Pork Belly Bao Buns (Korean-Inspired)

Hello, August! My sister was saying that if she could put seals of approval on my blog posts, that this one would definitely warrant one. We compared it to Joan Calamezzo's book club, ha!

Bao buns seem to be a thing now, thanks to Eddie Huang. But, not all of us have the time or the means to head over to Bao House every afternoon (which is the frequency with which I would like to enjoy bao). So, for someone like me who loves to cook, it means making it at home.

Koreans also have filled steamed buns, called ho-bbang (호빵) and steamed bread, called jjim-bbang (찜빵) which my aunt used to make all the time. So, I defaulted to the dough I know to make the bao bun. For the filling, I also went Korean-inspired and slow cooked pork belly in a sweet soy sauce. I topped the whole thing off with freshly made julienned radish kimchi (polluted with lots of Korean chive from our garden) and a little fried egg. Because Koreans like topping things with eggs.

The end result was a really delightful, super delicious bao. It was so good that I start drooling when I think about it. In fact, I'm drooling as I write this post.
Ingredients [yields 6 to 8 bao]:
steamed buns (bao)
½ cup warm water (110F)
1½ tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons + 1 teaspoon canola oil

pork belly
8 oz. pork belly
½ small daikon radish
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 Thai chilis, chopped
½" knob ginger
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon sesame oil

filled bao buns
julienned radish kimchi
cilantro leaves
quail eggs

At least one day prior to your anticipated bao enjoyment date, make the pork belly. Add all of the ingredients to a slow cooker (I'm lucky enough to have a tiny one; if yours is larger, I would recommend adding the ingredients to a heatproof dish and setting it in a crockpot full of water). Then, pop the slow cooker on low heat and let the pork belly cook for about 8 hours or until it is falling apart because it's so tender. I love this pork belly; I feel like it's paying homage to kalbi jjim.
Let the pork belly cool completely and chill so you can skim off the fat. Remove the pork and slice and return to the liquid and set the slow cooker back on low to reheat.
To make the actual bao dough, you'll want to get started about an hour and a half prior to dining time.
Add sugar and yeast to the warm water and leave to bloom until nice and frothy.
In a large bowl,combine the flour, salt, and baking soda and stir to combine. I've been using pink himalayan salt lately; I love the flavor and the color.
Once the yeast has proven itself to be alive, add some canola oil and then slowly drizzle the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring until a sticky dough forms.
Once the dough is thick, it'll be hard to handle with a spoon so knead it by hand until it's smooth. The dough should be pretty sticky, but not so sticky that it leaves you with monster hands.
Cover the dough and leave to proof for an hour or until doubled.
While the dough is proofing, make the kimchi. I went for a tiny batch and julienned the radish by hand. But, if you're going to be spending time making kimchi, it wouldn't be a bad idea to just go ahead and make a full batch to enjoy with other meals throughout the rest of the week.
Once the dough has proofed, punch it down and then press it out into a flat circle and divide into 6 or 8 pieces.
Form the dough into balls and then roll it out into a long oval. Place the oval onto a piece of parchment paper and then oil the tops of the ovals.
Use a chopstick to help fold the dough over (the chopstick helps to leave a little gap) and then steam the buns. I use a metal steamer inside of a big pot with simmering water, but if you have a bamboo steamer, that would certainly be appropriate.
Steam the buns for 8 to 12 minutes (in a lidded pot), or until they're puffed up, slightly translucent-looking, and cooked through.
While the buns are going, fry up some adorable little quail eggs.
Get your bao assembly line ready and start filling.
I started by adding in a few pieces of pork belly and the sliced daikon. Then, I tucked in a little kimchi and the fried egg. I finished the bao off with a few cilantro leaves for color and flavor.
Aren't these gorgeous? They tasted as amazing as they looked. The steamed buns were chewy and fluffy, the pork was super tender and flavorful, the kimchi and cilantro added punch, and of course, who can ever hate on a fried egg? And this fried egg was especially awesome because it was a tiny baby quail egg.
Here are the recipe pages: