a close up shot of a bao bun filled with slice of pork belly, roasted crushed peanuts, pickled red onions, and cilantro

Pork Belly Buns (Guabao)

Succulent pork belly buns braised in an aromatic soy-based broth seasoned with white pepper and five spice powder. The tender pork is served as sliders on steamed buns, topped with crushed garlic peanuts, pickled shallots, and fresh cilantro for a flavorful and satisfying meal.

a close up shot of a bao bun filled with slice of pork belly, roasted crushed peanuts, pickled red onions, and cilantro

Pork Belly Buns 101

What are pork belly buns?

Pork Belly Bao Buns (bao buns, gua bao, zhu rou bao, baozi) are a Taiwanese night market food that is a modern take on Chinese red-braised pork (hong sou rou). It consists of steamed buns filled with braised pork belly, crushed roasted peanuts, and pickled shallots. The meat is marinated with spices and sauces, and is often garnished with pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and crushed peanuts.

Plain steamed buns (baozi, mantou) are a type of bread that is airy, fluffy, and subtly sweet adding a beautiful balance to savory or sweet fillings. Unlike standard bread, it is made without eggs or butter and is steamed instead of baked. Buns with fillings are most commonly made round with a dough that is made from bleached flour, yeast, sugar, and water. They have a fluffy and slightly chewy texture and can be filled with a variety of fillings such as pork, chicken, vegetables, and sweet bean paste. Another type of bun with fillings is the “taco-shaped” bun that we are using here. These buns are typically made by shaping the dough into a flattened oblong shape and then folded to form a taco-like shape. They are designed to be filled with cooked meat after cooking, unlike baos (baozi) which are typically filled with raw meat before steaming.

Where can I get bao buns (guabao)?

Bao buns are readily available at Chinese grocery stores or through online Chinese food grocery apps, usually in the frozen section. To make them at home, refer to my Bao Buns recipe. Keep in mind, homemade buns made with all-purpose flour may not look as white as store-bought buns which use bleached all-purpose flour. When buying store-bought bao buns, select ones that are not frozen clumped together for easier handling and neater presentation. They may be labeled as guabao, gwa pao, butterfly bao bun, bao bun, Taiwanese hamburger, or steamed sandwich buns. My go to brand is pictured below:

Can I substitute out the bun?

Peking Duck Wraps (Mandarin pancakes, Peking pancakes) are a traditional Chinese ingredient that are often served alongside Peking duck but can also be used as a substitute for bao buns. They are thin, pliable wheat-flour pancakes that may be used like a burrito. The pancakes are soft and slightly chewy and are not as calorie/carb dense as bao buns.

Tips

How do I buy pork belly?

Pork belly is sold with the skin on or skinless. I recommend using the skin on choice for this recipe. Check the quality of the meat by looking for a pink color and uniform marbling, this will ensure a good texture and flavor.

Can I substitute pork belly with a different cut of pork?

Pork belly is known for its richness, so keep in mind that if you use a leaner cut of pork, you may need to adjust the seasonings, cooking method, and cooking time to compensate for the lack of fat. If you are unsure of what you want, it’s always a good idea to ask the butcher for advice on how to select the right cut of pork for your recipe and how to prepare it. Some other cuts that can be used instead of pork belly are:

  • Pork Shoulder/Butt: This cut is a bit leaner than pork belly and has a bit more connective tissue. It is ideal for braising or slow cooking as it becomes tender when cooked for long time.
  • Pork Loin: This cut is leaner than pork belly and can be grilled, roasted or pan-seared.

What type of fat do I require for pan searing?

When it comes to cooking with oil the key is to use a fat that has a high smoke point. This means they can withstand high temperatures without smoking or burning, which is essential for creating a flavorful crust. Some of the best options include grapeseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, clarified butter, or ghee. If you are only searing your food at low heat or for under 4 minutes, regular butter is perfectly fine. Additionally, some oils may perform better with certain types of cookware; for example, avocado oil may leave a stubborn residue on ceramic pans.

