Japanese Braised Pork Belly Buns

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We finally had our Chinese New Year dinner tonight and in the spirit of celebration we had tons of food, more than the four of us could handle. Before dinner, the chickadees got their lucky red packets from me,  a red packet is simply a red envelope with money in it which symbolizes luck and wealth.  They are handed out to the younger generations by parents, grandparents, relatives and friends.  When I was growing up in Hong Kong,  I would receive quite a handsome sum of money every year, it was my favorite thing  for New Year besides getting a whole set of new clothes.

I did not have a lot of time to cook all the dishes, so I bought take out from the store. I got the Eight Jeweled Duck, some honey garlic ribs, spicy green beans and Buddha vegetarian dish. The only dishes I made  were  sweet and sour prawns and  braised pork belly.  I would say the popular dish of the night was the braised pork belly. This recipe is  from Asian Dumplings Tips.

Pork belly
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
10 ounces pork belly
4 cups cold water
1/2 cup sake
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

Braising liquid
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 cup shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) or Kikkoman soy sauce
3/4 cups sugar
1 star anise, with 8 full robust points
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

12 medium Steamed Chinese Rolls
2 small scallions, cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths then lengthwise into thin strips
1 Persian cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds or ovals
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Sriracha Sauce, homemade or storebought

1. For the pork belly, heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat until just smoking. Use tongs to sear the fatty side of the pork belly in the pan until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn over and repeat the searing on the other sides. Lower the heat if the pan smokes too much. Transfer to a plate. ( Note: Instead of frying the pork  I put the meat in a baking pani and broil it on high for a couple minutes on each side until it is golden brown it works the same without the mess, but you have to watch it carefully as it burns easily. The reason for frying the meat in oil is to decrease the fat in the meat, and helps it hold the shape when it is cooking)

Braised-pork-belly

2. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the pork belly, cold water, sake, and ginger. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Transfer to a plate, then discard the liquid.

3. Wash the saucepan and then put all the braising liquid ingredients in the pan. Add the pork belly, bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer. Cover and cook gently for 1 1/2 hours, until the pork belly is very tender. Set aside to cool.

4. Transfer the pork belly and braising liquid to a container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool. Cover and chill overnight.

5. Meanwhile, make the steamed buns, if you have not already.

6. Before serving, return the buns to room temperature. Soak the scallion in a bowl of water for 5 minutes to reduce their harshness. Drain and pat dry, then transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate if you are not serving right away.

Toss the cucumber with the sugar and salt and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and pat dry. Transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside. Chill if making hours in advance.

7. Right before serving, bring a Chinese steamer to a gentle boil. Slice the pork belly 1/4-inch thick and place on a plate. Reheat in the steamer for 3 to 4 minutes.  ( Note: I warm mine up in the Microwave. )

8. To serve, open up a bun, slide a slice of pork inside, tuck some scallion in and some cucumber too. Have the Sriracha on the side for those who want to squirt in some extra kick. If you like, reheat some of the braising liquid and moisten the bun with it. You can also set all the components out and let guests help themselves.

For extra sweetness, combine 1/2 cup of the braising liquid with the 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce and serve on the side for guests who desire an extra sweet-savory hit to their buns.

I found this very easy recipe for steamed buns, I could never imagine making Chinese steamed buns with buttermilk biscuit dough, but it tastes really good ! The chickadees thought I made them from scratch!

Shortcut Plain Steamed Buns

(Makes ten 3-inch buns)

1 package (7 1/2 ounces) refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough (use regular, not jumbo size)

Fill the steamer pan halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Line steamer tray with parchment paper, leaving a few holes uncovered for heat circulation.

Unwrap package of biscuit dough. Take one round of dough and use your fingers to stretch it gently until the center is about half of its original thickness. Fold dough in half and place in steamer tray. It will look like giant smiling lips. Repeat with remaining dough rounds, spacing them a generous 1 1/2-inch apart and 1 inch away from the edge of the tray where condensation collects.

Place tray in the steamer, cover, and steam buns for 10 minutes, or until they have nearly doubled in size and look dry. Turn off heat and wait for steam to subside before lifting the lid, and then lift it away from you carefully to avoid condensation dripping onto the buns. Remove tray and use a metal spatula to transfer buns to a wire rack. If the buns are left to cool completely, transfer them to a plate and cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. (The buns may be steamed up to four hours in advance of serving and kept at room temperature. To serve warm, reheat in the steamer or microwave oven.)

Serve buns warm or at room temperature. They are not served hot because the meats that they accompany are not served hot.

From “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen”

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