Back with a Vengeance: Momofuku-style

Hellloooooo, everyone.  I can barely contain myself, I am so happy to be back.  After a year of having my nose in a book, I can finally pull it out and put it to a better purpose: smelling the delicious aromas of caramelized meats, yeasty doughs, and rosy wines.  For my comeback tour, I am resuming the cookbook challenge, and am starting with a fabulous one: The Momofuku Cookbook.

As many of you may have heard, David Chang is the lauded proprietor and chef behind the Momofuku empire of the East Village.  A trip to visit my brother in New York last year included a dinner at Momofuku Ssam, followed by a return to the attached “Milk Bar” for this cake.  The dinner, though, was the highlight.  Ssam is known for several specialities, but none more famous than the pork buns.  From the first bite, we were soulmates.  Wrapped in an airy, tender bun is a slab of slow-roasted pork belly, slathered in salty-sweet hoisin sauce and punctuated with lightly-pickled cucumber slices.  I truly could have eaten 15.  RJ, too, was enamored.  I think his comment was, “you better take notes.”  Unfortunately, I had no clue where to start with making the white, spongy, slightly sticky buns.  I had never attempted anything like them.  But when the Momofuku cookbook came out, I no longer had any excuse.  I rolled up my sleeves and started kneading.

The results?  Incredible.  The buns tasted just as good as those from the restaurant.  Yes, the recipe is labor-intensive.  And, if you’re going for the full experience, you’re going to want to make up some of Ssam’s awesome condiments too.  I pickled some fennel and shiitake mushrooms.  Damn, they make for a good bun.

Momofuku’s Famous Pork Buns

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 lb skinless boneless pork belly

1 1/2 c. warm water at room temp
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. active dry yeast
4 1/2 c. bread flour
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons nonfat dried milk
1 Tbs. kosher salt
Rounded 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 c. rendered pork fat or vegetable shortening at room temp.

For the Pork:
Stir together kosher salt and sugar, and rub all over the pork. Discard excess. Nestle in a shallow dish that fits the meat snugly and cover with plastic wrap. Let brine, chilled, at least 6 hours but no longer than 24.

Heat oven to 450 F. Discard any liquid that accumulated. Put the belly in the oven, fat side up, and cook for 1 hour, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it’s an appetizing golden brown. Then turn oven temp down to 250F and cook for another hour until belly is tender (not falling apart but it should feel like a down pillow when firmly poked).
OR: Pour in 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly with foil and roast until pork is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours at 300 F. Remove foil and increase oven temperature to 450°F, then roast until fat is golden, about 20 minutes more.

Remove pan from oven and transfer belly to a plate. Decant fat and meat juices from the pan and reserve (fat can be used for cooking later, and juices can be used to flavor a sauce). Cool 30 minutes, then chill, wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil, until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

For the Buns:
Stir together warm water with yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and fat and mix on the lowest speed possible for 8-10 min. The dough should gather together into a neat, not-too-tacky ball on the hook. When it does, lightly oil a medium mixing bowl, put the dough in it, and cover the bowl with a dry kitchen towel. Put it in a warmish place and let rise until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour and 15 min.

Punch down dough, then transfer to a very lightly floured surface and flatten slightly into a disk. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into logs, then cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total. They should each be the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh about 25 grams or just under an ounce. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the 50 dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 min.

Meanwhile, cut out fifty 4x4inch squares of parchment paper. Coat a chopstick with whatever fat you’re using.

Flatten out 1 piece of dough into a 6- by 3-inch oval, lightly dusting surface, your hands, and rolling pin with flour. Pat oval between your palms to remove excess flour, then fold in half crosswise over the greased chopstick (do not pinch). Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper. Stick it back under the plastic wrap (or a dry kitchen towel) and form the rest of the buns. Make more buns with remaining dough, then let stand, loosely covered, until slightly risen, about 30-45 minutes.

Set a large steamer rack inside skillet (or wok) and add enough water to reach within 1/2 inch of bottom of rack, then bring to a boil. Carefully place 5 to 7 buns (still on parchment paper) in steamer rack (do not let buns touch). Cover tightly and steam over high heat until buns are puffed and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer buns to a plate with tongs, then discard wax paper and wrap buns in kitchen towels (not terry cloth) to keep warm. Steam remaining buns in batches, adding boiling-hot water to skillet as needed. Use buns immediately (reheat in steamer for a minute or so if necessary) or allow to cool completely, then seal in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to a few months. Reheat frozen buns in a stovetop steamer for 2-3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.

