Bao Buns With Red-Braised Pork Belly

By Yi Jun Loh
April 24, 2018
13 Comments


Author Notes: At the end of the day, I’m a sucker for a classic, no-frills pork belly bao. It combines the pillowy texture of a traditional bao bun with the fatty, umami-sweet richness of a classic Chinese red-braised pork (hong shao rou), which, in my opinion, is the ultimate fat + bread combination. (Grilled cheese don’t even come close.) For this recipe, I used my mom’s trusty bao recipe, which has served her well over the past two decades. As for the red-braised pork belly, I adapted Betty Liu’s family recipe to work better as a bao filling (long strips instead of cubed pieces), and made it slightly saucier, so you can have more of that umami goodness to brush onto the bao. Yi Jun Loh

Makes: 8-10 buns

Ingredients

Bao Buns

  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour, plus some extra for rolling out the dough
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (120g) water, ideally warm or at body temperature
  • 1/3 cup (70g) plus 1 teaspoon sugar (caster, if possible), divided
  • 1 (4g) active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon shortening or neutral cooking oil

Red-Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou)

  • 1 pound pork belly, sliced 3/4-inch thick and 3-inches long
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons shaoxing wine, or Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch long pieces
  • 2 star anise pods
  • Garnish:
  • A few sprigs of cilantro
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Chopped scallions

Directions

  1. First, make the bao buns. Add a teaspoon of sugar and yeast to the warm water, and leave it for 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. (It’ll start to bubble and smell a little funky.) Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, and the rest of the sugar together.
  2. In a stand-mixer with a dough hook, add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients, and knead on medium speed for approximately 30 seconds until it comes together to form a rough dough. Then, add the shortening or oil and knead on low for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. At this point, the dough should no longer stick to the sides of the mixing bowl, but if it does, add one tablespoon flour at a time and mix for 30 seconds or so, until it no longer sticks. (You could also do this whole step with your hands and lots of elbow grease.)
  3. Cover the mixing bowl containing the bao dough with a towel. Leave it to proof until it doubles in size. (This should take at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours depending, on the room temperature.) Meanwhile, prepare 10 square pieces of parchment paper, roughly 4-inches long on each side.
  4. When the dough is proofed, punch it down and portion into 10 roughly equal pieces. (They should be around 50g apiece.) Knead the individual pieces of dough 2-3 times, just to squeeze out any extra air pockets.
  5. Then, on a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangular shape with rounded ends, roughly 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. Fold the dough in half lengthwise, and place on the parchment squares. Cover lightly with a towel, and let it proof for 30-45 minutes. It won’t quite double in size by the end of the proofing time, but should be slightly puffier than when you left it.
  6. Ready a pot of boiling water (it should be at a steady boil; more than a simmer, less than a raging boil) with a steamer rack/basket. Transfer the baos onto the steamer setup, cover the pot with a lid, and steam the baos for 12 minutes. They should be all soft and pillowy when done. The baos can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Before eating, re-steam it for roughly 3 minutes to get it all soft and fluffy again.
  7. Next, make the pork. Bring a pot of water to the boil (the same one you used for steaming, if you like, and add in the slices of pork belly. Cook the pork belly for 5 minutes, then take it out of the water. Discard the water.
  8. Add the oil and brown sugar to a pan or skillet and heat on medium-high. When the sugar completely dissolves, add the pork belly slices and sear both sides until brown. This should take roughly 2-3 minutes on each side. (Be careful not to let it burn!) When the pork belly is nicely browned, add in the shaoxing wine and light soy sauce to deglaze the pan.
  9. When done, transfer the pork belly and pan sauce into a pot or dutch oven, and add in the dark soy sauce, slices of ginger, garlic, scallion and star anise. Add water into the pot until the pork belly is half-submerged. Bring this to a boil, then turn it down to a slow simmer. Taste the braising liquid to test for seasoning; Add more light soy sauce or brown sugar until the sauce is to your liking.
  10. Braise the pork belly on a super low simmer, covered, for 60-90 minutes. Stir it occasionally (every 15 minutes or so) to prevent any bits from sticking and burning on the bottom. When done, the pork belly should be spoon-tender and the fat near-gelatinous. Check the consistency of the sauce, it should be the consistency of a saucy glaze, or as thick as honey; Boil and reduce the sauce separately if it’s too runny.
  11. To assemble the bao, pull the bao bun apart in the middle,and brush some of that pork belly sauce in between the buns. Wedge a slice of pork belly in it (or two, if you’re feeling particularly gluttonous). Finally, garnish with some chopped scallions, a few sprigs of cilantro, toasted sesame seeds, and you’re good to go.

More Great Recipes:
Chinese|Pork Belly|Finger Food|Appetizer|Hors D'Oeuvre

Reviews (13) Questions (0)

13 Comments

karen May 15, 2018
I made the buns, but I needed a lot more water than called for. I also added a teaspoon of salt. They were delicious.
 
Author Comment
Yi J. May 16, 2018
Thanks Karen!
 
Very disappointing recipe. It did not seem to have been tested before being published. Way too many alterations to mention to make it work.
 
Author Comment
Yi J. May 8, 2018
Oh no, I'm so sorry this hasn't worked for you! What in particular did you have to alter / did not make sense? Perhaps I could be of help!
 
Jo T. May 2, 2018
These look incredible. Do you have any thoughts on freezing them?
 
Author Comment
Yi J. May 3, 2018
Thanks! Yes, you can certainly freeze and re-steam the bao buns when you're ready to eat them, though I much prefer freshly-steamed baos. I'd advice against freezing the pork though.
 
Shari K. April 28, 2018
Do you transfer the buns into the steamer with the parchment?
 
Author Comment
Yi J. April 28, 2018
Yup! The parchment helps as you'll be able to move the individual buns around. It should peel off easily after steaming.
 
Shari K. April 29, 2018
Thank you!
 
FrugalCat April 27, 2018
Made just the pork and served it on bakery buns. I used turbinado sugar. Instead if the rice wine I used a mix of rice vinegar and sake.
 
Author Comment
Yi J. April 27, 2018
Thanks Fran! I do have a recipe for the filling on my blog actually, though it's for a different dish altogether. But the red bean paste is the same. Check it out here: https://junandtonic.com/new-blog/2018/3/24/sweet-chawanmushi
 
Fran M. April 26, 2018
These sound unbelievable. I hope I get the chance to make them. <br />Would you consider sharing your moms recipe for the red bean paste filling? The red bean paste filling is fantastic also. I have searched but have not found a recipe. Would love it. Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Yi J. April 27, 2018
Oops! Sorry I didn't reply to this comment. My response is in a separate comment above!