Bao Buns With Red-Braised Pork Belly

March 18, 2021
6 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Makes 8-10 buns
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. —Jun

What You'll Need
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Maximilian J. Iseson
    Maximilian J. Iseson
  • Eric Reed Lorentzen-Newberg
    Eric Reed Lorentzen-Newberg
  • Jo Thrasher
    Jo Thrasher
  • FrugalCat
  • Jun

19 Reviews

Maximilian J. March 18, 2021
This recipe was great, and i will make it for a second time tonight!
Kesala January 20, 2021
I did both the bun and pork recipes this weekend, and both were perfect!
I doubled the recipe for the buns as I wanted some extra, and they were very fluffy and as you said they reheated very well after 3 minutes in the bamboo steamer.
The pork was super tender and I wish I would have made more to continue eating it! It probably tastes great on rice too.
I'll definitely be making this again!
Thanks a lot for the recipe
CP May 25, 2020
I impulsively decided to make bao buns for some leftover pork belly we had, so this recipe is for the buns only. I halved it so we would only have enough for lunch, but besides that I followed the recipe exactly. I assumed the "1" active dry yeast meant one packet, or 2 1/4 tsp. I wasn't really optimistic after I made the dough... it needed a touch more water to come together and it really didn't seem to rise much. However, they turned out perfectly! They were way puffier than the ones in the top image. Maybe a tad sweet. We loved them and I will definitely be making again, hopefully with the pork belly recipe as well!
Anne September 11, 2019
The sugar doesn’t dissolve in the oil, however gently I heat them together, it just caramelises, what am I doing wrong?
Eric R. January 1, 2019
I've attempted steamed buns twice before using other recipes to dismal results. These buns, however, turned out perfectly. I bumped the water up just a smidge to an even 50% hydration, 125 g, and 5 grams of oil. Bulk rise took me 2 1/2 hours at a warm room temp, and I found rather than kneading (I'm lazy!) a series of 4 fold and turns over the first hour and a half brought the dough together with minimum effort. I'll definitely be making these again. Thank you!
Eric R. January 1, 2019
Oh, I do agree salt is necessary. I did 5 grams.
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.
Jun 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.
Jun 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?
Jun 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?
Jun 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.
Jun 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:
Fran M. April 26, 2018
These sound unbelievable. I hope I get the chance to make them.
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.
Jun April 27, 2018
Oops! Sorry I didn't reply to this comment. My response is in a separate comment above!