Return buns (still wrapped in towels) to steamer rack in skillet and keep warm (off heat), covered.

Slice pork thickly against the grain. Reheat in 350 degree oven or in skillet until warmed all the way through and tender/jiggly (about 20 min in oven or 5 min in skillet). If you have any pork juices, warm them in the same container.

Brush bottom half of each warmed bun with hoisin sauce, then sandwich with 1 or 2 pork slices and some accoutrements: fresh scallions, sriracha, or the below:

Pickled Fennel
Cut a fennel bulb or two in half from root to stalk. Cut out the core, and cut the halves in half (along the same axis as before). Slice the fennel into thin strips, less than 1/8 in thick. Combine 1 cup of piping hot tap water, 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, 6 Tbs. sugar, and 2 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, stir to dissolve sugar. Place the fennel in a quart size container, and pour the liquid mixture over the fennel. Cover and refrigerate. Tastes best after a couple of days, but can be used immediately.

Soy Sauce Pickled Shiitakes
Steep 4 loosely packed cups of dried shiitake mushrooms (about 1/3 oz) in boiling water until softened, about 15 min. Lift the shiitakes from the steeping water, trip off and discard any stems, and cut caps int 1/8 in. thick slices. Reserve 2 cups of the steeping liquid and pass it through a fine-mesh strainer to remove grit and debris.
Combine the reserved steeping liquid, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. light soy sauce, 1 c. sherry vinegar, two 3-inch knobs of peeled fresh ginger and sliced shiitakes in a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium, bring to a very gentle simmer and stir occasionally for 30 min. Let cool.
Discard the ginger and pack the shiitakes (and as much of the liquid as necessary to cover them) into a quart container. These pickles are ready to eat immediately and will keep, refrigerated, for at least 1 month.

The Ultimate Feast

Pig Kahuna

Speaking of birthday dinners, as I did in my last post, we just had another birthday around here and boy, was it a biggie!  RJ turned 30 this past weekend, and what did I get my dear husband who eats nothing but meat?  A pig roast!  To be specific, 62 pounds of dressed pork, turning slowly over a low charcoal fire for over 6 hours.

Words can hardly express how phenomenal the entire experience was. RJ had no idea what I had been planning for the past 3 months, and with some wonderful subterfuge his friends and I managed to get him to his mother’s beach house with narry a clue!  His face as he came in the driveway was priceless — astonishment, pleasure and a bit of embarrassment at the number of people we gathered together for the big day.

Though the span of the afternoon is a story in itself — torrential downpours, epic tournament of cornhole, and finally fireworks on the beach — for the purposes of the food blog I’ll stick to the pig.

The pig arrived at around 2 o’clock, dressed (meaning that her internal organs had been removed).  Dave, of The Pig Kahuna, rinsed her thoroughly with fresh water, and inserted the rotisserie spit into the mouth and out the…uh…well, use your imagination.  A couple extra rods were inserted laterally for stability as well — and the pig doesn’t look happy about it!  The final preparation step was to sew her back together and to tie her legs around the spit.


The “Oinkmaster 8000”, Dave’s glorious roasting contraption, was loaded with charcoal and lit.  We waited until the coals were at a low burn, measured only by feel.  Dave said that if he couldn’t hold his hand over the fire at the level of the pig for 6 seconds, then the coals were too hot.  Soon, dear Arnold (our name for the pig, which soon became Arnoldine when we found out she was a Miss Piggy) was mounted on the rotisserie and began her slow roasting.


For the six hours she turned, the pig was regularly spritzed with white vinegar.  Though Dave has experimented with cider vinegar and even balsamic, he has found that 6 hours of cooking makes cider vinegar bitter and balsamic vinegar black.  After an hour and a half on the spit, Arnoldine began to self-baste, releasing delicious juices that dripped down over her shoulders and legs.


