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Momofuku

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Written by Carolyn Jung   
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
List of viewable recipes from "Momofuku" by David Chang and Peter Meehan

ImagePerhaps no other chef today has racked up quite so many impassioned fans, as well as so many ardent detractors as New York's David Chang.

When it comes to public opinion, though, the 32-year-old, James Beard award-winning chef will be the first to say he "could not f**king care less.''

Unless you've been living under a rock or happily subsisting on a vegan, raw food diet, you know all about the famously potty-mouthed, Korean-American chef who has elevated the porky, spicy goodness of Korean street food to dazzling new heights. You know about his phenomenally successful restaurants in New York - Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Momofuku Milk Bar, Momofuku Ko, and the soon-to-open Momofuku Ma Peche. And you know of the East Coast-West Coast ruckus he created last year when he told a New York audience, "F*****g every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food."

Yeah, that David Chang.

Think what you will of him, but the man can cook, as evidenced by the droves lining up for his addicting pork buns, rich pork ramen, and his first cookbook, "Momofuku'' (Clarkson Potter). Written with New York Times writer, Peter Meehan, it was one of the most highly anticipated cookbooks of 2009.

Chang's personality comes to life in these pages, so much so that it's probably one of the few - if not only - mainstream cookbooks laced with profanity. Chang wouldn't have done the book any other way, though. When I interviewed him last year by phone, he explained, "People curse. If someone did a book about the New York trading floor, there would be more curse words in that book. We wanted to try to be as truthful as possible. And that's how we speak to one another. If we took that out, we would lose some of our integrity. That's not what we wanted to do. We didn't reinvent the wheel with this cookbook; we just told our story. If it rubs people the wrong way, I'm sorry but I don't really care. If they think I'm an a**hole, they're probably right.''

And what a story it is. The cookbook chronicles Chang's exploits -- from his journey to Japan to learn the art of ramen to working his a** off at New York's Café Boulud to his opening of Momofuku, which initially was met with a lackluster reception but eventually grew into the happening hangout for celebrated chefs and foodies. Meehan is a gifted writer who brings to life the sweat, tears, ferocity and stress of it all.

Like Chang's personality, itself, this book is not for the faint-of-heart cook. Sure, there are some simple recipes for things like bacon dashi, pickled shiitakes, and cherry tomato salad with soft tofu and shiso. But the bulk of the book is dedicated to dishes that take some doing, that are the furthest one can get from a "30-minute meal.''

The recipe alone for "Momofuku Ramen'' covers about 10 pages, as you have to make the broth, pork belly, garnishes and slow-poached egg. There are even instructions for rolling out your own ramen noodles, too, if you so choose. There's also a recipe for "Pig's Head Torchon,'' if you're so inclined. It requires - of course - a pig's head. But only half of one.

A lot of Chang's most popular dishes are included here, including the fried chicken and the bo ssam (a family-style affair, in which a whole pork butt is roasted, then served with raw oysters, kimchi and rice - all to wrap in Bibb lettuce leaves).

But if I was going to try my hand at cooking one dish first, it had to be the wildly popular pork buns. How good are they? When I was in New York last year, my husband and I ate them three out of four days we were there. And when we dined there, almost every table at Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar also was indulging in them.

Puffy, soft clam shell-shaped buns are filled with slices of deliriously juicy, fatty pork belly, a smear of hoisin sauce, a few pickled cucumbers, and a sprinkle of fresh, chopped scallions. You eat one, and just want more.

To replicate them at home, you have to cook the pork belly, make the super easy pickles, and make the buns (or buy them at an Asian grocery store).

Take a 3-pound piece of pork belly (again, easily available at Asian markets), smear on a rub of kosher salt and sugar, and let it sit in the fridge for 6 to 24 hours, before roasting in the oven for about two hours. Then, you chill it overnight to help compact its shape so that slices can be more neatly cut from it.

Easy enough. But the measurements make far more rub than you'll need. In fact, when I make this again, I'd definitely cut the amount of sugar and salt in half. The directions also don't specify how much of the rub to use, and if you use too heavy a hand, you'll end up with a fairly salty piece of meat. So, go easy.

