I know, it’s been a while – I spent last week preparing Congressional testimony and finishing an article, not about food, for the day job. This followed a star-crossed business trip to Denver in which a) United Airlines lost my luggage on the way to Denver, forcing me to appear on my panel smelling of Airbus, wearing the same clothes I’d worn for the past 24 hours; b) I washed a contact lens down the drain and got to grope around town one-eyed until I could see an optometrist; and c) I poisoned myself on some funny water, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, hi. I’m back.
The National Pork Board should fund some research into whether pork promotes the release of endorphins. I say this because, after a particularly stressful week, I find that some pork sets me right. The effect holds true for braised pork, roasted pork, stewed pork … it’s all the same. You’ve seen quite a bit of pork here – recently, I used the pressure cooker to tenderize a shank to great effect, and everyone should be familiar by now with the saga of the ham. I’ve braised pork belly, and I’ve ground up sausage for English bangers. Belly is my favorite, but it takes a long time.
Except…not necessarily. Say you find yourself with a slab of pork belly and a couple of hours. You can enjoy some delicious roasted pork belly. Enjoy it with bitter greens and a root vegetable purée if you’re short on time. If you’ve got time to spare, steam some buns and flash pickle some onions while your pork roasts, and enjoy this take on the Chinese steamed pork bun, char siu bao.
Roasted pork belly
2 lb slab of pork belly, sans skin and bones (if you buy it skin-on and bone-in, remove the skin and the bone before starting)
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp maltose (if unavailable, substitute 1 tbsp honey and 1 tsp brown sugar)
2 tbsp boiling water
If it occurs to you the night before or the morning of cooking, combine the salt and sugar and coat the pork belly evenly. Place the belly in a pan and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until 1 hour before roasting time. If this is a game time pork decision, coat the pork with the seasoning while the oven heats and do not refrigerate.
Place the belly in the smallest possible roasting pan. Do not cover and do not place on a rack. Combine the maltose and the boiling water; stir well to dissolve. Brush the belly on all sides, including the skin, with the maltose solution.
Roast in the 450F oven for 45m. Reduce the heat to 225F and roast for another 1h 15 mins. Glaze with maltose solution every 45 minutes. The resulting belly will be nearly black in places. Don’t worry.
Remove the belly to a cutting board and rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with flash pickled onion, julienned Korean pear, and bitter greens, such as watercress, arugula, or sprouts, with the steamed buns below if you can. You’ll want a dab of hoisin sauce with the buns, or – for a spicy twist – a bit of gochujang, the Korean hot chile bean paste.
I’m not a baker. This isn’t my recipe. David Chang’s terrific Momofuku cookbook provides this simple and delicious method for producing steamed, yeasty, mildly sweet white buns that complement any roasted meat. Take the bun and add slice of roasted, slightly fatty meat; a smear of sweet bean paste, a crisp tangy bite of pickle – the possible combinations are endless and delicious.
1 tbsp + 1 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 c water (98F-108F)
4 1/4 c bread flour (substitute all purpose)
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp nonfat dry milk
1 tbsp kosher salt
slightly more than 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 c rendered pork fat (substitute shortening or another rendered animal fat, such as duck fat)
Whisk together the flour, sugar, milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and fat.
Combine the yeast and water in a stand mixer and allow to foam. Stir in the flour mixture and mix on the lowest speed, until the mixture forms a solid, slightly sticky ball – about 8-10 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough ball in the bowl. Cover with a dry towel, place in a warm place, and rise for about 1h to 1h 30 mins until the dough doubles in size. Cut the parchment into fifty small (4″x4″) squares.
Punch down the dough and turn it onto a clean surface, like a cutting board. Divide the dough in half, and divide each half into five pieces. Roll each piece into a log and divide each into five pieces. You should have fifty small pieces. Roll each into a ball and place on a sheet pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Rise again for 30 minutes. Alternatively, rest the dough balls overnight in the refrigerator, covered.
Roll each dough ball out, using a chopstick, into a 3 to 4 inch long oval. You may need to stretch the dough slightly. Place each on a parchment square, folded in half, and return to the sheet pan. Cover again with the plastic wrap and rise again for 30 minutes.
Steam the buns in batches in a metal or bamboo steamer. You can steam in batches. Serve immediately (sans paper) or cool completely, which does not take long, and place in a plastic freezer bag. The buns freeze well. Reheat by steaming from a frozen or thawed state for several minutes (1-3 minutes depending whether the buns were frozen or thawed).