In three hours, her skin started to get golden, and we watched as it bubbled over the heat of the coals.  With more time, the leg joints began to loosen and the skin split in several places — the beginnings of tenderization.  Somewhere around 4 1/2 or 5 hours in, my brother dared my sister to eat one of the eyeballs, and she did.  She advised that the pig needed more time…


Finally, after six hours, Dave began the final process — the trick to a perfect roast pig.  The motor that had kept Arnoldine on a steady rotation was stopped and the crowds gathered around to watch Dave crisp the skin.  He added more charcoal to the fire and the flames began to rise up a couple inches from the coals.  Making quarter-turns of the spit, he let each side of the pig sit over the fire for a decent interval.  We saw the skin crisping and crackling, with the juices dripping into the fire creating an atmospheric hiss for the dramatic final moments.

Pig Roast

When the pork ready to serve, Dave asked RJ to aid in the dismounting.  They each took one end of the spit in their bare hands (the low heat left the ends of the spit at only 75 degrees or so), and moved a mahogany-toned Arnoldine to the serving table.  Freed of her metal trappings, the pig nearly fell into perfect serving pieces right in front of us.  Dave offered us bites of the tenderloin (smoky from the more direct fire), the shoulder (nearly white and completely juicy), and the belly (from whence the bacon comes…) to compare the various cuts.  We also sampled the pig skin, which crunched like savory candy.  By now, the crowds were getting rowdy, and everybody’s mouths were watering.

The pork was delectable — succulent and rich when unadorned, and tangy and spicy when doused with Dave’s special barbecue sauce.  Though we had about 65 guests, the pig carried over into lunch for 10 the next day.  As the birthday boy’s wife and party hostess, I was also designated the “keeper of the head”.  Those in the know, Dave said, always go for the pig cheeks — I guess now I’m in the know!  I think I gave my mother-in-law a heart attack, however, when she opened the fridge to find a whole pig’s head staring out at her (with one eye, no less).


All I can say is “wow”.  RJ had a wonderful birthday, complete with (an excess of) meat on a stick, and all of our guests enjoyed watching Arnoldine turn and learning from Dave, the Pig Kahuna himself.  The question is, what can top RJ’s 30th birthday when he turns 40?  Perhaps we’ll have to look into a cow…


Pulled Pork to Feed the Soul

Pulled Pork with Coleslaw

When I began this blog, I never would have characterized my cooking style or culinary repertoire as “comfort food”. That label usually applies to heavy, dense, sugary or greasy bowls of fattening casseroles and excessive desserts. It also applies to macaroni and cheese (check, check), layer cakes (check, check), and stews (check, check, check).  **Sigh**  I give up.  The truth is, I do take comfort (a lot of it!) in the eating and preparing of foods.  I feel just as satisfied watching my family and friends chow down on my latest creations as I do eating them myself, and when I’m feeling frustrated or crazed, an hour or two in the kitchen will always help me decompress.

Another association I regularly make with “Comfort Food” is southern U.S. cooking and the dreaded Paula Deen – from whence comes my aversion to applying the term to my own food.  That woman irks me somethin’ fierce, y’all.  Sorry.  That was uncalled for (in so many ways).

Yet no one can write off southern cuisine wholesale.  That would mean eliminating one of RJ and my favorite dishes of all time – Pulled Pork sandwiches – and I simply cannot support such a sweeping and drastic gesture.  Yet in the South, even, there is some serious debate about the proper way to make pulled pork.  From what I’m told, the Carolinians like their pork cooked only in vinegar (none of that ketchup-y stuff).  Others like the shredded pork swimming in barbecue sauce.  I compensate for my strong preference for the latter by making a very vinegary coleslaw (no mayo) to go on top of the pork in my sandwich.  I guarantee that a bite of this combo will make you swoon, whether you can stand Paula Deen or not.

Old South Pulled Pork on a Bun, from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson

BBQ ingredients(serves 6-8)

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 c. tomato-based chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. cider vinegar
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke (I always leave this out – up to you)
1 boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat, about 3 lbs.
Kaiser or onion buns, halved and warmed

bbq-sauceIn a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, chili powder, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. (at this point you can cover and refrigerate sauce overnight or until ready to use — very helpful if planning this recipe for a weeknight).

Place pork in slow cooker stoneware and pour sauce over. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 6 hours, until pork is falling apart.

