PACKED WITH A WALLOP OF SCALLION GROUND PORK, A PIECE OF BRAISED PORK BELLY, ONE BRAISED SHITAKE MUSHROOM, ONE SALTED DUCK YOLK AND CHILI CONFIT, EACH BUN MEASURES 5 1/2″ (14 CM) IN DIAMETER AND ALMOST 1 LB (450 GRAMS) IN WEIGHT
IF THIS ISN’T CRIMINAL, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS
There’s something about me unknown to most. I have a sickly obsession for Chinese steamed pork buns. Sickly, I said. I think it was a childhood trauma that I developed in my earliest memory, over one afternoon by a hungry swimming pool when it was given to me as a snack, but I never suspect it would follow me ghostly into adulthood like an unsociable kink. Ask my husband who never understood any of it, that whether it is placed on the table of a proper restaurant or abandoned in the metal cage of an electric warmer inside any 7-11’s in Asia, or even just a carcass of it laying on the asphalt being picked by a mob of pigeons… you put a steamed pork bun within my perimeter of sight? And you’re likely to achieve a deer-in-headlights reaction from me. Yeah. Throw a steamed pork bun in front of me while I’m crossing the street? And you can watch the progression of a human-roadkill unfold with captions, NatGeo-style. I wish I could say that this is where the embarrassment stops, but no. Thing is, size matters, too. Even though we all know that size does not imply superiority or function, but as far as steamed bun goes, it is fair to say that I like’em as unapologetically as how men like their boobs. Maximumly enormous for no good reasons. I know, it’s completely shallow, illogical, utterly fantasy-based. In fact, overly large steamed buns usually mean overly thick doughs and little fillings, and for the past 35-some years in the ever-pursuit for “the one”, big or small, I hardly found a steamed pork bun that I actually like. I just believe that it’s out there. It is an obsession supported only by faith, that as long as I bite into every single steamed pork bun that comes across my path, that if I just do that, then someday somewhere, I would find the one. And that day came.
That day, on a busy Beijing street where I’ve overlooked all these years, I found the bun of my dreams. Huge… colossal… almost comically sized, it was the steamed pork bun I’ve always wanted, with soft but chewy dough in the optimal thickness, filled with flavourful, savoury and non-soggy filling that was a complete meal on its own. It almost made me forget about the “but”… well… But, the only thing was… there was practically no pork. Fuck. Perhaps it’s the traditional way, perhaps it’s even the healthy way, but there was about a whole damn cup of diced cabbage, even though nicely seasoned if I might add, with only about one tbsp, one lousy tbsp of diced pork! Now that, that really pissed me off. It might as well be called, the almost vegetarian pork bun. What was I to do? Could I right this wrong?
Three days later, I think the question is, did I or did I not overdo it?
Behold… of this thing that I created… What should I call this fine specimen of human greed, I asked myself…? It’s gotta be something absurd, something inherently wrong… immoral almost. Because, if that “dream bun” I found on the street was NY-style pizza, this is deep dish. Each bun is packed with a wallop of scallion and ground pork filling, one piece of braised skin-on pork belly, one while braised shiitake mushroom, one salted duck yolk, and as much The Mean Santa chili confit to my heart’s content, and measures 5 1/2 ” in diameter and almost 1 lb in weight. Stuffed within its baby-bottom-like, supple but chewy and slightly sweet dough, is its ambitious true self that deals in rampant pork fat, the richness in salted yolk, the spiciness of stewed chilis, and an overall ruthlessness for insatiable flavours. If this isn’t criminal, I don’t know what is. So my friends, as much as our pop-culture demands as it is fitting, between this and “El Chapo”, I’ve chosen…
The Walter White, the kingpin of meat buns. And I hope, it meets its gloriously tragic death, in your tummy.
You can make the filling of the buns as elaborate or as simple as you like, with the pork-scallion filling as the basic foundation, and consider the braised pork belly, salted duck yolk and chilis confit, or any combination of them, as "optional".