I decided to make my buns from scratch, even though the fact that the recipe makes 50 of them seemed rather daunting at first. But in reality, it's not a massive ball of dough. And the extra buns do freeze well.

The yeasted bread flour-dough comes together easily in a stand mixer with sugar, nonfat dry milk, and a little pork fat or shortening. After the first rise, the dough is divided up into 50 little balls, which each get flattened into ovals that are folded in half. The directions state to fold the buns over a greased chopstick. I would add that you should run the chopstick along the inside of the bun, so that you smear the halves with the shortening. That way, after they are steamed, they don't end up sticking together so tightly that it makes stuffing them later more cumbersome.

The buns ended up soft and fluffy. Although the pork belly recipe says there's enough meat to stuff only a dozen buns, I found it was enough for more like 30 buns.

The quick pickles were a revelation. So good and so easy to make - just slices of Kirby cucumbers tossed with a little salt and sugar. That's it. These would be great on other types of sandwiches, too.

All in all, it was a pretty good rendition of what I had enjoyed at Chang's restaurants. My only regret was that I couldn't find a slab of pork belly as thick as the ones restaurant chefs have access to. Mine was probably half as thick (and with half as much fat), which made it just a tad less melt-in-your-mouth than Chang's.

Chang may not give a flying cr*p about what you think of him or his food. But I'd happily tap him on the shoulder to tell him his pork bun recipe is pretty damn fine. Then, I'd duck, of course.

Read more of Carolyn's adventures with David Chang's famous pork buns on her blog FoodGal.

 

Momofuku Pork Buns

From Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan, (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

SERVES 1

  • 1 Steamed Bun, see below
  • About 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 3 or 4 slices Quick-Pickled Cucumbers, see below
  • 3 thick slices Pork Belly, see below
  • 1 scant tablespoon thinly sliced scallion (green and white)
  • Sriracha, for serving

It's weird to be "famous" for something. Can you imagine being Neil Diamond and having to sing "Cracklin' Rosie" every time you get onstage for the rest of your life? Neither can I. But if Momofuku is "famous" for something, it's these steamed pork buns. Are they good? They are. Are they something that sprang from our collective imagination like Athena out of Zeus's forehead? Hell no. They're just our take on a pretty common Asian food formula: steamed bread + tasty meat = good eating.

And they were an eleventh-hour addition to the menu. Almost a mistake.

No one thought they were a good idea or that anyone would want to eat pork belly sandwiches.

I got into the whole steamed bread thing when I stayed in Beijing. I ate char siu bao-steamed buns stuffed with dark, sweet roast pork-morning, noon, and night from vendors on the street who did nothing but satisfy that city's voracious appetite for steamed buns. When I lived in Tokyo, I'd pick up a niku-man-the Japanese version, with a milder-flavored filling-every time I passed the local convenience store. They're like the 7-Eleven hot dogs of Tokyo, with an appeal not unlike that of the soft meatiness of White Castle hamburgers.

And in the early days of my relationship with Oriental Garden-the restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown where I've eaten more meals than anywhere else on the planet-I'd always order the Peking duck, which the restaurant serves with folded-over steamed buns with fluted edges, an inauthentic improvement on the more common accompaniment of scallion pancakes. Char siu bao and niku-man were influential, but the Peking duck service at Oriental Garden was the most important, if only because it was here in the city and I could go back and study what made their buns so good-and also because the owner of the restaurant was willing to help me out, at least after a point.

After I'd eaten his Peking duck about a million times, I asked Mr. Choi, the owner (whom I now call Uncle Choi, because he's the Chinese uncle I never had), to show me how to make the steamed buns. For as many times as I had eaten steamed buns, I had never thought about making them, but with Noodle Bar about to open, I had the menu on my mind. He laughed and put me off for weeks before finally relenting. (He likes to remind me that I am the kung-fu-the student, the seeker, the workman-and he is the si-fu-the master.) But instead of taking me back into the kitchen, he handed me a scrap of paper with an address, the name John on it, and a note scribbled in Chinese that I couldn't read. 

