Each year, come the first of August, Paris becomes somewhat of a ghost town. Shops lock up and cafés close as those who reside in the city pack their bag in search of sunshine and warmer weather. It’s an annual tradition here to leave for the month and resume work once incredibly bronzed and refreshed in September. As a result, the feel of the city changes. Paris slows down and becomes strangely quiet. In one hand it’s lovely, and in the other it’s rather frustrating. Shops are never open when you need them to be and plans are often ruined due to unforeseen changes in opening hours. However, you’re guaranteed to find a seat on the metro, so there are some positives.
Besides a much needed week in London, catching up with friends, I will be staying in Paris. It will be busy month testing recipes and cooking up a storm. My latest recipe is for homemade pork belly bao buns. These doughy little steamed buns are my absolute favourite. They can be filled with anything from slow cooked beef to crispy soft-shell crab, but for this recipe I couldn’t go past sticky pork belly and pickled cucumber.
The recipe is quite long and will test your patience, but stick with it as the results are absolutely delicious!
For the steamed buns
½ cup (125ml) of warm water
1 tsp of instant yeast
¼ tsp of baking powder
1 ½ tbsp. of sugar
1 ½ cups (187g) of flour
1 tbsp. of oil
In large bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water. Mix well then add the sugar and oil.
Sift in the flour and baking powder, then turn the mixture out onto a clean surface and knead for 10 minutes. If you have a mixer, you can attach a dough hook and let the mixer do the work for you for 5 minutes. The dough is quite dry so don’t panic and add more water, just keep kneading. The dough should be nice and smooth after 10 minutes. Roll into a ball and place back in the bowl. Cover with some plastic film and allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until it’s doubled in size.
Dust your counter with flour then roll the dough into a log. Cut into 6 even pieces then roll each piece into a flat oval. Brush the surface with a little oil then fold each one in half.
Cut 6 squares of baking paper roughly the same size as the buns.
Set up a steamer and bring the water to a boil. Place each bun on a square of baking paper and place them in the steamer for 5 minutes. You may need to cook them in two batches. Remove and cover with a tea towel until needed.
For the sticky pork belly
1kg (2lbs) piece of pork belly, skin removed
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1-inch piece of ginger, finely grated
½ small chilli, finely chopped
¼ cup (50g) of brown sugar
2 tbsp. of vinegar
2 tbsp. of soy sauce
½ cup (125ml) of water
Preheat the oven to 150°C.
Wrap the pork like a bonbon in a sheet of aluminium foil. Make sure there are no holes because you don’t want the beautiful juices to escape. Bake for 1 ½ hours.
Once the pork is cooked, allowed to cool slightly and cut into 1cm thick slices.
In a wok or frypan, heat a drizzle of oil and fry the pork until golden. If your frypan is small, cook the pork in 2 batches. Remove the slices of pork and set aside.
In a cup, whisk together the brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, chilli and water. Set the sauce aside.
Pour out some of the fat from the fry pan and add the ginger and garlic. Fry until fragrant. Add the pork and and the sauce and simmer until the liquid has become thick and sticky.
1 medium size cucumber
2 tbsp of sugar
1 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of fish sauce
½ small chilli finely chopped
¼ cup (65ml) of vinegar
In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, chilli and vinegar. Slice the cucumber and add to the bowl. Allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
80g of Hoisin sauce
50g of peanuts
small bunch of coriander
In a food processer, blend the peanuts, or if you prefer, chop them finely. Mix ¾ of the peanuts with the hoisin sauce.
Open the steamed buns along the fold line. Add a couple of slices of pork, a spoonful of hoisin sauce, some pickled cucumbers and a few sprigs of coriander. Sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and if you like some chopped fresh chilli. Eat while still slightly warm.