Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Momofuku Pork Buns

The grocery gods were not smiling on me this weekend, but I didn't let that stop me from making this kick-ass dish from the Momofuku cookbook.
I had decided that I would be making the dish from this book with the second-most alluring pictures, and damned if that wasn't exactly what I was going to do...
(This is another recipe that's already been done beautifully at MomofukuFor2, so check out the post over there for some gorgeous photos.) Even though I have roasted pork belly in my freezer from last week, there were two reasons that I needed to roast some more yesterday. One reason is that last weekend's pork belly is made with the recipe on page 172, whereas this dish called for the cooking method on page 50 (the difference being an extra 45 minutes of cooking at low heat this week). The main reason, though, is that I sort of failed last time by letting parts of the pork belly burn and, as was the case when the KitchenAid Sausage Stuffer Attachment tried to break my spirit, it was important to me to get back on that metaphorical horse and get a success under my metaphorical belt. I was also excited that I would be using pork belly from Blood Farm... but this was not meant to be. I was super-excited when I got home from my trip to Blood Farm with 6 pounds of pork belly, but when I opened the paper-wrapped package I realized that it had only felt like the right thickness because it was folded in half. (I didn't think to check while I was there because they were swamped and I've never had anything go wrong with a purchase from them before...) This is what I had in front of me:
It was also frozen solid at the time, so I couldn't even unfold it to see if anything could be salvaged. When I removed the skin and cut a couple cross-sections today, I saw that there definitely wasn't any part thick enough for these dishes.
The meat is gorgeous and high quality, but was completely useless for what I was trying to do... (It's all vacuum-sealed in my chest freezer now. Some of it will be great for (narrow) homemade bacon, the rest for sausage, and the pound of skin for a Momofuku amuse bouche... but it was an extremely disappointing discovery on Saturday morning after driving 90 minutes round trip to buy it...) I was thus forced to make an emergency trip to H-Mart to pick up some more pork belly there. I splurged on skinless this time since it looked so pretty.
Again, the pork belly is cured in sugar and kosher salt...
(**Updated to be less incredibly vague**) After 6 hours, the brine is rinsed off and the meat goes into a small dish with my beloved Silpat...
and is thrown into a 450˚F for an hour. I made the executive decision to lightly tent the meat with foil after about 20 minutes to prevent burning. Here's the pork at 30 minutes when I pulled it out to baste:
and after an hour:
After that first hour, the temperature is dropped to 250˚F and the pork is cooked for another 75 minutes. It comes out looking golden and beautiful.
I really love this method of cooking pork belly. Chang talks about it being akin to confit, since so much fat renders off in the beginning, leaving the meat to cook in its own fat for the bulk of the time. Speaking of which, I again came away with a solid yield of pork fat, some of which would go straight into my steamed buns the next afternoon.
I wrapped up the pork belly and threw it in the fridge overnight, to be dealt with again just before dinner. As Sunday afternoon rolled around, I wandered into the kitchen to get to work on the steamed buns. I should probably start by acknowledging that I was a bit cranky at this point. After the pork belly fiasco and dealing with some back pain from lugging around the rabbits' fence on Saturday, I was tuckered out and not really in the mood to spend a few hours prepping 50 buns just so I could use 5 of them. Things didn't get any better when I realized that, in skimming the recipe to make my grocery list, I had failed to see that it calls for bread flour rather than all purpose flour. Sigh. Another emergency grocery run and I was back on track (if somewhat crankier)... Luckily, this is one of those lovely stand mixer doughs that sort of makes itself...
This is a yeast dough with a little extra interest added by dry milk powder and, of course, some tasty, tasty pork fat. After 10 minutes with the dough hook, the ball of dough is thrown in a bowl and allowed to rise for a little over an hour...
The texture of this dough is fantastic, by the way. The next step is to punch the dough down and divide it into 50 equal balls, which I was not about to attempt (since dividing into even 4 equal pieces is hard enough for a kid like me). Luckily, Chang also mentions that each ball should be 25 grams, so I broke out my scale and got the job done that way.
After another half hour, these balls are rolled out into 4-inch-long ovals. A pork-fat-coated chopstick is used to fold the oval in half,
and you're left with 50 very pretty little half moons.
After another half hour of resting/rising time, the buns go into a steamer to cook for about 10 minutes,
during which time they get all puffed up and nifty-looking.
This was my first ever steamed bread, and I got a kick out of the transformation. Already the magical pork buns were starting to make my bad mood dissipate...
The buns freeze well after this point, and can be steamed in 2 to 3 minutes from frozen whenever you get the hankering for pork buns in the future, which is a silver lining to the whole annoying making-50-buns-so-you-can-eat-5 scenario. Just a bit of simple prep from here. Another batch of quick salt-pickled cucumbers is tossed together,
and scallions are sliced...
The roasted pork is sliced (Chang suggests 1/2-inch thick, but I prefer thinner and it's my dinner, so that's what I did...).
The pork was heated through in a skillet this time rather than charring up on a grill.
The buns are re-steamed to warm through (this time using the totally awesome silicone steamer that I received in an Easter care package... Awesome!),and, finally, it's time to assemble. Hoisin and veggies go down first,
followed by the pork belly...
Let's admire these awesome little pork buns a bit more... (That's a dish of Sriracha on the side to spice things up to your desired level...)
These? Were amazing. The flavor combination was absolutely perfect. The Mustard Seed Sauce last week was awesome, but I would choose hoisin and Sriracha over that any day, and would choose these fantastic steamed buns over a lettuce leaf as well. No contest, really. This is definitely my new favorite way to eat pork belly, and I love that it's super-quick and simple once you go through the time of making a big batch of buns. Good stuff. Can I just say, it is really hard for me to cook out of any other book when I have Momofuku sitting on my shelf. I'll draw the line after trying two more dishes from it next weekend, but only because my trip to Blood Farm on Saturday yielded a big ol' bag of pig parts in my freezer waiting to be made into Rick Bayless' Posole in 2 weeks... After that, we'll see how long I can force myself to try recipes from different cookbooks before I come crawling back to my Momofuku cookbook...


Unknown said...

Funny, great blog -- I just made this last week and you have two other postings that are on my list for trying later this summer. Question:

1. What's the purpose of the silpat?

2. When I made this it seemed to be going well but n the end the meat seemed overcooked and excessively salty. Did you leave it to brine overnight or rinse the meat before cooking?

I suspect that the oven's temperature did not drop down to 250 for a long while after I adjusted the settings. It was probably cooking at well over 300 for most of the time.

emmo said...

Hi Todd. Glad you found my little blog. =)

Answers to your questions:

1) I just use the silpat because I really hate cleaning off stuff that has baked onto pyrex. I almost always line my baking dish with a silpat just because everything comes off of it so easily and it leaves the baking dish clean. In summary, the silpat is there because I am lazy. =)

2) If I recall correctly, I left the brine on for around 6 hours, then rinsed it off and patted the meat dry before throwing it in the oven. I agree that, while the meat is tender, it sometimes seems slightly dry. I made a dish from Thomas Keller's Under Pressure last week where I cooked the pork belly sous vide for 12 hours, and that will probably be my go-to method for pork belly from now on... although I think the David Chang method is pretty good.

Unknown said...

Thank you. I'm going to give this a try again when I have access to better quality pork belly. Right now I'm using skin-on stuff from Chinese markets that don't hold together well when the skin is removed. Frankly the china-town belly is more amenable to simmering which I'm more used to (and is better for summer) because of my experience with Japanese cooking techniques.

Not wanting to do dishes is not laziness, just another element of good kitchen planning.