Sichuan Pork Belly Buns – soft steamed buns filled with spicy Sichuan-style braised pork belly, pickles and herbs…
What is it about the combination of meat in a bun? I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it closely – maybe it’s the contrast of meaty and fluffy textures, or maybe the way savoury works against sweet, or the way the bread helps to soak up juices from the meat.
In any case, I would hazard a guess that it’s a winning combination found in most cuisines across the globe.
Here’s my contribution to the great wealth of meat and bread options out there – Sichuan Pork Belly Buns. A descriptive title, if a little uninspired, but hopefully you’ll forgive my unimaginative naming once you taste the end result.
These pork belly buns are a little bit of a twist on the traditional Taiwanese gua bao. The typical gua bao consists of a piece of braised pork belly sandwiched in a steamed bread bun, topped with pickled mustard greens, coriander and peanuts.
While a well made gua bao can be a thing of beauty, I’ve had too many bland and lackluster ones to be a bit wary. However, we’re not going too far afield here, but instead I wanted to feature a bit more of a kick to the pork belly by braising it with tingly, spicy Sichuan flavours to balance out the soft sweet bun and perky pickles.
The pork belly is sliced and browned, then braised with a bunch of aromatics and spices for about two hours till tender. The braising liquid is strained then reduced so that it coats the meat with its concentrated goodness.
I certainly wanted the pork belly to stand out on its own, and indeed if you have any left over it can be served with rice and some veg on the side as another dinner.
Instead of the traditional topping of pickled mustard greens, I’ve substituted picked carrot and daikon partly because I don’t have to go hunting for mustard greens, but also because I think it adds some nice visual colour contrast. I smear a little hoisin sauce on the buns to add a little more sweetness, then top with spring onion, coriander and chopped peanuts for freshness and more crunch.
A couple of quick notes here before we dive into the recipe.
I’ve advocated for the use of pre-packaged buns for now because A) it make the whole process easier so you can spend more time eating and B) I have yet to find a recipe that works perfectly. The buns you see in the photos were homemade, but I have yet to perfect the lightness of the buns. Stay tuned, and when I do find out I’ll post or link to the master recipe.
Secondly, when looking for chilli bean paste or doubanjiang, try and find one which uses broad beans and has the fewest number of ingredients – this is a nice little overview about the types of doubanjiang…
Now go forth and eat!