Asian Pork Belly Buns (Bao) are a favorite appetizer of ours when we dine out. They are pretty expensive for just two tiny sandwiches ($6) at our favorite pho (noodle soup) place, CO – Pan Asian Grill. They are incredible tasty and addictive – remember the old slogan “Bet you can’t eat just one?” Yeah, it’s like that. You could eat easily eat four or five of these bad boys before you realize it. They are so flavorful — and fun sized. Again, these are a dish we serve at a tapas or appetizer party – something like game night or the like where guests nibble as they wish in between rounds or hands of the game. Since they are small, they are easy to manage at the table with a drink and a small plate.
Anyway, the pork belly is twice cooked — slowly oven roasted to break down the fat and then pan seared. It is then dunked into a sweet hoisin sauce, topped with quick pickled cucumber and carrot slices, fresh sliced jalapeno, and fresh cilantro. We stuff it all inside a steamed lotus leaf bun which we purchased frozen from the local Asian market. If you do not have access to an Asian grocery market, you can always use small Hawaiian rolls or other slider sized buns. The steamed lotus leaf buns are soft and pillowy light and make a great “authentic” presentation for this popular Asian street food. I do not find the lotus leaf buns, in case you are wondering, to have any type of overwhelming flavor. I would say it’s like rice flour. Lotus Leaf flour is also gluten free, in case you were curious — or needed to know that little tidbit of information.
The flavors of this sandwich are amazing. The pork belly is soft, unctuous and delicious dipped in the sweet hoisin sauce. The pickled vegetables are a welcomed sharp, acidic contrast to the fatty meat while the cilantro adds a beautiful brightness. The jalapenos lend their spiciness to each perfect bite. I like a squeeze of lime on my sandwiches with a bit of sriracha sauce to round out the sandwich. It’s not something we make or serve often, but when we do, it’s always impressive.
- 1 piece of pork belly (about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
- 1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 package of Lotus Leaf buns, Hawaiian rolls or Slider buns
- Sriracha Sauce
- quick pickled vegetables, homemade or store bought
- fresh cilantro, chopped
- fresh jalapenos, sliced
- fresh lime wedges
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Wrap the pork belly in aluminum foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 2 hours. Remove from oven and cool completely.
- Across the short side of the pork belly slab, slice the pork into 1/2 inch slices. Then cut the slices in half vertically (top to bottom) to form 2-inch slabs.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce (optional), and soy sauce.
- Steam the lotus leaf buns as directed on the package -- steamed either in a pan of water equip with a steamer basket or in the microwave covered with a moist paper towel. I chose the latter.
- Heat a large saute pan over high heat. When hot, add several slices of the pork belly to the pan but do not overlap or over crowd the pan. Fry each piece until browned turning to cook both sides. Repeat this step in batches if necessary.
- Once cooked, place the pork pieces into the hoisin sauce to coat.
- To build the sandwiches, carefully open each steamed bun, Add a slice of hoisin glazed pork belly, top with quick picked vegetables, slices of jalapeno and top with chopped cilantro. Serve with sriracha sauce and fresh lime wedges.