December 4, 2009

Momofuku Pork Belly Buns

A couple weeks ago, my friend Stephanie (aka Iron Stef) helped me make David Chang's roasted pork belly & Chinese steamed buns. The recipe comes from his new cookbook Momofuku, named after his acclaimed New York noodle bar (which was named after the guy who invented instant ramen).

Chang's book received attention when it was released in October not only because of the recipes and gorgeous color photos but also because of his narrative voice. In the introduction to each section, Chang "relays with candor the tale of his unwitting rise to superstardom, which, though wracked with mishaps, happened at light speed." And he curses. A lot.

On Oct. 27, the day Momofuku was published, Ian Froeb made some interesting observations in his Twitter updates (Ian is the food critic for The Riverfront Times & editor of their "Gut Check" blog):

# of paragraphs in Momofuku cookbook before first f-bomb? 7.5
in other words, having read only the intro, ready to declare Momofuku cookbook of the year. certainly the most entertaining.

The book does make for a good read. In fact, I read it cover-to-cover like a novel. Even the recipes themselves are entertaining reading. For example, in his steamed buns recipe he writes: "Cover the armada of little dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes." Good stuff.

Warning: This cookbook is written for serious cooks. Chang even admits that some recipes aren't meant for home cooks. Other recipes, like his infamous pork belly buns, are fairly easy; they just require many time-consuming steps. But in the case of the pork belly buns, the time is totally worth it.

Pork Belly

One 3-pound slab skinless pork belly
1⁄4 cup kosher salt
1 ⁄4 cup sugar
  • Nestle the belly into a roasting pan or other oven-safe vessel that holds it snugly. Mix together the salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub the mix all over the meat; discard any excess salt-and-sugar mixture. Cover the container with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hours, but no longer than 24.
  • Heat the oven to 450ºF.
  • Discard any liquid that accumulated in the container. Put the belly in the oven, fat side up, and cook for 1 hour, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it’s an appetizing golden brown.
  • Turn the oven temperature down to 250ºF and cook for another 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the belly is tender—it shouldn’t be falling apart, but it should have a down pillow–like yield to a firm finger poke. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the belly to a plate. Decant the fat and the meat juices from the pan and reserve (see the headnote). Allow the belly to cool slightly.
  • When it’s cool enough to handle, wrap the belly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge until it’s thoroughly chilled and firm. (You can skip this step if you’re pressed for time, but the only way to get neat, nice-looking slices is to chill the belly thoroughly before slicing it.)
  • Cut the pork belly into 1⁄2-inch-thick slices that are about 2 inches long. Warm them for serving in a pan over medium heat, just for a minute or two, until they are jiggly soft and heated through. Use at once.

Steamed Buns
Makes about 50 buns

Okay, fifty buns is a lot of buns. But the buns keep in the freezer for months and
months without losing any quality, and if you cut the recipe down any more than this,
there’s barely enough stuff in the bowl of the mixer for the dough hook to pick up. So
clear out a couple of hours and some space in the freezer and get to work.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
11⁄2 cups water, at room temperature
41⁄4 cups bread flour
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Rounded 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 ⁄3 cup rendered pork fat or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • Combine the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and fat and mix on the lowest speed possible, just above a stir, for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should gather together into a neat, not-too-tacky ball on the hook. When it does, 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 rise until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
  • Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Using a bench scraper or a knife, 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 and weigh about 25 grams, or a smidge under an ounce. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the armada of little dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut out fifty 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Coat a chopstick with whatever fat you’re working with.
  • 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 (or a dry kitchen towel) 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 (reheat them for a minute or so in the steamer if necessary) or allow to cool completely, then seal in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to a few months. Reheat frozen buns in a stovetop steamer for 2 to 3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.

Quick Salt Pickles

Makes about 2 cups
(halve or double the recipe as needed)

2 meaty Kirby cucumbers, cut into 1⁄8-inch-thick disks.
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Combine the cucumbers with the sugar and salt in a small mixing bowl and toss to coat with the sugar and salt. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Taste: if the pickles are too sweet or too salty, put them into a colander, rinse off the seasoning, and dry in a kitchen towel. Taste again and add more sugar or salt as needed.
  • Serve after 5 to 10 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
TO ASSEMBLE THE BUNS: Slather each bun with hoisin sauce. Then place a slice of pork belly, a couple pickles, & a sprinkling of sliced scallions inside the buns. Eat & be amazed that you made such a tasty dish. The next morning, take some buns from the freezer, steam them for just a couple minutes to reheat, then stuff each with scallion scrambled eggs & leftover pork belly that you've reheated in a skillet. Dress with hoisin sauce (or hot sauce if you're feeling frisky) for a breakfast of champions.

Thanks to Steph for taking the photos!


Karen said...

Wow, I'm a little jealous - I can't wait to make and taste!

Alanna Kellogg said...

Where did you get the pork belly? Hmm, I should check the freezer, we supposedly got a 'whole hog', it might be in there! (Or maybe in the sausage that disappeared first.)

Leslie said...

Yeah, I will definitely have to try this! :)

KELLY said...


I got the pork belly at Global Foods.