A few weeks ago, I was walking through the farmers market at the Ferry Building along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. As the name suggests, the Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries traveling across the Bay. Except… it’s much more than just that. It houses a wonderful array of food boutiques and restaurants. Want an bottle of olive oil infused with truffle oil, there’s a vendor for that. Need a pound… or few of freshly sliced Prosciutto di Parma that’s paper thin? There’s a vendor for that. Looking to grow your own exotic mushrooms? Yes, there’s a vendor for that as well. Those are just a sliver of the permanent marketers featured. During the farmers market, the number of merchants explode and they spill out onto the surrounding streets! I was walking through the crowds and passed by a woman selling Taiwanese steamed buns (gau bao). Perfectly fluffy and warm buns filled with tender slabs of pork belly, pickled mustard greens, and sweet crushed peanuts. I ate as I continued to walk through the crowds, trying not to make a complete mess in my hands and all over my face (a near impossible feat). As soon as I done (aside from wishing that I grabbed more napkins), I instantly wished I bought more than just one gua bao. Totally inspired, I hit the kitchen! I used the steamed buns recipe from David Chang, the man who sky-rocketed the gua bao into the stratosphere of popular food. The buns are phenomenal, so soft and cloud-like, you could sleep on them! It’s David Chang… would you expect anything less? Rather than using pork belly, I gave a nod to our old home in the ATL, and made pulled pork. I say just a nod, because if I were going to go for full southern influence, I’d be out back tending to a smoker for the better part of the day. Well… I do not have a smoker, nor do I have the time to tend to such an endeavor. The slow cooker may take nearly as long as a smoker, but that’s 8 hours that you can leave the kitchen, run errands, go to work, take a nap. You just set it and forget it! The result is meat that literally falls off the bone! Seriously, you could shred the pork with your fingers if you wanted to. And the Sriracha BBQ Sauce that accompanies the pork is out of this world! It’s a little spicy, a little smoky, a little sweet, and a little vinegary – it has the best of all worlds and it’s a…maz…ing on pulled pork!
A nice balance to the pork and pillowy steamed buns, are the quick pickled cucumbers. They take on a vinegary quality to balance out the rich pork while adding a subtle crispness. Then of course there are the scallions to add that extra punch of flavor. The culmination of all of these fantastic components is a phenomenal little bun that packs a ton of flavor! These are perfect for parties, but if you want to have them for just a few people or even just yourself – the buns freeze beautifully for several months, the pulled pork can be portioned and frozen as well, and the sriracha bbq sauce can also be refrigerated for several months. So while the sum of the components of this dish does take some time and effort – you can prepare most of this dish way in advance or enjoy it long after you’ve initially made it! And above all… it’s worth the time because they’re crazy good!
- Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
- 4 - 5 pounds pork shoulder
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- Quick Pickled Cucumbers*
- 1 cup water, hot from the tap
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 small English cucumber, sliced ⅛ inch thick
- Additional Items
- prepared steamed buns (gua bao)*
- prepared sriracha bbq sauce*
- 1 small bunch scallions, green parts only, sliced into strips
- Trim the pork shoulder of any excess fat. In a small bowl, combine the paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Rub the spice mixture all over the pork.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the pork and sear each side for about 3 minutes, or until slightly charred (don't forget to sear the sides and ends as well).
- Transfer the pork shoulder to the slow cooker and add the water and apple cider vinegar. Cook on low for 8 hours.
- In the meantime, make the Quick Pickled Cucumbers. Combine the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar in a bowl with a pouring spout (a 2 cup measuring cup works great) and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pack the cucumbers into a container and pour the brine over top. Allow to sit for at least an hour. (Ideally, they should be prepared about 4 hours before you're ready to serve).
- Once the pork shoulder is done cooking, remove and set it on a large cutting board or in a large bowl. Using two forks, shred the pork. Then add ½ of the bbq sauce and toss to combine.
- To serve: Place several slices of cucumber inside each bun, then some pulled pork, and a few strips of scallions. Serve with the extra Sriracha bbq sauce on the side for anyone who wants a little extra, serve, and enjoy!
* The Steamed Buns (gua bao) can be made long in advance. They will keep in the freezer for several months.
* The Sriracha BBQ Sauce can also be made in advance. It will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several months.
