Recipe: From-Scratch Pork Belly Bao

Bao is one of the London restaurants that has been on my bucket list for forever. I’ve wanted to go for years and for various reasons I’ve just never made it – and having made my own Bao I now want to go even more because I have an idea about what I’m missing. Pale buns that are slightly sticky to touch, bao are soft and fluffy, almost cloud like. Quite soft and airy and filled with delicious fillings they are a really ‘me’ meal as I love picky bits and customising what I’m eating.

 photo Pork Belly Bao_zpsh9kmlhqf.jpgAnd these bao buns are certainly delicious, stuffed with melt-in-the-mouth glazed pork belly that’s both sticky and slightly crispy, soft and succulent, sweet, salty and spicy. We added freshness in the form of cucumber, spring onions and carrots (you could lightly pickle these) and some crunchiness from some peanuts, but it’s the pork belly that’s the star of the show here. And the buns of course.

Of course, you could use my bao bun recipe and then fill with whatever takes your fancy. Fried chicken would be wonderful with some spicy sauces, and I think some kind of aubergine version will keep any meat-eater or veggie happy! I’m also really tempted to try a fish finger version in the same vein as my cheat’s fish tacos

Now these pork belly tacos are a bit of a labour of love, and they take a lot of time. They aren’t particularly hands on, but the pork needs to be started the morning before the night you want to eat it – so if you want it for a Saturday dinner you’ll need to start marinating on the Friday morning, before cooking it on the Friday evening and refrigerating overnight. It’s not exactly a quick meal, but its worth it! The buns take around 2.5 hours from start to finish, but again a good part of that is rising time. I was surprised at how easy they actually were to make, so don’t be intimidated – give it a go! This would be perfect for a Bank Holiday cooking project this weekend…

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  5_zpsmfgekhmb.jpg photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  3_zpslxtnbnq8.jpgFor the Ginger, Garlic & Soy Marinated Pork Belly (to fill 6 bao buns, serves 2 for dinner)

  • around 400-500g piece of pork belly, skin removed (use it to make crackling if you’re as against food waste as me)
  • 100ml dark soy sauce
  • 50ml mirin
  • 25ml sesame oil
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushes
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

In a bowl that comfortably fits the pork belly, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the pork belly, cover with cling-film, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (ideally 6-8). Turn every hour or so to keep all sides soaking in the marinade. Once ready, wrap the pork tightly in foil and cook at 150C for 2 hours, and reserve the marinade in the fridge. Turn the oven up to 220C and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes until golden and slightly crisp. Allow to cool, and then refridgerate overnight. Bring up to room temperature for around an hour before eating.

To serve, heat the marinade in a small pan under reduced by around half. Slice the pork belly (you want the slices to be around 1cm thick) and add to the marinade until hot and glazed with the sauce. Serve piled into the bao buns with thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and carrot, and some chopped peanuts.

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  4_zps2juvpv0a.jpg photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  6_zpss55dtxbe.jpgFor the Bao Buns (makes 9 buns)

  • 265g plain white flour (unbleached will give you more pure white bao which are more traditional), plus a little extra for dusting
  • pinch of salt
  • 4g dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 8g baking powder
  • 25ml milk
  • 100-125ml warm water (start with 100ml and add a splash more if the dough seems dry – we ended up using closer to 130ml)
  • 10g lard, melted (for vegetarian/vegan buns, use butter or vegetable oil)
  • a little vegetable oil, for greasing

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and stir the milk, water (use 100ml for now) and the lard/butter/oil together in a jug. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing and kneading together with your hand in a claw shape. Once combined knead well for 5 or so minutes, adding more water if the dough feels overly dry. By the end of the kneading it should be smooth but slightly tacky.

Dust the kneaded dough with around 1 tbsp of flour, then shape into a ball. Coat with a small amount of vegetable oil, then pop into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise for around 90 minutes, it should double in size.

Once risen, it’s time to shape! There are a few ways to shape bao buns, but we went for the ‘slider’ shape – in my opinion this is both the easiest to shape and probably the most mess-free to eat too! Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until around 0.5cm thick, and cut out circles around 10cm in diameter. The dough is quite difficult to re-roll, so make sure you’re tactical with where you’re placing the cutter! Lightly brush the top of each circle with a little bit of vegetable oil, then place a chopstick across the middle at a slight angle, before folding over the bao to form a semi-circle. Be quite gentle as you don’t want to seal it! Once you’ve shaped all of your dough cover with a damp cloth for around half an hour, before steaming – ours took around 10 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Serve stuffed with delicious fillings and enjoy!

To use a bamboo steamer, I pop the base of mine in a wok over a medium heat, and add boiling water to the wok to just under the middle of the base – and keep an eye on it during cooking to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. Pop each bao onto a square of greaseproof paper to cook. To remove the steamer from the wok use some cooking tongs – I pop the whole thing on a plate and bring to the table to keep the buns fresh and moist (they’ll stay warm for around 20 minutes in the steamer). Whatever you do don’t try to wash your bamboo steamer, simply wipe with a damp cloth, dry fully (I leave it out overnight) then pack away.