Have you ever seen the blaxploitation martial arts movie The Last Dragon from the eighties, where the dude is in constant search for some type of master who can provide some wisdom, and in the end it turns out to be a hoax-the master's place is a fortune cookie factory? Probably not. But that's how I felt when the place I was sent to learn the secret of steamed bread turned out to be May May Foods, a local company that supplied dozens of New York restaurants with premade dim sum items, including buns, for decades before it closed in 2007. The guy there, John, showed me the dead-simple process: a little mixing, a little steaming, and presto! buns. It turns out they are made from a simple white bread dough, mantou (not so different from, say, Wonder Bread), that is steamed instead of baked.

But when I saw the flour everywhere and tried to imagine that mess in our tiny, already overcrowded kitchen, I immediately placed an order. We didn't have the space to attempt them then, and we continued to buy them from Chinatown bakeries even after May May closed.

If you have that option-a Chinese bakery or restaurant where you can easily buy them, or even a well-stocked freezer section at a local Chinese grocery store-I encourage you to exercise it without any pangs of guilt. How many sandwich shops bake their own bread? Right. Don't kill yourself. But don't be put off by the idea of making them either. They're easy and they freeze perfectly.

Here's the recipe for our pork buns, which you can increase ad infinitum to make more to share.

1. Heat the bun in a steamer on the stovetop. It should be hot to the touch, which will take almost no time with just-made buns and 2 to 3 minutes with frozen buns.

2. Grab the bun from the steamer and flop it open on a plate. Slather the inside with the hoisin sauce, using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon. Arrange the pickles on one side of the fold in the bun and the slices of pork belly on the other. Scatter the belly and pickles with sliced scallion, fold closed, and voilà: pork bun. Serve with sriracha.

Pork Belly

for ramen, pork buns & just about anything else

From Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan, (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Make enough pork for 6 to 8 bowls of ramen or about 12 pork buns

  • One 3-pound slab skinless pork belly
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar

The best part of this belly, besides the unctuous, fatty meat itself, which we use in two of our most popular dishes at the restaurants-ramen and pork buns-is the layer that settles at the bottom of the pan after you chill it. Most cooks who are familiar with it know it from making duck confit, and they know it's liquid gold (or jellied gold, if you want to get technical). We label containers of it "pork jelly." I add it to broths, to taré, to vegetable sautés-anything that would benefit from a hit of meaty flavor and the glossier mouthfeel the gelatin adds.

To harvest it, decant the fat and juices from the pan you cooked the belly in into a glass measuring cup or other clear container. Let it cool until the fat separates from the meat juices, which will settle to the bottom. Pour or scoop off the fat and reserve it for cooking. Save the juices, which will turn to a ready-to-use meat jelly after a couple of hours in the fridge. The meat jelly will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer.

We get pork belly without the skin. If you can only find skin-on belly, don't fret. If the meat is cold and your knife is sharp, the skin is a cinch to slice off. And you can save it to make the Chicharrón we serve as a first bite at Momofuku Ko.

1. Nestle the belly into a roasting pan or other oven-safe vessel that holds it snugly. Mix together the salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub the mix all over the meat; discard any excess salt-and-sugar mixture. Cover the container with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hours, but no longer than 24.

2. Heat the oven to 450ºF.

3. Discard any liquid that accumulated in the container. 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.

4. Turn the oven temperature down to 250ºF and cook for another 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the belly is tender-it shouldn't be falling apart, but it should have a down pillow-like yield to a firm finger poke. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the belly to a plate. Decant the fat and the meat juices from the pan and reserve (see the headnote). Allow the belly to cool slightly.

5. When it's cool enough to handle, wrap the belly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge until it's thoroughly chilled and firm. (You can skip this step if you're pressed for time, but the only way to get neat, nice-looking slices is to chill the belly thoroughly before slicing it.)

6. Cut the pork belly into 1/2-inch-thick slices that are about 2 inches long. Warm them for serving in a pan over medium heat, just for a minute or two, until they are jiggly soft and heated through. Use at once.

Steamed Buns

From Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan, (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

MAKES 50 BUNS

Okay, fifty buns is a lot of buns. But the buns keep in the freezer for months and months without losing any quality, and if you cut the recipe down any more than this, there's barely enough stuff in the bowl of the mixer for the dough hook to pick up. So clear out a couple of hours and some space in the freezer and get to work.

