Posts Tagged ‘steamed buns’

Roasted Pork Belly

roasted pork belly

The first time I made Momofuku roasted pork belly I was pretty happy with the results, aside from the fact that it got a little too crispy (ok, burnt) on top. I chalked it up to lack of air flow in the toaster oven compared to the oven-oven. The burntness aside, my other complaint was that the piece of meat that I started with was too thin to get a decent slice of belly featuring the gorgeous layering of meat and fat.

attempt 1: burnt pork belly

The problem with the too thin cut of meat was easily solved: I bought a thicker slice of meat and set out with high hopes. This time I would roast it the right way, in the oven, and my belly would be golden meltingly tender meat.

attempt 3: caramlized golden brown pork belly

There are two philosophies of meat roasting: 1. high heat to sear, then low and slow, or 2. low and slow, then high heat to finish. Chang’s belly follows the first philosophy, sear the meat so the outside is toasty and and then cook it low and slow so the meat is tender. The initial high heat renders out a bunch of fat so that when you get to the low and slow, you’re basically confiting the belly in it’s own pork fat bath.

roasted low and slow

In theory, this cooking method works. I’m sure Momofuku’s pork bellies come out great every time. Mine, on the other hand burn and shrink. Too much fat is rendered out and I’m left with tiny burnt remnants of what used to be luscious belly. Even using the oven to improve air circulation didn’t help. I started out with a piece of belly the size of, oh, let’s say a paper back novel and ended up with a charred piece of meat the size of a chocolate bar. Needless to say, I was sad.

thick, multi-layered pork belly

I was determined to roast a perfect piece of belly for my pork buns so I did what any obsessive-compulsive person would do: I bought another piece of belly to try again. This time I deliberated at the meat counter until I saw the thickest, meatiest piece of belly they had.

bird's eye view of pork belly

After two failed trials of meat roasting philosophy 1, I knew it was time to move on to meat roasting philosophy 2: low and slow with high heat to finish. To ensure my success, I also decided to cover the belly with parchment paper so there wouldn’t be excessive browning on top. I put the belly in a 250˚F toaster oven for over 3 hours and near the end removed the parchment paper, basted, and cranked the temperature up to 400˚F.


Success, delicious success: golden brown, pillowy-soft, visible layers of meat and fat. It was the most beautiful pork belly I ever did see!

roasted pork belly with visible layers of meat and fat

golden brown and pillowy soft pork belly

sliced roasted pork belly

Steamed Buns

rows and rows of steamed buns

You don’t have to make your own steamed buns for Momofuku Pork Buns. As Chang says, “how many sandwich shops bake their own bread?”

bread flour, yeast, non-fat milk power, water, baking soda and water, pork fat

Momofuku still sources their steamed buns from elsewhere, so if you want to take Chang’s advice, you can easily buy plain steamed buns at most Asian grocery stores in the freezer section. The most common plain steamed bun is the mantou, which doesn’t have the sock-puppet mouth shape that Chang uses, but you can substitute it easily, just slice them open and fill.

dough hook kneading dough

The problem is, when you do find steamed buns that are the right sock-puppet shape they are mostly too big compared to the Momofuku steamed buns.  I highly recommend taking the time to make your own steamed buns. You can always freeze them. I froze a bunch of steamed buns and am looking forward to instant pork buns whenever my little heart desires! (Well, I guess I need to have roast pork belly on hand too, but who doesn’t have slabs of roast belly in their fridge waiting to be consumed?)

the kitchen aid doing all the work

Really though, this is a fantastically easy snack to put together when you have everything at hand, so even though the recipe yields 50 buns, trust me, you’ll eat them all. I know we did!

balls of dough

The steamed buns are a basic bread recipe but steamed, instead of baked. Yeast, water, bread flour, sugar, non-fat milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda and pork fat are all kneaded together into a sticky ball and left to rise. After the dough has doubled, it’s punched down, divided into 50 balls, and left to rise again.

flattened ovals with chopstick to fold over

The balls are then flattened into an oval and folded over to form the floppy sock puppet mouth shape. One more rise and then they are ready to steam! (That’s three rises, just in case you were counting.)

sock puppet mouth shaped bun

I steamed my buns in a wok because I don’t have a bamboo steamer. Apparently bamboo steamers are ideal because steam condensation doesn’t drip down on the buns, which causes wrinkly bun skin. That was exactly what happened to me: wrinkly bun skin. Nobody wants wrinkly bun skin! My inventive solution was to stretch a tea towel over the rim of the wok so that the drops of water from the lid would catch on the towel instead of falling on to the skin. The towel trick worked, the buns were less wrinkly as the steaming progressed.

un-steamed buns waiting for the wok

I was also worried about the colour of the buns. They weren’t pure white, more of a very pale yellow. The buns tasted good, they just didn’t look super white, which is what I wanted, because I’m a bit of a prefectionist like that. I looked up “why are my steamed buns yellow” on google and found a little trick where you put some white vinegar in the steaming water. I tried it and (surprise surprise) it didn’t work.

::fluff:: buns become fluffy after steaming

Even though they were wrinkly and not pure white, they were fluffy and tasty. At least I have that! As one friend said, “I could eat the [bun] just on it’s own.” (Actually he said “sponge,” but I know he meant bun.)

Momofuku Pork Buns

pork buns

If Momofuku is famous for one item it’s the steamed pork buns. There’s been a lot of hype about the pork buns, even if they were an “eleventh-hour addition” to the menu. Chang himself admits that the buns are “a take on pretty common Asian food formula: steamed bread + tasty meat = good eating.” It’s true too, there are hundreds of versions of steamed buns and meats, but I have never had one as satisfying as the one I had that first time I visited Momofuku in 2007.

roasted pork belly, buns, quick-pickled cucumbers, hoisin, green onions

Maybe it was because I was really hungry, or maybe it was my giddiness at staying another night in NYC, but that first Momofuku pork bun was so perfect. The combination of sweet hoisin, green onions, roasted pork belly, and crunchy pickled cucumbers wrapped up in the perfect blank slate for flavour, the steamed bun, was handheld satisfaction.

gratuitous pork belly shot

The buns are ridiculously addictive, simple and satisfying. The recipe in the book isn’t really a recipe at all, more a how-to-assemble, as long as you have all of your ingredients ready. You need steamed buns, hoisin sauce, quick-pickled cucumbers, roasted pork belly, green onions and sriracha on the side.

hand-held satisfaction

Flip open your buns, spread some hoisin on both sides, cucumbers go on the bottom half, the top half gets a sprinkling of green onions then slices of roast pork belly are nestled in the middle. Fold up the goodness and eat!

pork buns for two

Damn you pork buns, I want to eat hundreds of you and fall into a food coma.

close up of pork buns