As the dough is quite difficult to re-roll, you may find you have spare dough. For this, roll in your hands into small balls (around large marble sized) and steam until cooked. Melt some butter in a frying pan, then dry the cooked dough balls until lightly crisp, before tossing in sugar and cinnamon for bao doughnuts. For the spare buns, they freeze well once cooked and cooled. Simply heat from frozen in the steamer for around 10 minutes. Alternatively have dessert bao – stuff with peanut butter and raspberry jam and thank me later…

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  2_zps9e1ypvfo.jpgI’m now dreaming of doing a bao party for a few friends. Imagine that! Loads of bao buns, a couple of different types of filling (I’m thinking this pork belly, some fried chicken and maybe a miso aubergine option…). And dessert bao of course.

Have you ever tried cooking bao? Or have you eaten it out in a restaurant?

Cooking From: Moo Pad Prik (Stir Fried Chilli Pork) from the Easy Thai Cookbook

I’ve been saying it for months, but I really want to try cooking more authentic Asian food and follow actual recipes. I can cook a great stir-fry (see my storecupboard recipe here), but it’s far from traditional and there’s a whole world of recipes out there to explore.

 photo Stir-Fried Chilli Pork 5_zpsz29j2lwj.jpgI think in my head, I’ve always perceived authentic Thai cooking in particular to be very complex, very time consuming, and very expensive to buy all of the necessary hard-to-find ingredients. And in some cases that is true – the book I’m posting about had a lot of ingredients I wasn’t sure where to find, how to prepare or even what they were (is it a fruit? a spice?). But that was only a really small sub-section of the recipes, with the vast majority of them being easy to follow, kind to the purse-strings and quick to put together.

The Easy Thai Cookbook by Sallie Morris*, aims to encourage you e seeing a little less of your local take-away driver and lot more variety on your plate. Showcasing the ingredients and techniques used in Thai cookery, there’s over 70 delicious sounding recipes and a very detailed guide on ingredients and equipment. I definitely feel a little more confident venturing to my local Thai store now (though it’s not needed for this recipe!).

 photo Easy Thai Cookbook_zps78rk3lee.jpgOnto this recipe, and I have a feeling it’s going to become a firm favourite. Pork fillet is a pretty bargainous cut of meat, costing around £4 for a full fillet which easily fed two of us (and we’re greedy!) for two meals. It is quite easy to dry out so needs careful cooking, but it’s perfect in a stir-fry style recipe. We served this pretty simply with a small amount of rice, and some courgettes tossed in a soy and basil dressing – it made for a speedy, tasty and light Saturday night supper.

Recipe (served 2)

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 a pork fillet, around 200-250g
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (we used two)
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, cut into lengths and quartered
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • Lots of freshly ground black pepper

First off, trim any excess fat off your pork, and slice into thin rounds of equal thickness. Make sure the rest of our ingredients are chopped and ready to go.

Heat a wok, add the oil and, once it’s hot and shimmering, toss in the pork, onion and garlic. Stir-fry for 5 or so minutes until the pork is almost cooked through, then add the remaining ingredients and toss together until the pork is cooked.Season and serve immediately.

 photo Stir-Fried Chilli Pork 6_zps3pftfx1m.jpgTold you it was easy – and despite the relatively short list of ingredients it was super-tasty. The pork stayed tender, with the quick cooking time preventing it from drying out. I also loved the garlicky taste combined with the fish sauce – really savoury, but it avoided being over-salty too. Definitely one to make again…

*I received a copy of the Easy Thai Cookbook to review however all opinions are, as always, my own.

Are you a fan of Thai food? What’s your favourite Thai recipe?

Recipe: From-Scratch Laksa (Spicy Malaysian Noodle Soup with Chicken, Prawns & Egg)

As part of my foodie goals this year, I really wanted to start eating and cooking more authentic Asian cuisine. My standard stir-fry is all well and good, but I wanted to play with new-to-me ingredients, try new techniques and produce some really exciting dishes. This laksa might not be complicated (though it does create a huge amount of washing up!), but it tastes wonderful.

Generally, laksa is a spicy broth, served over rice noodles with chicken and prawns. I’ve added a little coconut milk to my version, both to temper the spice and also to make it smoother and creamier. I’ve also added a soft-boiled egg, because I’ve come to love the flavour of an oozing egg yolk in spicier foods. The whole thing is sweat-inducingly spicy, and somehow subtly combines sweet, salty and sour notes. It makes for a wonderful Friday night fakeaway, and I know I’ll be making this again and again.

The key to a good laksa, as I’ve discovered, is taking the time to make your own paste. I’ve used ready-prepared ones and they just aren’t quite the same. Yes, it might take a while (both to make and also to hunt down some of the ingredients) but it’s well worth it – and my quantities here make double the amount needed. I’ve frozen it in an ice-cube tray so I can make laksa whenever the mood strikes me.

