Taiwanese gua bao (pork belly buns)

Gua bao are one of my family’s favorite snacks. Reminiscent of a hamburger, gua bao consists of a tender, juicy slice of braised pork belly that’s nestled inside a soft, fluffy, steamed bun. It’s topped with pickled mustard, peanut powder, and cilantro.

Taiwanese gua bao

It seems that on a daily basis, my family and I reminisce about Taiwan food. We were fortunate enough to visit the island country last April for spring break, and we haven’t stopped talking about the food we miss. Gua bao is constantly on the list of must-eat items that causes us to salivate profusely.

While braising pork belly isn’t necessarily a difficult endeavor, it’s something that I don’t do very often. Pork belly, while delicious, isn’t usually a food that we eat very often. Therefore, gua bao is a special occasion food for us.

Taiwanese gua bao

One of my friends gifted me with this Made in Taiwan cookbook for my birthday last year. I was so excited to read through it all and haven’t really found anything that I don’t want to try. Gua bao happened to be the first recipe we attempted from the cookbook, and I must say that it went pretty well. I had 3 buns that didn’t properly rise during steaming, and I didn’t have any pickled mustard greens to add. Therefore, I used kimchi as an alternative. My husband and daughter sprinkled peanut powder on their buns, while I opted to leave it off (I am likely the one sole person who doesn’t order their gua bao with peanut powder).

Taiwanese gua bao

The braised pork belly in this recipe turned out to be tender and soft – just the way I like it. Other than the 3 failed steamed buns, everything else worked as expected. I’ll likely make this again, but I may go the lazy route and steam some pre-made (frozen) buns from the Asian grocery store. That way, I’m guaranteed to have fluffy, steamed buns for this tasty Taiwanese treat.

Husband’s rating: 4.5 out of 5
Addie’s rating: 4.5 out of 5
My rating: 4 out of 5

Taiwanese gua bao (pork belly buns)

Gua bao is a braised pork belly that's sandwiched between a soft and fluffy steamed bun. It's typically adorned with pickled mustard, a sweet peanut powder and cilantro. You can try making this at home!
Cook Time6 hours
Resting time2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time8 hours 10 minutes
Course: Main Course, Snack
Cuisine: Taiwanese
Servings: 6
Author: Eva Bakes

Equipment

  • Steamer I used a bamboo one

Ingredients

Braised pork

  • 1 pound skin-on pork belly I bought mine from the Asian grocery store
  • 1 Tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Taiwanese rice wine (michiu) or cooking sake
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon fried shallots You can find this in the Asian grocery store
  • 1 dried tangerine or mandarin orange peel, about the size of a quarter I omitted
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long

Buns

  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 and ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cake flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil

Garnishes

  • ¼ pound pickled mustard greens
  • 1 Tablespoon canola or soybean oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • sweet peanut powder see below
  • cilantro washed and chopped

Instructions

Make the braised pork belly

  • Cut the pork belly into 2-inch thick pieces. You should end up with about 6 total pieces (I think I ended up with 8).
  • In a large cast-iron pot or a large and deep cooking pan set over medium high heat, add the canola oil. Once the oil is hot, sear the pork belly pieces on all sides until they are browned.
  • Add the water, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, fried shallots, dried tangerine peel, and cinnamon stick. Let the liquid come to a rolling boil. Then turn the heat down to low and allow it to simmer. Make sure to leave the lid slightly ajar so nothing boils over.
  • Cook until the meat is soft and appears to be fork-tender, about 4-6 hours. You'll want to check on the meat every 30 minutes or so and move it around so it doesn't stick to the bottom of your pan. If desired, you can also cook some hard boiled eggs in this braising liquid as a side dish!

Make the steamed buns

  • In a large glass measuring cup, add the warm water. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Then add the dry active yeast and let it sit for about 3 minutes or until frothy.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer (or if mixing by hand) on low speed, mix together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt.
  • Slowly pour in the yeast mixture and continue mixing on low speed. Increase the speed to medium low until the dough becomes smooth and pliable. This could take up to 5 minutes or so.
  • Once the dough has bene kneaded, transfer the dough to a well-greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise in a draft-free area. I put mine in the oven (I did not turn on the light nor use the bread proof function - I just let it sit there). This may take up to 2 hours to double.
  • After the dough has doubled, divided it into 6 equal parts. Cover the dough that isn't being kneaded with a towel while you work with one piece of dough.
  • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough with the heel of one hand while you rotate the dough. It should become very shiny and smooth. Gather the edges of the dough towards the center and pinch. Flip it over so the smooth side is facing up and set it aside. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover all dough balls with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Take one dough ball and flatten it into an oval. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough so it's about 5 and ½ inches long and 3 inches wide. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the dough with a thin layer of canola oil. Gently fold the dough in half (so it looks like a half circle) and place it on a sheet of parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  • Boil some water and put a steamer on top. Arrange the buns on top and make sure to leave at least 2 inches in between each bun. I needed two stackable bamboo steamers to fit my buns on there. Don't overcrowd the buns.
  • Steam, covered, for about 30-40 minutes. The buns should puff up and expand to about 1 and ½ its original size. If you gently press on the bun, it should slowly spring back to its original form.

Prepare the garnishes

  • Rinse the pickled mustard greens under cold water and soak in a small bowl for about 10 minutes. Drain and greens and squeeze out all of the water. Wrap the greens in a paper towel and gently pat down to dry completely. Chop the greens finely with a sharp knife and set aside briefly.
  • In a saute pan, add the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the dried mustard greens, sugar, and salt, and constantly stir until the sugar has completely melted. Cook until the greens have slightly dried out. This may take about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small plate and set aside.
  • To make the peanut powder, add ¼ cup of roasted unsalted peanuts and ⅛ cup of granulated sugar to a food processor or high powered blender. Pulse for about 30 seconds. You don't want to overblend or else it might turn into peanut butter! Set aside.

Assemble the buns

  • Open up one of the steamed buns and add a slice of the braised pork belly. Add peanut powder, greens, and cilantro as desired.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

Leftover pork belly should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Buns should be stored separately (and also in an airtight container in the refrigerator). You can reheat these in the microwave, or you can re-steam the buns. My recommendation is to re-steam the buns, and then reheat the pork in the microwave. Then assemble them and eat them. You can try microwaving the pork in the buns, but I've found that the buns get too dry and hard, while the meat isn't fully warm.
Source: Made in Taiwan by Clarissa Wei and Ivy Chen

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