This week on CBC Radio's D is for Dinner, chef Tarek Hassan shares a recipe for gua-bao, which are Chinese steamed buns with filling.

You can find Tarek's bao at his Gongfu bao food cart at Elgin and Slater. He's there from noon to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Friday.

This Saturday, he's also serving up these braised pork buns at the Arboretum Music Festival.

This recipe is for a filling, which you can use in gua-bao buns available frozen at large Asian supermarkets. The buns are heated in a bamboo steamer.

The filling also works on rice or noodles.

Recipe  

For braise:
  • pork picnic shoulder (bone in).
  • 750 ml Shaoxing rice wine (don't cheap out, a buck or two more gets you the tasty stuff).
  • 1 tbsp 5-spice blend.
  • 2 tbsp canola oil.
  • 1/2 lb dry shallots (peeled & quartered).
  • 1/2 lb ginger (thick sliced).
  • 1 bulb garlic (smashed & peeled).
  • 8 Chinese dry red dates (soaked, halved & seeded).
  • 3 pieces dried tangerine peel.
  • 1 tbsp black pepper.
  • 1 tsp Szechuan pepper.
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper.

For finishing:

  • 4 medium onions (peeled & sliced).
  • 1 tbsp ginger (minced).
  • 1 tbsp garlic (minced).
  • 1 tbsp canola oil.
  • 2 tbsp toban djan.
  • 1/4 cup "mushroom sauce" (sub oyster sauce if you can't find it).
  • mirin/sweet rice wine (to taste).

Instructions

Season the pork generously with salt, pepper and 5-spice, give it a good rub and refrigerate uncovered overnight.

In a pot large enough to comfortably hold the pork and the veggies, heat the canola oil on medium-high heat and sear the pork on each side until deeply coloured and fragrant. Set the pork aside.

Sear the shallots, garlic and ginger on medium heat in the same pot until coloured, then deglaze with a splash of the Shaoxing wine. Add the rest of the braise ingredients, the pork and the rest of the wine (yes, all of it). If the pork isn't submerged, add more wine or water until it is.

Bring to a gentle simmer, skim, then partially cover and let it simmer gently until the pork is tender. Poke it with a knife to gauge, three to four hours should do.

When done, let the pork come to a handle-able temperature in the braising liquid, then take it out and pull/shred the meat. Set the fatty bits aside, then chop them all up fine and mix them with the meat. Discard the gristly bits and bones.

Strain the braising liquid, then boil on high heat until reduced to a gelatinous, salty mixture. (DON'T burnt it — this stuff is gold). It'll be pretty salty because the Shaoxing wine is hard to find unsalted. Cool and store this "pork taré" for seasoning this and many other things. 

To finish, sweat the onions, garlic and ginger on medium heat with canola oil in a pot large enough to hold the pulled pork. Add the toban and cook it out, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the pork, mushroom sauce, a splash of mirin, a tablespoon of the pork taré and cook until the colour deepens (about 10 minutes).

Taste it, and adjust for a nice balanced, but punchy flavour. Add to buns and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!