Oh, and for an even quicker version I have made this using leftover roast chicken and ready cooked prawns. If the paste has been ready-made it’s the perfect quick after-work supper – and it’s wonderful if you’ve got a cold brewing!

This recipe was based on Ping Coobes version in Delicious Magazine. I’ve simplified it a bit based on the ingredients I was able to find – some of them you may need to hunt down in your local Asian supermarket (I specifically struggled finding shrimp paste and galangal).

Recipe for the Laksa Pasta (enough for 4 servings)

  • 1 tsp of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 fresh red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 4 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 4 lemongrass stalks, bottom part only, roughly chopped
  • 30g fresh galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 30g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp shrimp paste
  • 25g peanuts
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

To make the paste, simply whizz all of the ingredients in a food processor until you have a rough paste – add a little extra oil if you need to. I used my mini-chopped and found I had to do it in batches.

Recipe for the Laksa (serves 2)

  • 50g vegetable oil
  • Half quantity of the Laksa pasta, above
  • 2 skinless and boneless chicken thigh fillets
  • Tops of the lemongrass discarded when making the paste
  • Handful of raw prawns
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 150ml coconut milk
  • 2 nests of dried rice noodles, cooked according to pack instructions
  • Bunch fresh mint, leaves only
  • 1 medium egg, boiled for 5 minutes (soft boiled) or 7 minutes (hard boiled), peeled
  • Handful of peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Heat the oil in a wok frying pan over a medium heat. Add the laksa paste and reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and fry for at least 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. I try to fry for 30-40 minutes to really develop the flavour.

Put the chicken in a pan with half of the stock and the lemongrass, then simmer for 15 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the pan and allow to cool before slicing into strips. Add the raw prawns to the stock and cook for 2-3 minutes until cooked, then transfer to the plate with the chicken. Skim off the scum from the surface of the poaching liquid and discard the lemongrass, before adding the rest of the stock and the coconut milk.

Once the paste has cooked, add it to the stock and coconut mixture, and allow to simmer for 15 or so minutes before straining the broth through a sieve. Taste and season if necessary. Bring the broth back to the boil. Portion out the noodles, chicken and prawns into two bowls, and pour the boiling broth over the top. Sprinkle with mint leaves, chopped peanuts and a squeeze of lime, and finish with half of the boiled egg.

As you can probably tell, it does make a huge amount of washing up – but it’s well worth it! The flavours are insanely complex, I couldn’t quite believe I’d made it entirely from scratch. I’m not sure if my version is entirely authentic, but it tastes delicious and I’d happily eat bowl after bowl.

Are you a fan of cooking Asian food? What’s your go-to recipe?

Recipe: Vegan Keralan Curry with Cauliflower, Chickpeas & Pineapple

This is one of my all-time favourite curry recipes – full of fragrant flavours, packed with nutrients and veggies, and (best of all!) ready in around half an hour. It’s adapted from one of Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, though I don’t have the equipment nor the brain speed to make it in that time.

This is a pretty typical Keralan Curry, although I make no claims that it is authentic. It is lighter and fresh in flavour, and more vibrant in texture than a North Indian curry – and as such it is less complex to make. It does need a couple of spices that might not be in everyone’s cupboard, but actually we find that we do use these quite often in curries.

And if you fancy skipping the vegan/veggie element, this curry sauce is amazing made with prawns or white fish – though I’d fry off an onion or a couple of shallots for a bit more texture. I’m also tempted to play around with different veggies, I can imagine it would be delicious with some sweet potato!

Recipe – 2 dinner portions plus 2 lunches, or 3 for dinner (easily scaled up, we’ve made for 8 before)

  • ½ cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • Drizzle of vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 handful of dried curry leaves
  • 7 cm piece of ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 6 spring onions
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 1 big bunch of fresh coriander
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1 tin (400g) chickpeas
  • 1 tin (227g) pineapple in juice
  • 1 lemon

Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower, then chop into small chunks and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with a little vegetable oil, then roast at 180C for around 10-15 minutes, or until lightly charred and starting to go tender.

Melt the coconut oil in a large pan, then quickly stir in the mustard and fenugreek seeds, turmeric and curry leaves. Peel the ginger and garlic , and trim the spring onions. Pulse these, together with the chilli and coriander stalks in a food processor (I used a mini chopper) until they form a rough pasta, then stir into the spices. Add the coconut milk, drained chickpeas and the pineapple chunks (plus the juice from the pineapple).

When the cauliflower is cooked as above, add this to the curry and bring the whole thing to a boil for a few minutes. Season to taste, adding in around half the juice of the lemon. Serve sprinkled with the coriander leaves, alongside rice – I love it with brown basmati.

This has become such a staple in our house, it’s perfect for a Meatfree Monday meal, and is also great for lunches throughout the week. I can imagine it would be perfect if you’ve got a cold too, with the chilli and ginger being perfect for perking you up. Definitely one we’ll be making again and again throughout the year!

What’s your favourite vegan recipe?