Shredded/Pulled PorkTransfer pork to a cutting board and pull the meat apart in shreds, using two forks. [I will usually try to strain off some of the fat from the sauce at this point – depending on if I did a good job trimming the pork, it can get sorta greasy in there]. Return to sauce and keep warm. When ready to serve, spoon shredded pork and sauce over warm buns. Serve with coleslaw.

Katharine’s Carolina Coleslaw

Cider vinegar
Celery Seeds
Vegetable Oil
Bag of prepared coleslaw or 5 cups of shredded cabbage

Mix vinegar (about a 1/2 cup) with sugar (a scant teaspoon), celery seeds (about a teaspoon) and salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon). Then add about a 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, whisking the whole time. Taste. It should be quite vinegary and a little sweet, and you should be able to taste the celery seeds. Add more oil or other ingredients as necessary until it is to your own preference. Mix dressing with the cabbage slaw (just enough to coat, not soak, the cabbage) and let sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving to let the flavors blend.

Pulled Pork with Coleslaw

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

So, I was watching the “The Next Food Network Star” marathon a couple of weekends ago, and… stop.  Yes, I watch all sorts of stupid reality TV shows, even ones as insipid as this.  I wish I could use my obsession with food and cooking as an excuse, but I really can’t.  The ‘chefs’ on this show are terrible!  They overcook eggs, and over-salt their food.  They burn the pine nuts and undercook their pork.  I am no professional chef, but I swear I could do better than these goons.

Which brings me to this dinner.  On one episode, a 19 year-old crybaby just out of culinary school made his ‘signature’ roast pork tenderloin, which was a super-simple preparation that looked pretty good.  Pork + more pork = goodness.  However, the challenge required the ‘chefs’ to put together a beauty shot for the camera, which would showcase their presentation skills.  The pork he put up was dark red — raw as all get-out.  Now, I am no proponent of cooking your pork until it is white and feels like sawdust in your mouth, but you just can’t serve it raw — sorry to tell you, boy.

However, the idea stuck with me.  Pork + pork.  Yessss…. it could work….  (insert rubbing of the hands and shifty eyeball look).  So I went to the store, grabbed some pork and more pork, and cooked it up.  Mine was really, really good.  Therefore, I dub myself “The Next Food Network Star.”  I already have a show title: “From My Table to Yours” and an angle – I make the same dishes as other chefs, just better.  Enh… maybe I’d rather spend my time on the couch and criticizing from a distance, without the hot lights, time limits, and high-definition cameras zooming in on my pores.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
(serves 4)

One pork tenderloin
1/4 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
olive oil
1/2 c. white wine or vermouth
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 tsp. chopped fresh sage (or to taste)
2 tsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.  Dry the surface of the pork tenderloin with paper towels. If your butcher has not already done so, take your slices of prosciutto and lay them on a long piece of plastic wrap or wax paper, overlapping the slices along the long edge. Space the slices of prosciutto so that when they are all laid out, they form a rectangle that is the same length as the pork tenderloin.  Place the pork tenderloin at one end, perpendicular to the direction of the prosciutto slices, like so:

ProsciuttoUse the plastic wrap to press the slices of prosciutto into the tenderloin, and to tightly wrap the pork up fully, like so:

pork-wrappedIf you have the time, refrigerate the pork like this, in the plastic wrap, with the ends of proscuitto underneath the weight of the pork, for 30 minutes or more.

Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat.  Place the pork in the hot pan, preferably placing the side where the ends of the prosciutto slices meet down first.  Let cook on this side approximately 5-7 minutes or until a nutty brown color.  Turn to cook the other side for another 5-7 minutes. 

Pork in the pan

With the first cooked side facing down again, place the whole pan with the pork in the oven again.  Roast until the internal temperature of the pork is 140 degrees, approximately 25 minutes.  Let the pork rest on a cutting board, under foil, for 10 minutes before slicing.  This will allow the pork to finish cooking, and the juices to redistribute. 

Meanwhile, take the pan with the pork drippings to the stove and place over medium heat.  Add the wine and stir with a whisk or wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits.  Let the wine reduce to a syrupy consistency, then add the chicken stock.  Stir and reduce for approximately 3 minutes.  Add the chopped sage and the butter, stirring until melted.  Salt and pepper to taste. Slice the pork and serve with the pan sauce.