I adore both versions and would savour each and every bite of the juicy and tender meat along with the fluffy sweet bun, even though I know these are very fattening.
Most enclosed pork belly buns sold at coffee shops are not nice these days, the meat usually too dry and hard, and the bun texture coarse and rough. However, there's one shop opposite Clementi Central specialising in baos and they sell excellent pork belly buns (as well as char siew buns). Their pork belly buns (enclosed version) are made slightly smaller than the average, bun texture is very soft and fluffy and the pork belly is succulent and melt-in-the-mouth. I can eat two to three pieces at a go! So whenever I have cravings for pork belly bun, that shop is the place to go.
The second version is usually homemade, although these days a lot of chinese restaurants and even cze char stalls sell them. The advantage of homemade is naturally the ingredients used, I could choose the best cut and freshest meat, and adjust the marinade and seasonings to taste (not too salty and heavy - there's one so-called famous brand of pork belly bao in Singapore which I think the pork belly taste too sweet and salty).
After marinating the meat for at least three hours, the pork belly slices were then steamed for about two hours. Yes, I prefer the steaming method because the meat juices were retained, resulting in very succulent and tender meat which retained the shape well and didn't disintegrate.
I tried braising the meat before but it's really hard to gauge the water and heat level and sometimes before the meat could be sufficiently tender, the water ran dry and I had to top up with more water which affected the overall taste and texture.
With steaming, I didn't have to add a single drop of water to the meat (see picture above where marinade just covering each slice of meat and steam like that). And from the picture below, the amount of liquid that was "purged" during the steaming, all natural juice from the meat.
Tedious part during steaming was checking the water level (for steaming) and topping up with boiling water to minimise disruption to the steaming process. On the right picture below, I used an electric cooker to steam the meat, had to top up water once. On the left picture, I used a steamer wok and had to top up water two to three times. The pork belly after cooked, is best left overnight for flavours to fully develop.
Forgot to mention about the "Ho Hup Bao". Usually I use store-bought ones which are readily available at the wet market and supermarket, but they can be made at home as well.
Pork Belly Bun 扣肉包
(reference: The Little Teochew, Delicious Asian Food)
- 1 block of pork belly (about 700g)
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 1 tbsp huatiao cooking wine
- 1 tsp light soy sauce (I use black bean soy sauce)
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp five spice powder
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 25g rock sugar
- 8 cloves garlic
- 2 slices ginger
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- Blanch the whole block of pork belly in boiling water for 1 min. Drain and pat dry. Poke as many holes on the pork belly skin as possible.
- Heat up about 1-2 tsp of oil in a pan and pan-fry all the sides of the pork belly until each side is slightly browned and firmed up.
- Drain and let cool slightly. Cut the pork belly into 1cm thick slices.
- Mix all the ingredients for marinade thoroughly and pour them over the pork belly slices, make sure each slice is well-covered with the marinade sauce. Transfer to fridge for at least 3 hours.
- About 30 mins before steaming, remove the meat from the fridge to bring back to room temperature.
- Arrange the pork slices in a steaming tray and steam for 2 hours. *if necessary to top up water for steaming, use boiling water to minimise disruption to water temperature
- Off heat of the steamer, and let the pork belly slices sit overnight flavours to develop.
- Next morning, heat up the pork belly slices for about 10-15 mins and they are ready to be served.
- To serve, sandwich a slice of pork belly in a Ho Hup Bao, add a few leaves of local celery, cilantro and red chilli. Best eaten warm.
See how the meat is glistering in oil? Meat was totally succulent and melt-in-the-mouth with just the right flavour that I like (not too heavy). One bite and I know I'm in pork belly haven! I've served them many times during parties and gatherings and they proved to be favourites among my friends so I guess I'm not the only one who love pork belly bun =D