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature
  • 4 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup rendered pork fat or vegetable shortening, at room temperature, plus more for shaping the buns, as needed

1. Combine the yeast and water 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, just above a stir, for 8 to 10 minutes. 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 turned-off oven with a pilot light or other warmish place and let rise until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

2. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Using a bench scraper or a knife, 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 be about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh about 25 grams, or a smidge under an ounce. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the armada of little dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, cut out fifty 4-inch squares of parchment paper. Coat a chopstick with whatever fat you're working with.

4. Flatten one ball with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 4-inch-long oval. Lay the greased chopstick across the middle of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form the bun shape. 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. Let the buns rest for 30 to 45 minutes: they will rise a little.

5. Set up a steamer on the stove. Working in batches so you don't crowd the steamer, steam the buns on the parchment squares for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment. You can use the buns immediately (reheat them for a minute or so in the steamer 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 to 3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.

Quick Salt Pickles

From Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan, (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Makes about 2 cups

A recipe seems excessive for these types of quickly made salt-and-sugar pickles, because the technique for making them is so simple: Sprinkle some thinly sliced vegetables with a 3:1 mix of sugar to kosher salt and toss. Ten to 20 minutes later, they're ready to eat. The resulting pickles have a fresh snap.

  • 2 meaty Kirby cucumbers, cut into 1/8-inch-thick disks
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Combine cucumber slices with sugar and salt in a small mixing bowl and toss to coat with the sugar and salt. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

Taste: If the pickles are too sweet or too salty, put them in a colander, rinse off the seasoning, and dry in a kitchen towel. Taste again and add more sugar or salt as needed. Serve after 5 to 10 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

About Momofuku

ImageNever before has there been a phenomenon like Momofuku. A once-unrecognizable word, it's now synonymous with the award-winning restaurants of the same name in New York City: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko, and Milk Bar. Chef David Chang has single-handedly revolutionized cooking in America with his use of bold Asian flavors and impeccable ingredients, his mastery of the humble ramen noodle, and his thorough devotion to pork. Momofuku is both the story and the recipes behind the cuisine that has changed the modern-day culinary landscape.

Available at Amazon.com

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 24 February 2010 )
Momofuku
Mary (Unregistered) 2010-02-28 21:24:59

Carolyn's advice was spot on for making Chang's f****ing pork buns - insanely good. I have his book but don't think I would have had the courage to make them without Carolyn's awesome posting. Thank you! Now I've had my fat intake for an entire year.
Carolyn Jung (Unregistered) 2010-03-01 10:45:58

Mary, you are too kind! I hope you try making the pork buns. And you can BUY the buns at an Asian market, too, if you want to make things a little easier. Enjoy! And I'm sure your friends and neighbors now will be knocking on your door to try a few of those awesome pork buns.
Janet (Unregistered) 2010-03-06 07:43:19

Carolyn, I tried this recipe this week but the meat didn't turn out as delicious as you described. My son was in NYC 2x last summer and had the Momofuku pork buns 3x. He also said something was missing in the meat. I used 1/2 the amount of the kosher salt and sugar to cure the pork belly. We cured it for 18 hours and baked as the recipe called for. What do you think?
Carolyn Jung (Unregistered) 2010-03-06 10:22:09

Hi Janet:

I thought the meat came out well when I made it. The only misgiving I had was that I was unable to buy pork belly quite as thick as the type used by David Chang and other chefs. If I could have found a thicker slab, it would have been even more juicy and unctuously fatty in texture and taste. Even so, though, I thought the pork came out tasty. So did you find the meat bland tasting? Or?

I know another reader of my blog just wrote that she made the recipe and loved the pork. In fact, someone she served it to, thought for sure she had bought the pork belly already cooked from a restaurant because he thought it tasted so good.
Love Momofuku
patice (Registered) 2010-03-23 06:37:57

I have been to his restaurants and have eaten his Crack Pie. All I can say is I am addicted!
Anna (Unregistered) 2010-03-29 08:20:39

this look so yummy! i am adding it to my "to try" list.

Check me out at: http://annasvirtualkitchen.blogspot.com/
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