Sunday, May 18, 2014

(Belated Again) Chinese New Year Meal #5: Pork Belly Buns (Gua Bao)

I have to admit - it is more than a little ridiculous that I am still posting Chinese New Year meals.  It's almost June.  But I started posting them back in March and promised to post another week's worth of Chinese New Year meals so we are committed.  I'm sure I could stop doing it and no one would notice, but we're just going to keep slowly trucking along because that's what we do.  We finally had time to visit Chinatown this past weekend for another few meals' worth of Asian groceries, so we should be making a few other Asian recipes this week (the goal is to knock off 2 belated Chinese New Year meals this week and they we will only have ONE left to do).  Whoo-hoo!  I refuse to let this carry on into June if I can help it...  I want to make some seafood panfried noodles and another meat or tofu dish with Chinese celery (this Celery and Tofu recipe from the NY Times has been taunting me for years) and then I will call it a day for this year.  The noodles might need to wait until next weekend, but I'm thinking the other dish is definitely do-able next week without another trip to the grocery store.

Anyway, these pork belly buns are one of my favorite pork belly dishes we have ever made.  When we tried to make the Pork Belly Ssam with Mustard Seed Sauce from the Momofuku cookbook our pork belly was way salty and verging on burnt.  Previously our most successful pork belly dish was this Red-Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou), which was lovely and very flavorful.  But it was a little heavy and very rich.  Even though the flavor was really good, you felt like you were eating a heart attack on a plate.  This pork belly was super flavorful - savory and a little sweet with just a hint of lingering heat from the Thai chili (I highly recommend you include it).  The cilantro gives the dish some freshness and crisp texture, the peanut powder is nicely sweet and crunchy and the pickled mustard greens are vinegary and tangy.  It is the perfect balance of the fatty pork, tender steamed buns and a variety of flavors and textures.

Recipe after the jump!

Pork Belly Buns (Gua Bao)
Available at Serious Eats

For the Pork Belly:
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
One (1-pound) slab skin-on pork belly, cut into 2-inch strips, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
2 (1/8th-inch) slices fresh ginger (unpeeled)
1 star anise pod (optional)
1 small fresh red chili, such as Thai chili (optional)
2 tablespoons rock, brown or raw sugar
1/4 cup Asian rice wine
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder (see note above)
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup light soy sauce
4 cups water
For the Buns and Toppings:
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 tablespoon rock, brown, or raw sugar (see note above)
6 fresh or frozen Chinese-style steamed buns (see note above)
6 sprigs fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped
4 tablespoons coarsely chopped Asian pickled mustard greens (see note above)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok. Cook pork belly until lightly browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip pork belly and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer pork belly to a plate and set aside.
In the same skillet, add garlic and ginger and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until fragrant. Add star anise and chili (if using), and sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Add rice wine and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Add five spice powder, dark and light soy sauces, and water and bring to a boil.

Return pork belly to the skillet and reduce heat to low. Cover skillet and cook until pork belly is very tender, at least 1 hour or preferably 2 hours.

Meanwhile, combine peanuts and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse, stopping to scrape down the sides, until the mixture resembles a coarse powder, about 1 minute.

Set a steamer over a pot of boiling water. Add buns, cover steamer and cook until buns are heated through and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Spread pickled mustard greens inside each steamed bun and set a piece of pork belly on top of mustard greens. Top pork belly with a pinch of the chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of the peanut powder. Serve immediately.

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