  • Grapeseed oil: smoke point of 420°F (215°C)
  • Canola oil: smoke point of 400°F (205°C)
  • Peanut oil: smoke point of 400°F (205°C)
  • Avocado oil: smoke point of 520°F (270°C)
  • Clarified butter, or Ghee: smoke point of 485°F (252°C)
a close up shot of a bao bun filled with slice of pork belly, roasted crushed peanuts, pickled red onions, and cilantro

Pork Belly Buns

Course Main Course
Cuisine Asian, Chinese
Servings 10 Buns

Ingredients
  

Pickled Shallots

  • 2 medium shallots julienned
  • 4 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp white granulated sugar

Crushed Peanuts

  • 40 g roasted peanuts deshelled
  • 1 tsp white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Braised Pork Belly

  • 1.5 lbs slab of boneless skin on pork belly
  • 4 cups water for boiling
  • 4 tbsp neutral oil
  • 2 garlic cloves trimmed, peeled, smashed
  • 1 inch Ginger grated
  • 2 scallions trimmed, sliced
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/4 tsp finely ground white pepper powder
  • 1/2 tsp five spice powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

Buns

  • 10 pieces frozen guabaos steamed
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves rinsed
  • Crushed Peanuts
  • Pickled Shallots
  • Braised Pork Belly

Instructions
 

  • Pickled Shallots | Using a knife or mandolin julienne the shallots into 1/4 inch thick slices.
    Add the shallots, vinegar, sugar, and salt into a small bowl. Mix until uniform.
  • Crushed Peanuts | Add the peanuts to a zip lock bag and crush them using a meat tenderizer or rolling pin.
    Add the crushed peanuts, white granulated sugar, and salt into a small bowl. Mix until uniform.
  • Prepare Pork | In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add pork belly to the boiling water, ensuring that they are fully submerged.
    Bring the water back to a boil and let the pork belly simmer for about 5-7 minutes. This will help to remove impurities and cook the meat partially.
    Drain the pork belly and rinse it with cold water. This will stop the cooking process and cool down the meat, which will help to retain its moisture.
    Pat the pork belly dry with paper towels. This will ensure that the meat is dry before braising or roasting.
  • Braised Pork Belly | Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until the fat is glistening.
    Add garlic, ginger, and scallions. Saute until slightly browned, 2 minutes.
    Add pork belly and sear on both sides until a dark caramel color is achieved.
    Add in dark soy sauce, white pepper powder, five spice powder, and brown sugar. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer until spoon tender and the fat is gelatinous, 60-90 minutes.
    Remove the lid, add a splash of cooking wine, and give it one good stir. When it reduces, remove the pot from the stove.
  • Prepare Buns | Start by filling a large pot or steamer with water and bring it to a boil.
    Place the frozen buns in the steamer basket or on a heat-proof plate, leaving enough space between them for the steam to circulate.
    Carefully lower the steamer basket or plate into the pot of boiling water.
    Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and steam the buns for about 8-10 minutes. The exact steaming time will depend on the size of the buns, but you can test them by pressing gently on the top of the buns. If they feel fluffy and soft, they are done.
    Carefully remove the steamer basket or plate from the pot and transfer the steamed buns to a plate. Serve immediately or keep them warm by placing them in a preheated 200F oven
    You can also use a bamboo steamer basket to steam the buns, place the buns in the steamer, cover the steamer and place it on the pot with boiling water.
    It's important to keep an eye on the water level in the pot and to refill it as needed, to ensure that the buns steam evenly. If you are not sure about the steaming time, you can test one bun and if it's not cooked yet add a couple of minutes more.
  • Assemble | Slice the pork belly into 10 pieces. To a steamed bun, add a slice of braised pork belly, picked shallots, crushed peanuts, and cilantro. Repeat. Serve hot and eat the same day.
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