Home sweet home – where my mother’s banana bread, bedside tales, and tender prayers dwell – I have decided, will not cease to exist because I moved 4,275 km from where I’ve spent the past ten years of my life. Just as Matthew 18:20 says:
“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
On top of that, my mother has told me since moving to Canada (a decade ago), that home, unlike house, does not take on a physical form. Indeed, home is wherever two of my families are found under a single roof. For that cause, Waterloo is now my home, which I share with my dearest brother. *Note: when you put two baos in a steamer, they grow and get close!
But then again, home is also a matter of taste. Yes, I do partly imply here the taste that’s accountable for chic furnishings and elegant choices, yet more importantly I am addressing that which satisfies the memories of what we ate as children. I don’t know about you, but I had these as a kid. Indeed I was a happy kid. Indeed I am a happy kid.
I mean, how can I not be?
Ingredients for the buns, makes 6 – adapted from Lady and Pups
300g all purpose flour
150g warm water
3 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp instant dry yeast
To make the buns, put the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate bowl, stir together the water and sugar until dissolved. Sprinkle the yeast onto the water and let it bloom. Once the yeast liquid is puffed and foamy, add it to the mixer bowl. Use the dough hook and knead it on medium speed for 5~7 minutes or until smooth and elastic. (Yes, the dough will deceive you into thinking that it’s too dry, but keep calm and do believe the given measurements – do not add any more water.)
Fold the dough into a pretty ball, put it in a large bowl, and cover it with a damp cloth. Place it somewhere warm, and let it rest and rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Meanwhile cut out 12 slips of parchment paper, roughly 8 x 8cm each.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean surface (your countertop). Do not dust with flour. Cut it into 6 equal portions and shape each into an oval. Use a rolling pin to roll it into a long tongue shape, leaving the tips still nice and plush. Place each portion on a slip of parchment paper, place another slip on, then fold the dough over the second slip. (Imagine the dough as the mouth and the slip in the middle is the tongue). Place these in the steamer (along with the piece of parchment underneath), cover with the lid, and let it proof for another hour – just so it puffs up a bit.
Meanwhile, bring a large shallow pan of water to a timid boil for steam. Once the dough is ready, steam it for ten minutes on medium low heat. The key here is to peek very often so the steam can escape, otherwise your baos will deflate on you. At this point, you can serve them immediately or allow them to cool then freeze them for later – just defrost it in the fridge then steam for 4~5 minutes and they’ll taste freshly made.
Ingredients for the braised pork belly:
500g thick organic pork belly, cut into 1 1/2-inch by 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp. grape seed oil
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup dark soy sauce, and extra
scant 1/3 cup rice wine
12 dried shiitake mushrooms, briefly rinsed – NOT soaked
filtered water, to top off
To make the pork belly confit, heat some oil in a large wok or pan and fry the pork belly in batches on medium heat, to brown all the sides. Transfer to a plate. Tip out the grease, leaving about 2 tbsp still in the wok. Bring it back to medium heat and add the sugar. Stir until the rich caramelized aroma is released (at this point the sugar will clump up, that’s normal), then tip in the soy sauce. Stir to break up any lumps of sugar, then let it boil away to form a thick caramel (you can tell by the slowing down of bubbles). Return the pork to the pan, stir to coat, then pour in the rice wine to deglaze.
Transfer everything into a sand pot (any dutch oven or pot would work just as well). Add to it a 1:3 ratio mixture of dark soy sauce (1) and water (3) until the liquid covers the pork. Throw in the shiitakes, then cover and simmer for 2 hours. Let it cool and rest overnight. At this point you can store it in the fridge for a week.
To serve, simply reheat the pork belly confit thoroughly by simmering or putting it in the rice cooker to steam, then sandwich a couple pieces of it into the steamed buns. Drizzle some of the jus onto the inside of the bun, add some crunchy natural peanut butter and chopped fresh cilantro, then fold the top flap of the bun over.