This was easy to put together last weekend thanks to the Taiwanese sandwich buns that are sold frozen in many Chinese shops. I bought mine at my local Wing Yip and I’ve found them online (for local delivery only) at Bristol’s Wai Yee Hong. They look petite when frozen but after their session in the streamer, they puff up and you quickly adjust your number of buns per person.

I filled mine with a very simple braised pork mixture that tastes fantastic in spite of its simplicity. It’s a bung it all into a pot and leave it deal. And I like to think that as I’m using pork shoulder instead of the usual fattier pork belly but really, that’s just me being a bit deluded. The work is really minimal and you’re rewarded with big puffy sandwiches filled with juicy meat.

Taiwanese Style Pulled Pork Buns

Taiwanese-Style Braised Pulled Pork

Pork shoulder, about 1.5 kg
Daikon radish, 1, peeled and cut into large slices
sunflower oil
100 ml light soy sauce
100 ml dark soy sauce
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 star anise
1/2 tsp five spice powder

Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, trimming off the fat and skin. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add a little sunflower oil. Add the pork shoulder and brown on all sides. Cover with water and add the soy sauces, garlic cloves, star anise and five spice powder. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 1 hour. Skim if necessary. After an hour is up, add the daikon, adding more water if required and continue simmering for another hour. At this point, the daikon should be tender and the pork chunks falling apart at the prod of a fork.

Now to put together the sandwiches!

Taiwanese Pulled Pork Buns

Prepare the buns (my package said to steam for 15-20 minutes). Take a small handful of roasted peanuts and chop finely and mix with sugar. Chop some pickled mustard greens as well. Get some crispy fried shallots/onions. Clean a few sprigs of coriander.

Take a few pieces of braised pork and shred them using two forks, pulling the meat apart. Pile generously into the steamed buns. Add a slice of daikon if you wish. Top with some of the chopped pickles, peanuts, fried shallots and coriander. Eat.

I’ve only recently discovered the Japanese recipe website Cookpad; it’s full of both traditional and modern recipes all provided by the Japanese public. Of course, I don’t read Japanese so I’m eternally grateful to the the translators who do translate the more popular recipes to English. On the Japanese site, the collection is currently at over 1.5 million recipes and at the time of writing, over 18,000 recipes have been translated – that’s still more than one could ever try to cook in a lifetime!

It was on Cookpad (and all the browsing through recipes I’ve done on the site) that I encountered this very simple way of presenting a Japanese nabe: sliced pork and sliced Chinese cabbage are placed upright in layers to great effect. The recipe I present below is a very simple one, with very few ingredients, and it feels quite light and healthy for a cold day (June, what is wrong with you?!). The presentation makes it feel that bit more special.

Pork and Chinese Cabbage Nabe

Pork and Cabbage Nabe
serves 2.

Half a large Chinese cabbage
A length of pork loin (how much depends on how hungry you are)
Soy sauce
Shaoxing rice wine
about 400-500ml chicken stock (I made it from a bouillon powder)
Salt and ground white pepper

Slice the pork loin crosswise as thinly as possible (this will be easier if it’s half frozen). Marinate it with a little soy sauce and a little rice wine. Slice the Chinese cabbage into wide strips crosswise. Layer the cabbage and pork together, alternating the layers, in a large clay pot (nabe) as in the photo. Pour over the chicken stock and season with salt and white pepper, if desired. A little soy sauce here wouldn’t hurt either. You’ll see that I also put in some mushrooms that I had lying about; some spring onions would be good too.

Place the lid on the nabe and place it over high heat. When it all starts steaming, reduce the heat and let it all simmer until everything is cooked. Serve with lots of white rice.

It took a couple of attempts but I’m finally happy with this recipe for khao kha moo, a Thai dish of braised pork leg on rice. This is apparently one of the most popular dishes in Thailand but I’ve only ever seen it once in London, at my local Thai restaurant and it was only a special that day. I haven’t seen it since.

Khao Kha Moo

Luckily, it’s very easy to make at home. All that’s needed is time and all the spices in your kitchen cupboards. The pork leg (I used a hock) is quite an economical cut too. Do keep the skin on your pork hock – it has a great texture after all that braising. Some recipes online have you fry your pork hock first but I don’t bother to keep things easier and it turns out just fine. Do serve this with lots of white rice and either a boiled green vegetable (I boiled up some spring greens) or pickled vegetable to have on the side. And the sauce isn’t optional – its strong garlicky tang helps cut through the richness of the pork.

Braised Pork Leg

Khao Kha Moo
serves 2-3.

1 pork hock (approx 800-1000g)
6 cups water
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark thick sweet soy sauce
1 large chunk rock sugar
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp five spice
6 black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
4-5 sprigs coriander
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

for the sauce
3 cloves garlic
1 large green chili
1 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsps rice vinegar

to serve
cooked white rice
boiled greens or pickled greens

Place the pork hock and all the braising ingredients into a large pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to leave it at a simmer and then half cover the pot and let it braise for at least 2 hours or until the pork is starting to fall off the bone.

Braised Pork Leg

In the meantime, blend together the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.

