go back to Hong Kong/China, I always want a nice bowl, or two, of dongpo pork (东坡肉) after the jet lag wears off. It’s the best thing in the world, better than bacon! Dongpo pork is served in a little porcelain bowl with a lid.
I made these steamed buns with my family’s dongpo pork recipe and quick pickled cucumbers. I made this in class for part of the charcuterie buffet but it did not turn out good because I’ve never done mass quantity (buffet) servings before and I had to cook everything so far in advance, it was difficult to gauge. Also, the pork had to sit in the braising liquid for a week so it was really salty, even though I diluted it lots of water.
I wanted to make these because I wanted to prove to myself that I CAN make these taste heavenly. And I did. It just took one afternoon. I thought I could eat 6 or 7 (because that’s how many buns I steamed) but I could only stuff 5 into my face.
For the Pork Belly
- 2 lbs pork belly
- Canola oil, as needed
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar
- 1½ cups Shaoxing/Chinese rice wine
- 1 cup light soy sauce
- ½ cup dark soy sauce
- 3 pieces star anise
- 1 piece cinnamon bark
- 6 scallions, chopped into thirds
- 3 thick slices fresh ginger
- 2 TBS whole Sichuan peppercorns
In a heavy-based pot, add the sugar, Shaoxing wine, soy sauces, star anise, cinnamon, scallions, ginger, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, while you sear the pork belly.
Cut the pork belly into cubes or small rectangles. Tie tightly with butcher’s twine – the pork will shrink so make sure to tie them very tightly.
In a pan, heat some oil for searing. Sear each side of the pork belly and remove from pan. Place them into the pot and add water to cover pork belly. Bring to a boil and then lower to a low simmer. Simmer for 3-4 hours. Flip the pork every hour and add water if necessary (because you don’t want the soy sauces to over reduce and get really salty).
When ready, turn off heat. Remove pork pieces from braising solution and ladle some braising liquid over the pork belly pieces to prevent it from drying out.
Optional: skim off fat and reduce braising liquid, and add a slurry to thicken it, if you want to use it as a sauce.
For the Pickled Cucumbers
- 1 English cucumber
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 1½ cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 TBS salt
- Salt, as needed
Slice the cucumber very thinly or use a mandoline. Sprinkle salt over the sliced cucumbers and let them drain for 15-20 minutes.
In a saucepan, boil all the ingredients and then simmer for 5 minutes. Cool over an ice bath. The pickling solution has to be cold before you put the cucumbers in.
Rinse the salt off the cucumbers and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Put the cucumbers in the pickling solution; they should be completely covered by the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Drain before serving.
*Adapted from Aquavit.
For the Steamed Buns
- 1 TBS + 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 1½ cups water, at room temperature
- 4¼ cups bread flour
- 6 TBS sugar
- 3 TBS nonfat dry milk powder
- 1 TBS salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- Rendered pork fat (for shaping the buns)
Combine the yeast and water in a bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix on the lowest speed possible for 8-10 minutes.
When the dough turns into a ball, lightly oil a medium mixing bowl, put the dough in it, and cover the bowl with a dry kitchen towel. Put it in a turned-off oven with a pilot light or other warmish place and let it rise until the dough doubles in size, for 1.5 hours.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into logs, then cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total. They should be about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the little dough balls with plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
Cut out fifty 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Dip chopstick with the rendered fat.
Flatten one ball with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 4-inch-long oval. Lay the greased chopstick across the middle of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form the bun shape. Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper. Stick it back under the plastic wrap and form the rest of the buns. Let the buns rest for 30 to 45 minutes: they will rise a little.
Set up a steamer on the stove. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment. You can use the buns immediately or allow to cool completely, then seal in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to a few months. Reheat frozen buns in a steamer for 2 to 3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.
*The steamed buns recipe makes around 50 and I know that’s a lot but you can always store them in the freezer and eat them with other things, like Peking Duck!!!
**Steamed Buns recipe from Momofuku’s Noodle Bar.
Open each steamed bun and place 2-3 slices of pickled cucumbers on the bottom layer, place a slice of pork belly, and top with more slices of cucumbers, then close the bun. If using, serve with the braising sauce.