Momofuku’s Famous Pork Buns
Yes, I made them.
And they are pretty f***ing good.
Oooh, did I say that? Chalk it up to me channeling the one and only David Chang, the potty-mouthed, no-holds-barred New York chef sensation who created these wonderfully pillowy steamed buns stuffed with juicy, fatty-delicious pork belly.
How good are they? When my husband and I visited New York last year, we ate these pork buns three out of four days we were there. If they were on the menu, we simply had to have them.
Chang serves these at his Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, and Momofuku Milk Bar bakery. They’re so popular that you’d be hard-pressed to walk into any of these establishments and not find them gracing every table.
The recipe comes from the “Momofuku” cookbook (Clarkson Potter), written by Chang and New York Times writer Peter Meehan.
Making them at home is straight-forward, but does take some effort.
You have to marinate, cook, cool, and neatly slice the pork belly.
You have to make the quick pickles, which are so easy and fantastic tasting.
And you have to buy or make the buns. Yes, I actually made them — all 50 of them by hand. Whew.
These little bundles of sweet-salty-tangy porkiness would be great for a cocktail or dinner party. Or heck, just indulge by wolfing down a small mountain of them for dinner, yourself.
One bite, and you may just find yourself cursing to the high heavens a` la David Chang, too.
Pork Belly for Pork Buns
(Makes enough for 12 pork buns)
One 3-pound slab skinless pork belly
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
Nestle the belly into a roasting pan or other oven-safe vessel that holds it snugly. Mix together the salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub all over the meat; discard any excess salt-and-sugar mixture. Cover the container with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hours but no longer than 24.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Discard any liquid that accumulated in the container. Put the belly in the oven, fat side up, and cook for 1 hour, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it’s an appetizing golden brown.
Turn the oven temperature down to 250 degrees and cook for another 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the belly is tender — it shouldn’t be falling apart, but it should have a down pillow-like yield to a firm finger poke. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the belly to a plate. Decant the fat and the meat juices from the pan and reserve for other uses later. (The meat juices can be added to broths or sautes; it will keep a week in the fridge or indefinitely in the freezer.) Allow the belly to cool slightly.
When it’s cool enough to handle, wrap the belly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge until it’s thoroughly chilled and firm. (You can skip this step if you’re pressed for time, but the only way to get neat, nice-looking slices is to chill the belly thoroughly before slicing it.)
Cut the pork belly into 1/2-inch-thick slices that are about 2 inches long. Warm them for serving in a pan over medium heat, just a minute or two, until they are jiggly soft and heated through. Use at once.
Momofuku Steamed Buns
(Makes 50 buns)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature
4 1/4 cups bread flour
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup rendered pork fat or vegetable shortening, at room temperature, plus more for shaping the buns, as needed
Combine the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and fat and mix on the lowest speed possible, just above a stir, for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should gather together into a neat, not-too-tacky ball on the hook. When it does, lightly oil a medium mixing bowl, put the dough in it, and cover the bowl with a dry kitchen towel. Put it int a turned-off oven with a pilot light or other warmish place, and let rise until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Using a bench scraper or a knife, divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into logs, then cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total. They should be about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh about 25 grams, or a smidge under an ounce. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the armada of little dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut out fifty 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Coat a chopstick with whatever fat you’re working with.
Flatten one ball with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 4-inch-long oval. Lay the greased chopstick across the middle of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form the bun shape. Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper. Stick it back under the plastic wrap (or a dry kitchen towel) and form the rest of the buns. let the buns rest for 30 to 45 minutes; they will rise a little.
Set up a steamer on the stove. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment. You can use the buns immediately (reheat them for a minute or so in the steamer if necessary) or allow to cool completely, then seal in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to a few months. Reheat frozen buns in a stovetop steamer for 2 to 3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.
(Makes about 2 cups)
2 meaty Kirby cucumbers, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Combine cucumber slices with sugar and salt in a small mixing bowl and toss to coat with sugar and salt. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
Taste if the pickles are too sweet or too salty, put them into a colander, rinse off the seasoning, and dry in a kitchen towel. Taste again and add more sugar or salt as needed. Serve after 5 to 10 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Momofuku Pork Buns
1 steamed bun
About 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
3 or 4 slices Quick Pickled Cucumbers
3 thick slices pork belly
1 scant tablespoon thinly sliced scallion (green and white)
Sriracha, for serving
Heat the bun in a steamer on the stovetop. It should be hot to the touch, which will take almost no time with just-made buns and 2 to 3 minutes with frozen buns.
Grab the bun from the steamer and flop it open on a plate. Slather the inside with the hoisin sauce, using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon. Arrange the pickles on one side of the fold in the bun and the slices of pork belly on the other. Scatter the belly and pickles with sliced scallions, fold close, and voila: pork buns. Serve with sriracha.
From “Momofuku” by David Chang and Peter Meehan
More: My Q&A with David Chang