Yes, I know I don’t post much home cooking stuff on this thing. And yes, I’m conscious of the fact the pun in the title filches the name of the now-closed place on Baldwin St in Bristol.
But I’ve been borderline obsessed with gua bao since meeting them at KERB in 2013- specifically, the tiny-but-punching-way-above-its-weight Bao London of Netil Market, Soho, Fitzrovia and more. When I mean obsessed, I mean they do that thing Wordsworth called flashing ‘upon that inward eye.’ Except I don’t have sudden vivid recollections of a bunch of flowers while poncing around in a big shirt: what springs to mind is those cloud-soft milk buns, that aromatic slow-cooked pork, the crunch of the chopped peanuts… Not for nothing did I include them in my round-up of my favourites of 2014.
However, life being what it is, I can’t be popping down to Brixton’s Tiger and Pig or Soho every time I fancy a batch of bao, so this week I had a pop at them myself. As it was a weekday project I didn’t attempt making the buns from scratch, but I did find packs of frozen ones on City Road (where else?) at Jin Xing. This was my first time there and I’ll certainly be back- it’s a lot better laid-out than some of its peers and its location suits me just fine.First, the pork. A pound of belly, sliced an inch thick and then cut into three to optimise surface exposure to the stock.
We often use Sean’s on Clifton Street, not least because their range of home-made sausages is never less than attention-grabbing; and as a bonus, they also do takeout pots of thick-sliced faggots and peas in an even thicker onion gravy. Which, as we all know, is the elixir of eternal youth. at least, I think that’s what that nice cardiologist lady said.
Colouring the meat in smoking hot vegetable oil for a few minutes on all sides, then removing from the pan, means that’s the first stage done.
Into that same oil goes a couple of fat garlic cloves, crushed, and a couple of slices of ginger the thickness of a pound coin, to form the aromatic base of the mixture. When the aromas rise, in goes one star anise; a chopped red chilli is optional here. I didn’t bother, this time round.
A tablespoon of brown sugar is in next, stirred until dissolved; at which point, 100ml of rice wine is added and brought to a rapid boil. The sugar will be dissolving by now, so add the same amount of both light and dark soy sauces (to state: a hearty glug, you want the meat to sit under the liquid) and half a teaspoon of Chinese five-spice.
Top this up with a litre of water, bring to a rolling boil, and add the browned pork belly. Cover.
Now- patience. Let it do its thing.
I managed to keep my grubby mitts off this stuff for two whole hours, by which point the pork was falling away from the fat and shot through with the salty richness of that dark, dark stock.
It’s common to grind unsalted peanuts and more brown sugar together as a topping; I missed the latter, preferring chopped fresh coriander and the tang of pickled mustard greens, also available from Jin Xing.
The buns? Well, they steamed for around 10 minutes straight from the freezer. They were a lot more substantial than expected, so they made for a filling handful when all was done. It was merely a matter of slicing the pork and sprinkling with peanuts and coriander, after giving the inside of the buns a quick dab of the pungent greens. It’s well worth picking up a jar of these- their acidic twang cuts right through the richness of the fatty meat, and would be even more welcome if you did add the sprinkles of sugar.
Clearly, my cackhanded attempts are never going to give the good people of Bao London sleepless nights.
But if you, too, are in thrall to these wondrous little handfuls, or if you fancy trying something just a tad different, you could do a lot worse. Don’t delay: go forth, cram your buns, and devour.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.