When the pork hock is tender, remove it from its braising liquid and let cool enough to handle. Slice the meat (and the skin too!) and plate with the rice and greens, pouring some of the braising liquid over. Serve the sauce on the side.

I didn’t get a chance to try the famous Momofuku bo ssäm when I was in New York a few years ago but I’d been meaning to make it at home for a while. The recipe is in the Momofuku cookbook but if you don’t have it, Sam Sifton detailed how to cook and eat it in the New York Times Sunday Magazine earlier this year. With my working from home one weekend and requiring something low maintenance and pork shoulder on sale at my local supermarket, it felt like the right time to finally try my hand at it. It was also a trial run for a possible dinner party centrepiece.

Momofuku Bo Ssam

My pork shoulder (2kg) was smaller  than what the original recipe required but the method still worked. I also reduced the amount of sugar and salt used in the dry brining stage – about 2 tbsps sugar and 1 tbsp coarse salt and again, this was fine and we didn’t find the surface of the pork too salty as others have. The mixture was pressed into the pork shoulder and the whole thing refrigerated overnight. The next day, about 6.5 hours prior to dinner time, the oven was preheated to 150 Celsius and the entire thing chucked in there in a roasting pan. I basted the meat (but not the skin) hourly.

Momofuku Bo Ssam

After 6 hours of cooking, the pork was fork tender (and the flat was pork scented) but it wasn’t finished yet. With the pork resting on the counter, the oven was heated to its max temperature. A mixture of 2.5 tbsps of brown sugar and 0.5 tsp of salt were pressed onto the surface of the pork – it may not all stick but that’s alright. It went back into the oven until the sugar melted and caramelised all over (this step may cause a lot of smoking in your kitchen!). While the slow roasted meat was amazingly soft and incredibly porky, the skin had hardened into a crunchy shell of sweet, porky, fatty crackling: it was pig candy.

Bo Ssam Meal

We ripped the meat apart with tongs and ate it ssam-style: each mouthful was built up with a base of lettuce, a dab of gochujang-based sauce, a spoonful of short grained white rice, a leaf or two of kimchi and then shredded bits of pork and, of course, a crackle of pig candy. It was a glorious dinner.

What was possibly even better was the leftovers. The following afternoon, a portion was chopped up and fried with kimchi and rice and all topped with fried eggs. Oooh, yes.

Leftover Bo Ssam with Kimchi and Rice and Egg

And after that, the rest of the pork was chopped up and cooked together with fried onions and rice and peas, similar to my recipe for chorizo rice but you know, without the chorizo and the tomato paste. The rice had become infused with all the porkiness of the bo ssam and was just insanely good.

Leftover Bo Ssam with Rice and Peas

Or maybe leftover pork tacos. Or pulled pork sandwiches with a bit of barbecue sauce. How about just pork and eggs? Or have it ssam-style again the next day?

So that 6 hours in the oven really paid off and yes, it’s definitely going on a dinner party menu later in the year. My fingers are crossed that there’ll be leftovers again… Bo ssäm: it’s the meal that keeps on giving.

My happy days are the ones where after I come home after a long day at work, I find a new Saveur magazine waiting for me to curl up with on the sofa after dinner. Their latest issue was dedicated to the art of all things barbecue and while I absolutely adore all the slow cooked and smoky grilled meats featured, I have nowhere where I can actually make them at home. We have no outdoor space to speak of and barbecues are forbidden in our local parks.

Spare Rib Chop Dinner

I did find one recipe though that catered for us no-outdoor-spacers. I just couldn’t stop staring at the gorgeous photo of the St. Louis style barbecue ribs, where the meat is cooked in barbecue sauce, and the impetus was so great that I actually made them the next day. They are fantastic, all tender and flavourful, and the barbecue sauce recipe is delicious. As I failed to obtain some of the more American ingredients in the recipe, I fell to substituting them with whatever I had or could find and these substitutions certainly didn’t diminish the dish. Just a bit of barbecue love indoors then.

St. Louis Style Barbecue Spare Rib Chops

St. Louis Style Barbecue Spare Rib Chops
adapted from this Saveur recipe.
serves 4.

For the barbecue sauce:
4 slices streaky bacon, finely chopped
1 large chipotle en adobe, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 can (400g) whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 heaped tbsps whole grain mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I like quite a bit)

4 large pork spare rib chops
2 tbsp sunflower oil

First make the barbecue sauce. Heat a pot over medium heat and then add the bacon. Fry, stirring constantly, until all the fat renders out (if your bacon is quite lean, add a bit of oil to help it along). Add the chipotle, garlic and onions and continue frying until they are all soft. Pour in the rest of the ingredients: tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and stir thoroughly. Turn up the heat to bring it to a boil and cook it for 5 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and set aside. Prevent yourself from sticking your finger in one too many times for a taste.

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat and then add the sunflower oil. When hot, lay in two of the spare rib chops and fry, turning once, until brown on both sides. Set aside and repeat with the second batch of two. Place the browned chops into a baking dish that will fit them (I used a roasting pan) and pour over the barbecue sauce to cover the chops. Bake for about 1 hour (or until the chops are cooked and tender – and a knife cuts through them easily). Serve.