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Gua Bao (Taiwanese pork buns)

by Nisha Thomas
Gua Bao (Taiwanese pork buns)

Gua Bao (Taiwanese pork buns)

  • Snack
  • medium
  • Makes 10
  • 3 hours, plus 1 day pickling

PT3H

PT

Why not try?

I first had gua bao at a street food stall in Shoreditch and there was no looking back. It’s been on my mind ever since to try them at home and was on the lookout for a trustworthy recipe. This Taiwanese street side snack is delicious and the soft steamed buns make it impossible to just stop at one.

I admit it was a bit intimidating to see the different steps involved and the prep work needed, especially because I'm such a last minute, impulse cooking kind of person. Planning ahead is not my forte and so this idea of trying the gua bao at home was put to the back of my mind until I ended up having it again from the Kurobuta stall at Taste of London earlier this year. I had to make it, and so i did. Planned ahead, bought everything as per list and even made the pickle a 3 days ahead so I could have the ultimate experience.

It all worked out well, except that I didn't put a baking paper to separate the folded buns and so they stuck together in spite of oiling them properly. It meant I had to slice them open and use the filling. Lesson learnt, so this time I did it the right way with a baking paper. Please make sure you do this. Having a big bamboo steamer also helps because you can steam two or three at a time. I had a small one so it took me an awful lot of time to steam one at a time.

The good thing is you can make the buns, the pork and the pickle way in advance, which makes the process less stressful. The buns can be made even a week in advance and they just need to be stored in the refrigerator. Just re-steam before use and they would be as good as fresh. You can also experiment with different filling, like chicken or pulled pork, and I'm sure they'd taste fab.

Ingredients

Metric

Imperial

1
To begin, prepare the pickled vegetables. Mix together all of the cut vegetables in a bowl
2
Bring the vinegar, sugar and water to a simmer in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Adjust the seasoning according to taste
3
Set aside to cool, then add the pickling liquid to the prepared vegetables, mixing well
4
Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use. It's ideal if you can prepare this a day or 2 ahead for the pickling effect to be obvious
5
Now make the dough. Add the flour, milk powder, sugar, yeast, salt, baking powder and baking soda to a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the lukewarm water, using a wooden spoon to bring it all together
6
Either using the dough hook of a standing mixer or with your hands on a clean surface, knead the dough until it no longer sticks and is elastic and pliable – this should take around 5–6 minutes on medium speed in a mixer or around 10 minutes by hand. If you feel it needs more flour, add only a spoonful at a time
7
Grease the mixing bowl with oil and put the dough inside. Cover with cling film and set aside to rise. I preheated my oven at 100°C for about 6 –7 minutes and placed the bowl inside with the light on. It took the dough about 2 1/2 hours to double in size
8
Cut out 20 square pieces of baking paper while the bun dough is proving
9
Punch the dough down, transfer the to a lightly floured surface and shape into a thick log. Slice the log into 10 equal parts and roll each part into a neat ball
10
Roll out each ball into an oval shape and brush with some oil. Place 1 square of baking paper on 1 side of the dough and fold the dough over the paper so it is sandwiched inside. Place this on another baking paper sheet and repeat the process with the remaining balls
11
Set aside to double in size for around an hour or so. I decided do a design of three spots over the bun as is traditionally done, but it's purely optional. Use a chopstick to dip in the red colour and put 3 spots on each bun
12
When ready to steam, place a bamboo steamer over a pot of simmering water and place the bao buns (with baking paper still attached) into the steamer
13
Steam them for about 10 minutes, making sure the water temperature is not too hot
14
Once the buns are really puffy, take them out of the steamer and set aside until ready to use
15
To make the filling, place the cut pork belly in a pan and fill with enough water to cover the meat completely. Bring to a rolling boil on high heat for a couple of minutes until you can see that all the foam-like impurities floating on the top. Remove these with a spoon and drain the meat in a colander, rinsing well with cold water while you're at it
16
Transfer the meat to same pan and add all of the remaining ingredients. Give everything a good mix
17
Cook on low heat for about 1 1/2–2 hours, checking occasionally and adding dashes of water if you think it's drying out
18
Let the meat braise until it is completely cooked and is tender, but not falling apart. Remove the pork from the stock and set aside. Resist the urge to eat this on its own
19
If your sauce isn't thick enough, add a bit of cornflour and keep boiling until it becomes thick and syrupy
20
To assemble, fill the buns with pickled vegetables and pork belly. Spoon over the thickened sauce and serve with a sprinkling of chopped coriander
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