True Taiwanese pork belly buns have five defining components: the fluffy steamed bun, tender braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, fresh cilantro, and powdered peanuts. All combined, it's a messy, colorful, glorious snack of salty, sweet, pungent, and fresh flavors, with multiple textures to boot.
Why this recipe works:
- While it can take up to 2 hours, braising the pork belly is very easy: It's simply browned in a skillet and then cooked in the same pan with an aromatic broth until tender.
- Traditional recipes often call for Asian rock sugar, but this version offers easy substitution options like brown sugar.
- For the Pork Belly:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
- One (1-pound) slab skin-on pork belly, cut into 2-inch strips, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 (1/8th-inch) slices fresh ginger (unpeeled)
- 1 star anise pod (optional)
- 1 small fresh red chili, such as Thai chili (optional)
- 2 tablespoons rock, brown or raw sugar
- 1/4 cup Asian rice wine
- 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder (see note)
- 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 4 cups water
- For the Buns and Toppings:
- 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon rock, brown, or raw sugar (see note)
- 6 fresh or frozen Chinese-style steamed buns (see note)
- 6 sprigs fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped
- 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped Asian pickled mustard greens (see note)
For the Pork Belly: Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok. Cook pork belly until lightly browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip pork belly and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer pork belly to a plate and set aside.
In the same skillet, add garlic and ginger and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until fragrant. Add star anise and chili (if using), and sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Add rice wine and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Add five spice powder, dark and light soy sauces, and water and bring to a boil.
Return pork belly to the skillet and reduce heat to low. Cover skillet and cook until pork belly is very tender, at least 1 hour or preferably 2 hours.
For the Buns and Toppings: Meanwhile, combine peanuts and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse, stopping to scrape down the sides, until the mixture resembles a coarse powder, about 1 minute.
Set a steamer over a pot of boiling water. Add buns, cover steamer and cook until buns are heated through and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
To Serve: Spread pickled mustard greens inside each steamed bun and set a piece of pork belly on top of mustard greens. Top pork belly with a pinch of the chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of the peanut powder. Serve immediately.
Find five spice powder, fresh or frozen Chinese-style steamed buns, jarred pickled mustard greens, and rock sugar at Asian grocery stores.