Friday, August 10, 2012

Taiwanese Braised Pork Belly Buns (Gua Bao)

It's been years and years since I've had Gua Bao (I remember my grandmother back in Taiwan used to make the very best). Last weekend, quite inexplicably and out of the blue, I developed an insatiable craving for these guys. Here in the Murrieta-Temecula area though, there's nary a Taiwanese restaurant within at least a 30 mile radius. But, I figured, Gua Baos can't be all that hard to make as they consist of only a few ingredients: soy-braised pork belly, chopped sour mustard, sugared peanut powder, and some fresh cilantro, all sandwiched into freshly steamed white buns. So I said to meself, I think I can do that. 

After a quick inventory of the frig & freezer, I realized that I actually had everything on hand EXCEPT for the buns. Crap. There just ain't no substitute for a proper Gua Bao bun. I've seen them frozen at the 99 Ranch Market before, but the closest one to us is an hour's drive away in Chino. I was bummed about no buns, but short of losing sleep over this quandary, I decided to try and make my own. I found a recipe for steamed bun dough in Lonnie Mock's cookbook Favorite Dim Sum and adapted it to make Gua Bao buns. Wow - craving satisfied! Dough came out soft & yeasty with a slightly sweet taste. And, the melt-in-your-mouth soy-braised pork belly slices, paired with the crunchy sour mustard, a sprinkling of peanut powder, and garnished with chopped fresh cilantro is a filling to die for! Will never buy store-bought buns again...

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 1/4 cup warm water (105F-110F)
3/4 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. vegetable shortening, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
Extra flour for dusting

1 recipe of soy-braised pork belly: 

1 8.8-oz package of pickled/sour mustard, found in the refrigerated section of many Asian markets ("Giam Tsai")
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1 tbsp. sugar
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1. Make the braised pork belly first. Add 3 tbsp. fried shallots to the braising liquid & cook until very tender (2-3 hours). You can always make this the night before: let cool, cover & chill in the frig overnight, then bring the pork bellies and braising liquid back up to a boil before using. 

2. Make the dough for the buns:

  • Stir 1 tbsp. of sugar with the yeast in a measuring cup or medium bowl. Add the warm water and stir until sugar and yeast have dissolved completely. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes or until it becomes frothy/foamy. Add melted shortening & set aside.
  • Combine flour, salt, and 5 tbsp. of sugar in a large bowl. Mix well. Pour in the yeast mixture and stir until a dough forms. Pat into a ball shape and let rest for 5 minutes. 
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. 
  • Place dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm location (I put mine in a closed oven with the heat off). Let dough rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 
  • Punch dough down with your fist, cover and let rest a few minutes. 
  • Remove dough to a cutting board or smooth surface (e.g., granite countertop) and roll into a 12-15" log. 
  • Cut the log into 12-14 pieces (more pieces will produce thinner buns, if you prefer less dough to filling ratio).
  • Shape each piece into a ball and roll into an approximately 4" diameter circle. Brush the top of each dough circle with a bit of vegetable oil, then fold in half. Continue same process with remaining dough. Place the buns on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet until ready to steam. 
3.  Remove the sour mustard from its package (they come whole), rinse well under running water, squeeze or pat dry and chop into small dice. Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a saute pan over medium heat, add the chopped mustard, 2 tsp. of sugar, and stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Set aside.

4. For the peanut powder: place 1 cup of dry roasted peanuts and 1 tbsp. of sugar into a food processor. Process for a few seconds until the peanuts are ground into a medium-fine powder. Set aside.

5. Place a steamer over a large wok or pot half-filled with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lightly brush the bottom of the steamer with a bit of veggie oil. When water comes to a boil, place the buns in a single layer in the steamer (do not overcrowd - steam in batches if needed), cover, reduce heat to medium-high, and steam for 15-20 minutes or until done. Continue steaming remaining buns until done.

6. Reheat the pork bellies, then remove to a chopping board. Cut the pork bellies into 3"-4" slices.

7. To serve: Let the buns cool slightly. Open each bun, sprinkle about 1-2 heaping tbsp. of sour mustard on the bottom, top with a slice of pork belly, sprinkle with a couple teaspoons of peanut powder, and garnish with a bit of chopped cilantro. Fold the bun over and, voila! You've got yourself a bona fide totally delicious Taiwanese 'burger.'

Melted shortening & active dry yeast.

Stir the flour, salt & 5 tbsp. of sugar together in a large bowl.

Blend yeast & sugar together in a measuring cup. Add the warm water & let sit for 10 minutes or until frothy.

When yeast mixture is frothy, add in the melted shortening

Pour the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Stir to combine.

Pat dough into a ball shape & let rest 5 minutes.

Turn dough out into lightly floured surface.

Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Place dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and place in a warm, draft-free location (in a closed unheated oven is good). Let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Pickled sour mustard.

Rinse and drain the mustard, squeeze dry, and chop.

Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in saute pan. Saute chopped mustard with 2 tsp. of sugar for 3-4 minutes or until cooked through.

Chop 1 cup of dry-roasted peanuts & 1 tbsp. sugar in a processor until ground.

After 1 1/2 to 2 hours, dough should have risen and doubled in size.

Punch the dough down, cover & let rest a few minutes.

Turn out onto a smooth surface, and lightly knead for a few seconds to bring it back to a ball shape.

Roll dough out into a 12" - 14" log.

Cut the log into 12 - 14 pieces.

Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten out into a circle about a 4" diameter circle. Brush the top of the dough with a bit of vegetable oil.

Fold each circle in half.

Lightly oil the bottom of the steamer, then place the buns in a single layer, cover, and steam over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes. Repeat with remaining buns.

Stuff the buns with chopped mustard, a slice of pork belly, ground peanuts, and cilantro. You can refrigerate any unused buns in a ziploc bag or container. Just steam them over high heat about 5 minutes to reheat. They can also be frozen.


  1. I love you for posting this. I close my eyes when I bite into this and it transports me to Gong Guan night market in Taipei where they had the most amazing gua baos. Thank you so much.

    1. You're welcome! I really miss the night markets in Taipei!