Who doesn’t love pork belly with all those perfectly even layers of meat and fat? Sinful, yes. Indulging once in a while won’t hurt either, would it?
Let’s face it. . . Chinese cooks inarguably prepare this glorious cut of pork in the best way. Slow-braised, fork-tender, gelatinous, succulent, flavorful. I’m running out of superlatives, drooling at the same time, as I try to think of and share my dining experience in this writing.
There ain’t much points to go wrong on with this dish, and that’s really nice – pulling off something so exquisite without needing much cooking expertise.
A good cut of pork belly has all the moisture it needs. All it needs is a good basic flavor base and we’re going to Chinese cuisine for inspiration. Mix equal parts of soy sauce, sugar, and Chinese cooking wine. Add some spices – star anise, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns.
Get the pork belly marinating in this mix for at least overnight.
Put the pork, together with all of the marinade in a sous vide bag.
Cook the pork in a sous vide bath preheated to 170F for 8 hours. They’ll actually be good to serve by 3 hours, only getting tender as you go longer. Trust me, go for 8 and you’ll be rewarded with buttery-smooth and tender meat. Don’t have a circulator? You can get one for under $100.
Take the pork belly out of the bag and carve them into thin slices. I really enjoyed feeling my knife slide effortlessly through those layers of meat, fat, and even through the bones.
Don’t leave the gelatinous cooking juices in your sous vide bag go to waste. All that flavor has to come back into our pork dish.
Work it into a dipping sauce or a glaze. Mix up a slurry of cornstarch and water and whisk it into the sauce over medium heat just until it thickens. Don’t be tempted to use flour in place of cornstarch. That will give our sauce a raw ‘floury’ taste. Furthermore, cornstarch will give the sauce a very good appetizing sheen.
The braised pork belly would be really perfect over hot rice. It’ll be good on steamed buns too.
You may find various recipes for these Bao buns out there, but I thought I’d better share how I did mine.
Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl.
Stir in the milk, water, and oil until a smooth, slightly sticky dough forms.
Lightly dust your work counter with flour and knead the dough for about 10 minutes. This kneading will give your buns that smooth chewy texture. . . it’s a good workout too!
Leave the dough to rise for about an hour in a lightly oiled and covered bowl. It should rise up nearly double in volume.
Roll the dough into a cylindrical shape and cut it into even portions.
Work each ball of dough into a flat circle using a rolling pin.
Brush the dough pieces lightly with oil and fold it into halves over a chopstick set in the middle.
Carefully pull the chopstick out and leave the formed buns to rest for another 20 minutes or so.
Finish the buns in the steamer for about 8-10 minutes.