I’m a huge fan of David Chang’s wonderful Momofuku cookbook. The combinations and twists on Asian flavours are inspiring, especially the take on Peking duck in the shape of roast pork buns. I thought i’d do a riff on Chang’s famous dish by cooking the pork sous-vide instead of the traditional way of roasting it.
Of course, you could roast the pork quite easily in the oven at 180C (356F) for an hour or two but the process of sous-vide, I hoped, would result in a meltingly soft pork belly that dissolves in the mouth when biting into the stuffed buns. To do this I followed Chang’s method of rubbing a tablespoon each of salt and brown sugar onto a 500g piece of pork belly and setting it aside in the fridge, wrapped up, for six hours.
I then set the water bath for 68C (154F) and once the six hours were up I went and unwrapped the belly just removing a little of the sugar and salt mix. Place the belly into a vac bag and seal it on full pressure before dropping into the water. A top tip here is to weigh the belly down as it does have a tendency to float further into the cooking process.
Don’t expect to be dishing up the bun’s today…this process takes 24 hours! So do plan ahead. In the meantime you can either dash down to the Asian supermarket and pick up some steamed buns from the freezer section or, if you’re mad like me, you can make your own! Honestly these are so easy to make and they freeze incredibly well, here’s the recipe:
650g Strong White Flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp Lard, softened, plus extra for greasing
½ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
3 tbsp Milk
2 x 7g Sachets of Dried Yeast
350ml Water, warmed to blood temperature
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour in the yeast and warm water and mix to combine. Add the remaining ingredients and set the machine onto a low speed to bring the dough together. Increase the speed to medium once combined and let the machine run for 10 minutes or until the dough has come together. It will be slightly sticky but you should be able to handle it without difficulty. Could you make this by hand? I reckon you could, just really work the fat into the flour first before pouring in the water and knead like a traditional bread dough.
If the dough is too sticky, add a small amount of flour into the machine and mix again for 1-2 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Grease a large bowl and place the dough inside. Cover with cling film and set aside in a warm place for one and half hours or until doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, remove the cling film and dust a work surface with a little flour. Place the dough onto the work surface and gently knead it to knock some of the air out of it. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces and then divide each piece into a further 5-6 balls of dough, around the size of a golf ball. Cut a large sheet of greaseproof paper into 50 squares of around 10cm x 8cm and set aside. Roll each piece of dough into a round ball and place each ball onto a piece of greaseproof paper and set onto a tray. Cover with cling film and allow to rise for around 30 minutes.
To form the shape of the buns, take each ball on a lightly floured surface and roll it into an oval, around 15cm in length. Place a greased chopstick across the centre and fold the bun into a semi-circle shape. Place this back onto the greaseproof paper, covered, until you come to steam them.
Set up a tiered or bamboo steamer over a pan of boiling water – with a bamboo steamer be prepared to work in batches of three at a time.
Steam the buns for 10 minutes then place onto a cooling rack to cool completely if you plan to freeze these – which I ended up doing in ziploc bags still with the paper attached for easy steaming later on. The buns can be served straight away from the steamer also of course. I kind of expected the buns to still be open once steamed but they had fastened shut so the easy way to combat this is wait until they have cooled and just simply slice along the ridge with a breadknife to open them out.
Finishing the buns is dead easy. I decided to do David’s dish justice by replicating the same garnishes. Salt pickled cucumbers and shredded spring onions with lashings of hoisin sauce are absolutely perfect for this epic pork. Slice up a cucumber nice and thin, place in a bowl with a tablespoon of rock salt and sugar, all that’s left to do is to leave these to pickle for 5 minutes – resulting in a crunchy yet addictive texture.
To finish the pork I simply removed it from the bag and glazed the top with a little hoisin. Set this in a hot oven (around 230C) for 5 minutes before slicing the belly into thick pieces. I was amazed at the texture, having expected a steaky texture I ended up with almost cotton-like pork, insanely tender.
If you’ve frozen the buns, whack them in a steamer for 3-5 minutes or until completely soft as before. Slather the inside with a generous amount of hoisin, lay a couple of cucumber slices onto the bun, top with the pork and finally a pinch of chopped spring onions, stand back and admire….
Biting into this really took me by surprise. It’s simply one of the best things i’ve ever had the pleasure to make. The pork just disappears in the mouth, the fat melts like it’s not even there. The salt and sugar ensure that the flavour remains long after the pork has gone, stick that with the hoisin, crunchy cucumber and pillow-like bun, this is good eating.
David Chang shifts thousands of these buns every day across his Momofuku restaurants. It’s not hard to see why. I have made the roasted version but for me, this is bettered by the texture that sous-vide offers. The cotton-candy texture of the pork is a pleasure to eat and the garnishes are classic heavyweights of Chinese cuisine. It really is incredible.