The cookbook tour continues! As some of you may know, last week I held a cooking demo and signing at the fantastic BookCourt in Brooklyn and had a great showing and audience discussion. This week started off with an onsite interview with Cathy Erway on Heritage Radio Network, and ended with today’s wonderful class at ICE on takeout Chinese food. Up next: more classes in New York, The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, and San Francisco in April!
But let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about pork belly. As some of you may know, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook doesn’t just cover dishes you would normally find at a Chinese takeout restaurant. Rather, it includes other dishes that have made major inroads into American culture. One of the dishes that has been talked about, written about, and otherwise obsessed about in cities such as New York, Boston, and L.A. is the pork belly bun.
Many food fans know them from Momofuku Noodle Bar and its offspring restaurants. But as tasty as the Momofuku buns are, the Taiwanese have been snacking on these buns long before this dish hit the US eastern seaboard. Known as “gua bao” in Taiwan, these buns feature pork belly that has been braised in an aromatic mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, homemade stock, cinnamon, star anise, chilies, and Sichuan pepper.
(In Beijing I once ate at a restaurant that had this listed as “Taiwanese steamed hamburger” on the menu.)
These buns take a bit of time to make, but the melting texture of the pork will make it worthwhile. The toppings can definitely vary, but I like to top off the pork with hoisin sauce, crushed peanuts, and sometimes a bit of Sriracha. As for the buns, you can find them in the freezer section of a Chinese market; the packages will have instructions on steaming on the stove, and some packs will even instruct on steaming in a microwave.
I’m sharing this recipe here (it’s also available on Amazon) because it has something to do with an exciting announcement in the coming week related to the cookbook. And everyone in the blogging community. Stay tuned for more!
Taiwanese-Style Pork Belly Buns
Serves 4 as an appetizer
- 1 pound pork belly, preferably boneless with skin on
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
- 4 cups Chicken Stock (page 172)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large piece cinnamon stick or cassia bark
- 2 pieces star anise
- 2 dried red chilies
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- 1 package large steamed buns (6) or small steamed buns (12)
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce for serving
- ¼ cup crushed peanuts
- Fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
- Cut the pork belly into large pieces (2 inches in length) that are still easy to pick up with tongs.
- Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over mediumhigh heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the pork and sear on all sides until lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger, and scallions and cook briefly, for about 20 seconds, so that they become aromatic.
- Add the chicken stock, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, chilies, and Sichuan pepper. Bring the liquid to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, until the pork belly is fork tender.
- When the pork is ready, use tongs to transfer it to a cutting board and cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Return the pork to the braising liquid and cover to keep warm until the buns are ready.
- Steam the buns according to package instructions. You can assemble the buns by placing a slice of pork belly on the bottom, then top it off with a small spoonful of hoisin sauce, a dusting of crushed peanuts, and a bit of cilantro. Or for a more hands-on experience for your guests, bring the individual components to the table so that all can assemble their own buns.