Gua Bao from Shangri La in Belmont, MA
Long before David Chang made pork belly buns famous with his famous Momofuku signature dish, Taiwanese people have been enjoying "gua bao," a traditional pork belly bun, for decades. The pork belly in gua bao is slowly braised in an aromatic mixture of soy sauce, shallots, wine, and 5-spice powder for hours. Mix it with some braised pickled mustard greens, fresh cilantro, and a dusting of peanuts, and you have a decadent treat that has elements of savory, sweet, crunch, and a refreshing crisp all in one bite. Absolutely heavenly.
Inspired by the many fantastic gua baos that I have enjoyed at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Boston, I decided to try making my own.
This recipe is actually pretty easy and the results taste fantastic. The hardest part is probably buying the ingredients, since you will likely not be able to find them at your typical grocery store.
You will need pickled mustard greens, which you can usually find in either in the produce section or the refrigerated section of an Asian supermarket. They come vacuum sealed in a bag and can have a variety of English names which may be difficult to figure out, such as "Red In Snow," Snow Pickle," or "Salted Cabbage."
Pork belly is easier to find these days. I was able to find some at a Chinese supermarket and at Whole Foods Market. Pork belly is pretty cheap and you can make quite a few gua baos with just a few strips.
I also tried making my own buns from scratch this time around. It's quite a lot of work, and the end result still didn't taste as good as the ones they make in the restaurant. If you want to save time & a lot of effort, the easiest thing to do is probably to make the fillings and buy some fresh or frozen pre-made buns!
Adapted from Chinese Snacks, by Huang Su-Huei
Makes enough meat for about 20 buns
4 T vegetable oil
⅔ lb pickled mustard greens, chopped
1 T soy sauce
2 T vegetable oil
1 T chopped shallots
2 lbs pork belly, sliced into 2 inch pieces
1 T sugar
1 T cooking wine
½ t 5-spice powder
1 ½ cup water
½ cup soy sauce
1 cup crushed peanuts
½ cup cilantro
Use store bought ones or click here for the recipe
Saute pickled mustard greens in about 4 T of vegetable oil over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add 1 T of soy sauce, stir around, and then remove from heat. Set aside.
Heat 2 T vegetable oil in saucepan over medium high heat. Add chopped shallots and saute briefly until they turn golden brown. Add pork belly and briefly stir fry. Add braising ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 2-5 hours. About 10 minutes before serving, add the cooked mustard greens and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
The final product should look like this!
Now you are ready to assemble. You can serve the meal like this, where the guests can assemble the baos themselves, or you can make each individual one for them.
It's pretty simple! Throw in a cube or two of pork belly, add some mustard greens, throw on some cilantro and crushed peanuts, and it's ready to serve!
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