Thursday, 31 March 2016

Gua Bao with Braised Pork Belly 割包


Gua Bao is a humble Taiwanese street food that has its origins from Fuzhou. It comprises a U-shaped bun sandwiching a piece of luscious pork belly. Traditionally it is topped with pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts and a sprinkle of greens. It is really just another convenient snack in Taiwan that sees lesser light than its other more popular peers like Shilin Fried Chicken, Pineapple Tart or Taiwanese Sausage. On the other hand, it is rather popular in America when chef David Chang adopted it and gave it a new lift in his famed restaurant, Momofuku. The fascination of a "Chinese hamburger" really caught on.



In my country, there is kau yuk bao (扣肉包), a similar bun to gua bao. This bao normally comes plain with just a piece scrumptious pork belly as filling. My personal preference is still gua bao as it is cleverly matched with vegetables, sauce and other toppings. When you bite into what seems to be an ordinary bun, you would experience that combination of flavourful succulent meat and soft tender bun all soaked in its lovely sauce. And as you chew, the crunchiness from the peanuts and freshness of the vegetables further wow you with layers of texture. Whoever created this lovely bun is really a genius. With the combination of sourness of its pickled vegetables and sweetness of the Hoisin sauce, topped with crunchy peanuts and greens, the bao is complete. A masterpiece!

You could basically put anything you fancy in a gua bao, just like a hamburger with pork or beef. Pork belly is still my all-time favourite. There is something about pairing melt-in-your-mouth braised pork belly slices with the tender soft fluffy buns. Perhaps it is the buns soaking up all the deliciousness of the pork, it just feel right to the bite. The pork is meticulously braised in slow fire to get that succulent melt-in-the mouth effect. The braising sauce, where all the flavours are, is then reduced to a thick sticky concentrate to coat the pork. And being Malaysian, I have to add some spiciness to complete this dish. You would definitely get layers of flavours on your first bite.

Gua Bao with Braised Pork Belly 割包

Makes 25-28 pieces

Ingredients

800 g pork belly
25-30 pcs lotus leaf buns (recipe here)
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
3 - 3 1/2 cups water
1 large cinnamon stick
3 star anise
8-10 cloves garlic
2 inch ginger (size of thumb), crushed
2 pcs dried chilli (optional)
oil for frying

Seasoning
1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp Shao Xing wine
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce (or to preference)

Topping
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
1 can pickle vegetable, shredded (some use salted vegetables)
2 stalk scallion, cut to 2 inches length and julienne
shredded chilli (optional)
shredded carrot (optional)
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
lettuce

Cooking Instruction

1. Blanch the pork in hot water for about 5 minutes.

2. Brush some dark soy sauce on the skin. Heat a little oil to fry the slab of pork, skin side down (you could skip step 2 if you are lazy).



I experimented with braising the whole meat then slice.
Not a good idea because the meat was too soft and fell apart when cut. 
3. Slice pork 1 cm thick. Put pork, seasoning, water, star anise, cinnamon, dried chilli, garlic and ginger into a slow cooker. Water should just cover the pork. Cook in "Slow" for 5 hours or until pork is tender. Alternatively, throw everything in a pot and braise covered in a very slow heat until tender.

4. Meanwhile, prepare topping ingredients.



5. When pork is tender, pour braising liquid into a wok/pan and reduce until about 1 1/2 cup left. Slowly add in pork belly (at this stage, pork belly would disintegrate if handle roughly). Mix cornstarch with 2 tsp water and add to braising liquid to thicken. Remove from fire.

6. To serve, place a piece lettuce in between the bun, then pork. Add a dab of Hoisin sauce, pickle and vegetables on top of pork belly. Sprinkle with some crushed peanuts and the bun is ready. Alternatively, you could serve all items separately.


Note:
Lotus leaf buns are also available in grocery stores (or Asian grocery stores).

Get your recipe for the bun here:




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