Buns. Bao. Pillowy, chewy, savory steamed buns stuffed with decadent pork belly, spicy sriracha, and bright, contrasting cucumber. Chef David Chang, the Korean-American, French-trained creator of legendary New York noodle bar and ramen heaven, Momofuku, rocketed pork buns into their sweet-salty limelight when he added his often imitated version to the Momofuku menu in 2004. Chang’s Momofuku is largely credited for the ramen craze and his signature pork buns have been equally influential.
I like David Chang. He’s smart and talented and somehow an “everyman” but incredibly special at the same time. His Instagram makes my mouth water and he designed the Momofuku logo in part as a tribute to Eat a Peach. Which makes him fine by me. There are homages to Chang’s tasty buns (heh, heh, heh) everywhere, even in anti-coastal St. Louis, so the pork bun trend is established and legit. Let’s make some, mmkay?!
If you have time to marinate, roast, and chill the pork and to make the buns, which rise three times, they’re simple. You just need time. Eh, maybe quite a bit of time. Allow for a few hours of rising and prep time for the buns and a possible overnight marinating and chilling of the pork. These are more of an appetizer when made with pork belly since it’s so rich, so you can either be hardcore like the Cruses and eat these as a straight-up meal (I ain’t never scared), substitute a leaner cut of pork, or serve as an app. Glaze and grill tofu or stuff with kimchi and cucumbers for a vegan version.
MOMOFUKU’S PORK BUNS
Makes 25 buns
For the pork and quick-pickled cucumbers:
- 4lbs pork belly
- 6 tbsp + 1 tbsp sugar
- 6 tbsp kosher + 1 tsp salt
- 2 cucumbers, cut into 1/8 inch slices
For the buns:
- 2 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp nonfat dry milk powder
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder, rounded
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/6 cup rendered pork fat, from the pork belly, at room temp
- canola oil, for brushing
- hoisin sauce
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced
- sriracha, for serving
- prepared kimchi, for serving
For the pork belly: mix the 6 tbsp salt and 6 tbsp sugar and rub all over the pork. Place the pork in a 9 x 13 dish or a roasting pan and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. When the pork is cured, pour off any liquid from the baking dish and heat your oven to a blazing 450. Roast the pork for one hour, uncovered, basting halfway through. Lower the oven temp to 250 and roast the pork for an additional 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the pork to a plate to cool and pour off some rendered fat to reserve for the bun dough (mmm. pork fat). Wrap with foil or plastic wrap and chill the pork until it’s cool enough to cut- we cooked the pork the day before we made the buns to allow for ample roasting and chilling time, which I highly recommend. Once chilled, the pork will slice and dice nicely. When you’re ready to eat, slice the pork into 2″ x 1/2″ slices and warm in a pan on the stove or microwave.
For the cucumbers: slice the cucumbers into 1/8″ thick rounds. I decoratively peeled mine with a zester because I’m fancy. Toss with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp kosher salt. Let sit for 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use. So easy! Look at you, you’ve pickled something! So capable, you are.
For the buns: Add the yeast and 3/4 cup warm water to a the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, dry milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and rendered fat. Turn the mixer on its lowest setting (I used “stir”) and let dough mix for 8 minutes, until it climbs the hook and forms a ball. Lightly oil a large mixing bowl and plop the dough ball in it; cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area to rise until doubled in size. What with it finally feeling like summer, feel free to place the bowl on a windowsill for extra cozy home points.
When the dough has doubled, punch it down with the back of your hand to expel most of the air. On a clean surface- I always use a large cutting board to work with dough, makes cleanup easier- form the dough into a ball or log. Divide into 5 equal pieces and roll those into logs. Cut each logs into 5 pieces the size of ping-pong balls. Use your knife to mark off the cutting areas before you slice. I made a double batch of dough, so these are double-batch photos:
Roll the ping pongs of dough into balls and place onto a baking sheet. Cover the sheet loosely with plastic wrap and allow the balls to rise 30 minutes. While these are rising, cut out 25 4″ squares of parchment paper to steam the buns on and slice the scallions. Refrigerate sliced scallions until ready to use.
When 30 minutes has passed and the balls of dough have puffed up a bit, use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a 4″ oval. Brush each oval lightly with oil, place on a square of parchment paper, and fold in half by folding a bun over itself onto a chopstick and sliding the chopstick out. Guess what? They have to rise again. PLace the squares of parchment back on the baking sheet or maybe across a counter, making sure not to let the buns touch. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise 30-45 more minutes. You’re almost there! We’re almost steaming!
And now…. we steam! Which means we eat soon! Set up a bamboo steamer (or other flat steamer) on a wok or over a large saucepan filled with about an inch of water, and bring the water to a boil. Place a few buns, parchment paper included, on the steamer, making sure not to overcrowd or allow the dough to touch. Cover and steam for 10 minutes per batch, removing buns to a platter as you go.
If you haven’t done so already, slice and heat the pork belly. Stuff 2-3 pieces of pork belly into each bun, topping with cucumbers, scallions, and 1 tsp hoisin sauce. Pass kimchi and sriracha and revel in your trendy culinary accomplishment!