Pork Belly Buns with Pickled Cucumbers & Carrots

Thursday, October 17, 2013



What's not to love about caramelized pieces of pork belly that melts in your mouth, sandwiched in between a light and fluffy bun? My first bite of the infamous Pork Bun at Ippudo just left me wanting more - and let's be honest - I've waited in the occasional 4 hour line at Ippudo for just those buns, NOT for the ramen.

However at around 4-5 dollars per small bun, these babies don't come cheap no matter where you go, (I'm looking at you too Momofuku). So it only makes sense to take matters into the kitchen and make it ourselves for a full on Pork Belly Bun feasting fest.


Before I get you too excited about making your own pork buns, I have to first warn you that it's going to take a few hours before it's ready to eat, but it's SO WORTH IT! Also, it's easy, but there are a few things you have to get together.

Caramelized Pork Belly

I have to first give credit where credit's due, my friend Dave did most of the cooking of the pork belly. So here's what he did: seasoned a pound of pork belly with a bit of salt and pepper, wrapped in tin foil, and cooked in the oven for about 2 hours at 275° F a la Jaden of Steamy Kitchen's recipe for pork buns.



Jaden suggests that you put the pork in the fridge after cooking so that the meat holds together better, however we were impatient so we continued onwards. We sliced it into 1/2 inch pieces so that it fits perfectly into our buns.



Then heat up a pan to fry the yummy slices of pork belly with a few drops of oil so that it crisps up, like this...


Once crispy, take out the pork and keep the pork fat in the same pan, add a bit of oil and quickly add the aromatics - chilies, garlic, ginger and scallions - and make sure that it doesn't burn. After 30-45 seconds, it should be fragrant, and you can add the caramelizing sauce...

Whisk together brown sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar and for extra noms, the juice & fat from slow cooking the pork belly...


As it simmers, add the crispy slices of pork back in so it cooks in the sauce. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes.


In those 10 minutes, the sauce should reduce, and the brown sugar will help the pork belly caramelize with the braising sauce. Be sure not to eat all the pork belly before you assemble the rest.

Now that we have the main star of the pork buns out of the way, it's time for some of its sidekicks. I've tasted a variety of pork buns around Manhattan. Ippudo's signature has iceberg lettuce (surprisingly good) and kewpie mayo. Momofuku adds pickled cucumbers and hoisin sauce. While I still love Ippudo's pork bun way more than Momofuku's, I believe Dave had the ingredients to continue with ours Momofuku-style.

Who am I to argue when most of the ground work was done for me? :)


Pickled Carrots & Cucumbers

Momofuku only uses pickled cucumbers, but we had carrots for ours too. Almost like a twist in a Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich which features pickled carrots and daikon.



We (*cough* Dave) bought shredded carrots from Trader Joe's, which made the rest of the prep for this super easy. We used Momofuku's pickling recipe for this - hot water, rice wine vinegar, sugar, kosher salt and coriander seeds. It's recommended that you pickle this for a few days, however we only did it for a few hours. Worked out fine for us.

The Steamed Bun

I wouldn't call this a short cut more than I really appreciate a good Chinese steamed bun. Why reinvent the wheel when the freezer section in our local Chinatown supermarket offers perfectly good buns...


Resteaming this couldn't have been any easier, and it gave us perfectly delicious steamed buns for our pork buns. This was reheated based on the instructions on the package.


Finally, for the last element...

Hoisin Sauce

There's no doubt that the Pork Belly Bun is a spinoff of the ever-so-popular Chinese Peking Duck Buns, tasty meat + steamed bun = delicious. So, Momofuku (and Dave) likes to give homage to that by using Hoisin Sauce. Works for me!


The Final Outcome, Yummy Pork Belly Buns!

Ideally, your pork belly and your buns will be finished around the same time for you to assemble your bun. We added 2 pieces of pork, some pickled veggies, hoisin sauce to our steamed buns and topped it off with some cilantro.

These pork buns are just like any other sandwiches, it's so easy to be creative with what you put in it, so it's no wonder it's been so popular in Asian Fusion restaurants all around.

I wanted to bring up one last point, since the initial input of cooking the pork takes a bit of effort, it only makes sense to apply the theory of Economies of Scale here and just make a ton of pork belly so that you can have friends enjoy this amazing meal so your resources don't go wasted. 

Dave is just a great food economist. Be like Dave. Make this Pork Belly Buns recipe and share with friends and family.


Pork Belly Buns with Pickled Carrots & Cucumbers Recipe

Recipe adapted from Steamy Kitchen and Momofuku

The Caramelized Pork
Basics
1 slab pork belly, about 1.5-2 pounds
1 tablespoon cooking oil
salt and pepper, to season

Aromatics
1 chili pepper, minced
3 clothes garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 scallion, chopped

Sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup water

The Pickled Carrots & Cucumbers
1 cup shredded carrots
2 kirby/persian cucumbers, sliced
1/2 cup very hot tap water
1/4 cup rice-wine vinegar
3 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds (optional)

2 packages of steamed buns
hoisin sauce
cilantro (optional)

1. Pickle Carrots & Cucumbers. In a mason jar or a large container, add carrots and cucumbers. Add the rest of brine - hot water, vinegar, sugar, salt and coriander seeds. Cover and put in fridge for at least 2 hours.

2. Slow-cook pork belly. Pre-heat oven to 275° F. Lightly season slab of pork belly in salt and pepper. Put on top of baking sheet and roast for 2 hours. Remove from oven and let rest. Cool in fridge if you like, or if you're impatient like me, use right away. Slice pork belly into 1/2 inch pieces.

3. Crisp pork belly. Set to high heat and add tablespoon of oil. Add sliced pork belly and fry until crispy on edges, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

4. Make sauce. Turn heat to medium-high. In the same pan, use the oil and rendered pork fat, add aromatics - chilies, garlic, ginger and scallions - to pan and cook till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add whisked sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar and water. Bring to a simmer.

5. Caramelize pork. Add pork slices, and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to caramelize and stick to pork belly. Remove from pan and set aside.

6. Steam buns. Steam buns according to package instructions. Set aside.

7. Assemble Pork Belly Buns! Now that all elements are finished, add slices of pork belly, cucumber, carrots and hoisin to your pork buns. Top with cilantro or julienne scallions if you like.



And there you have it guys, a relatively easy way to make your own homemade pork buns for a fraction of the cost of what it costs to buy at the restaurant. 

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