Pork Buns, Revisited

pork bunI sometimes worry overly much about the recipes I post not always being original. But then I ask myself, what does it mean to be “original”? Was Nicolai Tesla being “original” when he invented the radio? Was Dorothy Richardson being “original” when she pioneered the stream of consciousness narrative mode? Was Momofuku Ando being “original” when he invented the instant ramen noodle, thus changing the lives of college students everywhere?

Well… yes.

Am I being original when I reproduce this recipe for pork buns from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook? No. But in my defense:

1) My pork buns are not exactly like Chang’s. I add gluten, for example, because Chris just introduced me to gluten and it’s a miracle substance that converts cheap ordinary flour into expensive bread flour. Also, my recipe is a little less finickitty. If you want the whole recipe with all the professional details, buy the book.

2) There are probably dozens of New York restaurants which serve pork buns kind of like this.

3) This is too good not to share, for many reasons. This is a food to eat before you die kind of good.

David Chang runs several restaurants in New York under the general name “Momofuku”, so called partly in homage to Momofuku Ando, and partly because it sounds similar to an epithet describing someone who engages in Oedipal behaviour. This should give you some idea of his personality. He is, however, a genius cook, and I encourage you to seek out his chaotically-arranged cookbook for its glimpses into restaurant life as much as for the recipes.

I have already blogged about pork buns, or char siu bao, in an earlier post, but I have come to find this recipe superior. Here’s why: they do not resemble traditional stuffed pork buns, in being more of a folded-over-slice-of-bread shape. The advantages of this are many: they look cool, they are fun to put together, you can freeze the buns separately from the filling for months, and most of all, you can vary the fillings at the table, enabling you to sup with your vegetarian friends without worrying about which bun is which.

This recipe makes a ton of buns – about fifty. But you really can freeze them for months with no loss of quality, which makes quick lunches a snap: load the steamer with a few buns per person and steam for three minutes. Ta da! So clear off the counters and get started.

Momofuku-Style Steamed Buns

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dry yeast

1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

4 1/2 cups plain flour

2 tablespoons gluten

6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening, room temperature

1. Combine the yeast and the water in a bowl. Add the flour, gluten, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and fat and mix for 8-10 minutes. The dough should gather into a neat shiny ball, not too tacky. Place it in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let it rise somewhere warm 1 hour 15 minutes.

2. Punch the dough down and place on a work surface. Cut the dough in half and divide each half into 5 pieces. Roll the pieces into logs and cut each log into five pieces, making 50 in all. Clear off more counter space because you’re running out. Each lump should be about the size of a ping pong ball. Roll each gently into a ball and cover them all loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise 30 more minutes.

3. Cut out 50 small squares of parchment paper.

4. Place a ball on the counter and with a quick swipe-swipe of the rolling pin, turn it into an elongated oval about 4 inches long or so. Gently fold the ball over on itself (it should be a greasy enough dough that it won’t seal when you do this). Place the folded bun on a square of parchment paper and move on to the next one. Cover all the buns with plastic wrap again and let rise for 30-45 minutes.

ball o' dough

ball o' dough

squished ball o' dough

squished ball o' dough

folded squished ball o' dough

folded squished ball o' dough

now find somewhere to put them

now find somewhere to put them

5. Set up a steamer on the stove. I favour bamboo because I like the way it does not drip, and it smells nice, and I like bamboo. Steam the buns on their parchment squares for 10 minutes. With a double stack I could steam 8 buns at a time. You can serve the buns immediately, or let them cool completely and store them in plastic freezer bags for months. To reheat, just put them in the steamer for another 3 minutes until warmed through.

Fillings

David Chang’s buns are famous because he only serves them with pork belly. I, however, cannot get pork belly, and slow roasted pork shoulder was just amazing. He smears the inside of a bun with hoisin sauce, and adds pork, some quick cucumber pickles (cucumber thinly sliced, sprinkled with salt and sugar and allowed to sit for 30 minutes), and a sprinkle of chopped spring onions, and I cannot recommend this approach enough. The cucumbers provide just the fresh snap to balance the fatty salty pork and the chewy bun. However, go crazy! Try chicken, fried seitan, red-cooked pork, bean paste, or garnish with peanuts, cilantro and sprinkling of sugar Taiwanese street food style. The other day for a quick snack I did leftover roast beef and sriracha.

bun in hand

That is good eating.

good eating

7 comments to Pork Buns, Revisited

  • I just finished lunch, but my mouth’s a-watering. These sound so good.

  • Muzhik

    Curse you, Daniel! Curse you and your exquisite recipes! I have a galley kitchen, with two feet between the wall and the counter; all of one counter taken up by the microwave, and a very small cooking space/counter between the stove and sink. I simply CANNOT make the space needed to make 50 of these buns.

    AND YET I MUST! THE YEAST IS CALLING ME!

    Not to mention I can’t even buy a small carton of ice cream, my freezer is so full. And I don’t have a steamer, so I can’t steam them in the first place. Unless I can figure out a way to cobble a steamer out of a pressure cooker…

    Oh, what the heck! Let’s do it! What’s life without risk? So what if I put my eye out, I wasn’t using all that much anyway.

    Wish me luck.

  • I have a kitchen so small, whenever I move an onion, I lose the sink. So: place 20 buns on top of the microwave, 20 in the sink, and 10 on the stove (you won’t be needing the stove right away). As for the freezer, eat whatever is in there. Then you can have buns AND ice cream! Bad news is you probably need a steamer.

    Be careful with your eye, it’s the only one you have. Apart from the other one.

  • Yellowstone Friend

    Daniel,

    I am sure that 50 is the number of pork buns from which 30 could easily be shared. That would free your freezer space as well as save an eye here and there. And….you may need Karma points.

    The math works out to 10 for each of us who commented favorably on your buns.

  • Now what do I need karma points for? By my counting I’ve only made two mistakes in an otherwise perfect life.

    Not a bad idea though… I have about 30 left.

  • Muzhik

    Not a bad idea though… I have about 30 left.

    About 30 what? Buns, points, or lives?

    (Is that what a Buddhist video game would be like? “Damn! I only have 30 lives left!”)

  • I think if you were a Buddhist it would be more like “yay! I only have 30 lives left!”