- 4 whole dried shiitake mushrooms
- 16.4 oz (465 grams) skin-on pork belly, cut into 1" (2.5 cm) cubes
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 5 large slices of ginger
- 2 whole star anise
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) shaoxing wine
- 3 tbsp (45 grams) soy sauce
- 2 tsp (14 grams) molasses
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) water
- 2 tsp (8 grams) light brown sugar
- 1 tsp (5 grams) smooth peanut butter
- 3 1/4 cup (400 grams) all-purpose flour
- 4 1/2 tbsp (56 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp (5 grams) instant dry yeast
- 1/3 tsp (2 grams) salt
- 1 cup minus 1/2 tbsp (230 grams) water
- 21 oz (600 grams) ground pork
- 2 cups (120 grams) finely diced scallion
- 4 tbsp (59 grams) soy sauce, preferably dark
- 1 1/2 tbsp (19 grams) toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp (6 grams) cornstarch
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 4 Chinese salted duck egg yolks
- The Mean Santa chilis sauce/chili confit
- TO MAKE THE BRAISED PORK BELLY: Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 15 min. In a braising pot over medium-high heat, cook the pork belly until no longer pink. Add the smashed garlic, sliced ginger and star anise, and continue to cook until pork/garlics/gingers are slightly browned. Add the shaoxing wine, soy sauce and molasses, cooking and stirring for a couple min until the liquid is slightly reduced, and the ingredients are evenly coated in caramel color. Drain the mushrooms and add to the pot, along with water, light brown sugar and smooth peanut butter. Mix evenly, then turn the heat down to very low. Put the lid on and gently simmer for 2 to 2.5 hours, turning a couple times in between, until the porks are really soft, and the sauce is shiny and thick (you may add an extra tbsp of water along the way if the liquid is reducing too fast). This can be made the day before.
- TO MAKE THE PORK SCALION FILLING: With chopsticks or fork, evenly mix ground pork, diced scallion, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, cornstarch, white pepper and sugar together. Stir in a single direction for 1 min until the mixture feels stiff and sticky. Add the water, 1 tbsp at a time, and continue to stir for 1 min for each addition. We're creating kind of an "emulsion" here, and at the end the mixture should feel sticky and paste-like. Set aside in the fridge until needed (can be made while the dough is rising).
- TO MAKE THE DOUGH AND BUNS: With stand-mixer or hand-held mixer with dough-hooks, mix flour, sugar, instant dry yeast and salt in the bowl. Add water then start mixing on low, scraping the bowl once, until a cohesive dough forms. Turn the speed to medium-high, and knead for another 5~6 min until the dough is very smooth and elastic (you can also knead with your hands vigorously for 10 min). The dough should pull cleanly away from the bowl, and is soft, tacky but not overly sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 1.5 to 2 hours until fully doubled.
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 equal portions. You won't need too much flour to work with this dough, so only dust lightly as needed. Roll 1 portion out into a disk about 1/3" (1 cm) thick, then roll the outer rim of the disk (about 1", 2 cm of it) outward to make it even thinner, about 1/3 of the thickness compared to the center. This is where the folds will gather, so it needs to be thinner to begin with. Transfer the dough onto a bowl with the same diameter, so it creates a natural crater/dent that makes everything easier. Fill the "crater" with 1/4 of the pork-scallion filling, 1 piece of braised pork belly, 1 mushroom, 1 salted duck egg yolk, and a couple tsp of The Mean Santa chilis sauce/chili confit (drain away as much excess oil as you can). Now bring the edges of the dough upwards to close the bun, making overlapping folds as you turn the bowl and pinch tightly at the end, until the bun is completely sealed at the top. You may leave a small hole in the centre of the bun for a classic look, but it's not necessary. Invert the bowl to release the bun onto your hand, then place the bun seam-side up on a piece of parchment. Repeat with the rest of the buns.
- TO STEAM THE BUNS: Let each bun proof slightly again for 15~20 min. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat, with a steamer on top. Note that the buns will expand at least 50% during steaming, so you may only be able to cook 1 or 2 at a time depending. Place the buns onto the steamer, then turn the heat down to medium to medium-high (extremely high heat will cause the dough to expand too much, and deflate later on). Put the steamer-lid on and steam for 17~20 min until the centre is cooked.
- Serve immediately. Or once cooled, wrap with plastic-wrap and keep inside the freezer. Steam for 10 min over medium-high heat to bring it back alive.
I ran out of dark soy sauce for this recipe, but you should use dark for a better color of the pork filling.