DAVID CHANG IS MY HOMEBOY: MOMOFUKU PORK BELLY BUNS

December 26, 2008

The Momofukus, a now trinity of Korean/Asian American restaurants that serve accessible powerhouse dishes, sprang up a couple years ago and carved out a new space for the way Americans eat. Momofuku was the new buzzword, pork belly the new truffle, Korean as haute as Japanese. White people were talking about short ribs and buns (buns!). I won't talk too much more about the restaurants because I haven't been to all and live out here in San Francisco, but I can comment about the cult following and my personal experience digging around the recipes.

David Chang, the executive chef and founder of Momofuku, is one of those few chef's whose recipes I don't just try once, but cook as often as I am afforded the time. His recipes are prizes won after a hard days work. They are also movements and rituals I return to when I want to share very good food. I have tried many recipes and have continuously loved them; continuously been loved for them.

I do admit, I was a cynic, a skeptic, but then I made his Chicken Miso Claypot for a boy so picky the he didn't eat vegetables, and it passed with flying colors. Even the mustard greens that I added in the end were slurped down. I made the pork belly buns twice, once when a catered a birthday party with a good friend, Lisa, and another time for Christmas.



Initially the pork belly buns were a difficult concept to wrap my mind around, and I'm no Luddite. They may be a bit of a misnomer and lemme tell you why: I just can't identify their direct line of descent.
1. In dim sum, we already have our pork buns, steamed and baked. They are yeast based buns stuffed with char siu, Chinese BBQ pork. They are sweet and fatty in their own right, possibly carry a bit of red food coloring. They are pork in a bun, yes, but these belly buns are more like Chinese tacos, and pork belly the carnitas.

2. There are also Peking duck buns, basically identical to pork belly buns, except for the protein. Peking duck is a whole roast duck whose skin and fatty layer are used as the protein between the folds of bread. They have scallions and sauce and are similar in most respects.
If I had to chose a winner: It would be #2.

So I lied a little, I only made the bun recipe once (well, thrice if you are counting the fact that I made three batches with slight variances testing against placebo). For my catering a birthday party gig, I did not want to risk soggy hard lifeless buns. I am no baker, so I was not going to front like one. Not on game day. Instead I ordered them from a dim sum shop the day before, for pick up that morning, an adventure in and of itself. My dad's patient gave use 120 buns for free. It's nice to know a doctor. This recipe will be two separate posts: Belly + Buns.

I followed the recipe provided by Gourmet magazine to the point with zero wiggle room. I will provide more didactic commentary (*DZ).


MOMOFUKU PORK BELLY BUNS (Makes 16 taco bell size buns/32 Peking duck size buns)

SUMMARY:
The total time will take more than half a day. But since many of those hours are brining, you best start the night before. Put the pork in the brine the night before, and 5-6 hours before serving start roasting the pork in the oven and making the buns. The pork will roast, crisp and then have to cool down to be sliced because of the high fat content. The sliced pork will then be reheated before serving. Everything can be made before hand and served later, although the buns are best made directly before serving.

WARE:
You need an oven and either a 8x8 or 9x13 roasting pan. You need a steamer for the buns. I have a bamboo one, but a metallic one will work, like one of those pasta pots with a built in strainer.

TOTAL TIME:
mmmmm... 18 hours, Active time: 5-6 hours at the end.

INGREDIENTS

Pork
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 1/2 cups water, divided
- 2 1/2 lb skinless boneless pork belly, cut into quarters (Make sure you ask to take the skin off or else you may fins a nipple and get grossed out)
- 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

For buns

- 1 cup warm water (105-115°F), divided
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons sugar plus a pinch
- 2 tablespoons nonfat dried milk
- 3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Canola oil for greasing and brushing

Accompaniments
- Hoisin sauce, storebought and at least half a cup
- COLD English cucumber, thinly sliced
- Scallions
On a side note, my mother was repulsed by the fact that I wanted to do pork belly, beucase she thought I meant tripe. In Chinese the word for pork belly references its 5 layers: fat, meat, fat, meat, fat.

1. The night before... In a bowl, dissolve the salt, sugar and 4 cups of water. Place quartered pork belly into a freezer bag and fill with brine. Refrigerate over night, 12 hours. Go to bed or watch a CSI marathon.





2. Wake up in the morning and preheat the oven to 300F. Drain pork, rinse, and dry off. Put pork fat side up, 1/c water, 1/2 chicken broth in a roasting pan, cover with foil and roast for 2 1/2 hours in the oven.

3. At least 5 hours before serving the buns, start making the bread. Please see the bread post. As a heads up, you will start making the bread and proofing, and then once you are finished roasting the pork and you will form the buns as the pork chills in the fridge. You will steam the buns while reheating the pork.

4. After 2 1/2 hours at 300F, take foil off and brown the pork belly at 450F for 1/2 hour.



5. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Drain fat into a container. Transfer to the fridge to cool. The belly must be cold to slice. Slice 3/4 to 1 cm thick.



6. Return the pork to the 1/2 hour before serving. Reheat the meat at 350F. (Steam the buns). Slice the cucumber thinly and refrigerate. Cut scallions 1 1/2 think ans then into long julienne strips. Place in iced cold water so they curl.



7. Assemble with hoisin sauce, pork, sliced cucumber and scallions.





See post below for bun dough recipe.

Sources:
1. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/05/dining/05chef.html?_r=1&scp=9&sq=momofuku&st=cse
2. http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2007/10/clay-pot-chicken

6 comments:

Ted said...

pork bun cart. $2 per. i'll get working on a cabeza version.

Charlie said...

Jesus those look orgasmic. I can't wait to try them out for myself!

Anonymous said...

you are hilarious, you know that Katie?

candyce said...

so i just had these at momofuku this past saturday, and was/am in love. it's all i can think about. thanks for this recipe! it seems like a lot of steps, but i'll try to prep properly and give it a try! thanks, thanks, thanks!

Jane Wardani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katie said...

I think the buns are supposed to be folded, but since they didn't proof at the fm, he had to go ahead and use frozen mantou buns. very astute of you... Yes. I'm pretty sure that pork belly buns are just an amalgamation of chinese food in one.

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