A couple of days ago I passed by this restaurant that served at least 15 different kinds of bao buns. Unfortunately, I didn't have any but ever since then, I've been thinking about baos. There are endless choices for the type of filling you can have but I chose to go the pork route and make braised pork belly bao. Braised tender pork belly stuffed in a bao with pickled cucumbers, crushed peanuts, and cilantro, it just sounds wonderful, don't you think?
Braised Pork Belly Bao
- 3 lbs pork belly, skin on
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 English cucumber thinly sliced
- 1 large shallot peeled and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup mirin
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup salted peanuts chopped
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 12 bao buns
- fresh cilantro for garnish
- Marinate the pork belly. Cut slits into the skin of the pork belly about ¼ inch deep and ½ inch apart. Combine soy sauce - lime juice in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the sugar has melted, stirring frequently. Let cool. Place the pork belly skin side down in a container and pour the marinade. Let sit overnight, turning the pork belly over occasionally.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Transfer pork to an oven-safe dish with 2 cups marinade and 2 cups water. Cover with foil. Bring to a boil over the stove-top. Continue cooking the pork in the oven for 2 ½ - 3 hours or until the pork is tender and falls apart easily. Let cool. When the pork is cool enough to handle, slice into ¼ inch thick slices. Set aside.
- While the pork is braising, pickle the cucumbers and shallot. Combine the mirin, rice vinegar, and sugar together, mixing until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the cucumber and shallot in a medium-size jar. Let chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
- Prepare the peanuts by crushing together the peanuts with the brown sugar with a mortar and pestle or with a knife. Crush until the peanuts are well combined with the sugar.
- Heat the bao buns in a steamer for 10 minutes or until soft and warm. Assemble the buns with slices of the pork belly, pickled cucumbers and shallots, cilantro, and peanut crumble. Serve immediately.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Let's get right into it, shall we? Start by preparing the pork belly. Cut slits into the skin of the pork, making it easier for the marinade to soak the meat. Simmer all of the ingredients for the marinade including soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, fish lime, and lime and let it cool completely. Pour over the pork and let it sit overnight, turning occasionally.
The following day, add water to the marinade and bring the liquid to a boil. Continue cooking the pork belly in the oven at 300 degrees F for about 2 ½ - 3 hours or until it's tender.
While the pork is braising, make the toppings. Pickle the cucumber and shallots with mirin, rice vinegar, and a touch of sugar. You can also make the pickled vegetables the day before.
Crush the peanuts with brown sugar to make the peanut crumble and chop some fresh cilantro for the garnish.
By now the pork should be fork-tender. We're talking about fall apart tender people. We want to slice the pork but it'll fall apart under the weight of the knife so let it cool slightly before slicing. While you're waiting for the pork to cool, heat up the bao using either a steamer or microwave. I personally prefer the steamer because if you overheat the bao buns in the microwave, they can get hard. To heat the bao in the microwave, cover the buns with a damp paper towel and heat in 30-second intervals, keeping an eye on the buns.
Make sure to prepare a lot of these braised pork belly bao because they will go quickly. You don't even need a sauce because the pork is so darn flavorful. The peanuts add a nutty crunch while the crisp tangy cucumbers complement the saltier pork. I'm not going to lie, I already had three and could go for some more...
For more pork belly inspiration, check out this twice cooked black pepper pork belly recipe.