Ever make the pork in the pressure cooker instead? I just got one and have been trying to convert as many slow cooker recipes as possible.
Oh how fun! I’ve been wanting to add a pressure cooker to my kitchen gadgets! That being said, I have not made this using a pressure cooker – but a quick online search yielded a number of references for doing so. If you give it a try using this method, I’d love to know how it turns out! Hope you have a great week, Kevin!
Dinner party was GREAT success. Thank you! Slow cooker pork and buns 5*** delicious..Yes, buns are like little soft pillows. Main course was your spicy shrimp (I took your advise and left out red peppers) since my company doesn’t like HEAT! Let me not forget to report how fabulous your coconut rice is…Doubled recipe and can’t wait to have left overs…YUMMY!
That’s fantastic, Lyn! I’m so glad your dinner party was a success! I can’t tell you how happy that make me 🙂
Look at those fall-off-the-bone braised pork in pillowy buns. They are totally irresistible! I need these buns right now! By the way, the video is very nicely done. Loving it. 😉
Makes you kind of wish they made giant pillowy bun sleeping bags! Or am I just weird??? 😛
Question: For dinner party (6 people) I’m making these for appetizers…what do you recommend for main course…or other foods to serve?
Ooo… I love dinner parties – how fun! If you’re looking for an entrée to pair with these pork buns, I would make something lighter as your main. That may sound a little counter-intuitive because generally you want to build up to stronger flavors throughout the evening. However, the dishes I’m going to suggest are lighter as far as the primary ingredient is concerned, but bold in flavor. And they offer a zip/tang that compliments so beautifully with the rich pork.
The Spicy Chili Garlic Shrimp with Coconut Rice I just posted would actually work quite beautifully in conjunction with the pork buns. And a fabulous side dish is the Grilled Romaine Lettuce with Creamy Lemon Dressing – this salad has the perfect zip to compliment both dishes and the dressing is totally addictive!
If those suggestions don’t fit quite what you’re looking for, I’d search for some sort of seafood, pasta, or even chicken dish. If you need some more options, just let me know! I hope you have a lovely dinner party, Lyn! Happy eating 🙂
Just checked out your suggestions: Spot on! Now I know my menu. Two Questions: Have you ever made that rice in rice cooker? If I leave out chilis with shrimp (hubby doesn’t like heat), will shrimp be dull? (Thinking I could serve Siracha on side?) I really appreciate you helping me with dinner party. I promise to give feed back.:)
That’s great! Yes, you can make the rice in a rice cooker! Simply add all of the ingredients to the cooker and a 1/4 cup of water. Then just let it do its thing 🙂
As for the chilies… you can omit the actual red chili peppers, but I would be hesitant to omit the sambal. Sambal does have a kick to it, but it also contains a whole slew of other amazing ingredients (ginger, garlic, lime, vinegars, etc) that really make this dish pop. Instead of 2 tablespoons of the sambal, you could try just 1. One tablespoon when added with the other ingredients gives a very mild heat while still giving you some flavor. But I don’t know how sensitive your hubby is to heat. If your hubs is totally adverse to spicy, may I suggest a different dish? Miso Glazed Salmon with Coconut rice is one of my very favorite dishes. The salmon is cooked under a broiler and that intense heat caramelizes the glaze giving you a fabulous flavor! And it’s also paired with the coconut rice that you can make in the rice cooker.
I hope some of this helps. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any more questions or need a few more suggestions. I would LOVE to hear how the dinner party goes! 🙂
Mon Petit Four (@byMonPetitFour) says
Ohh Kathleen! There you go again with your amazing renditions! This looks sooo good, especially with those pickled cucumbers! And I need to get myself some steamed buns!! <3
Thank you my dear. The pickled cucumbers definitely balance out the rich pork quite nicely 🙂
Natasha @ Salt and Lavender says
These look lovely, Kathleen. That farmer’s market sounds amazing. I will be visiting San Francisco for the first time later this year (only briefly though), I might have to see if we can check it out!!
How exciting! Yes, try to fit in a trip over there if you can! And if you have any free time, let me know!
What a wonderful recipe! I’m really enjoying your youtube videos, too 🙂
Thanks, Sabrina! I’m having a lot of fun making them 🙂
Janette (@culinaryginger) says
These are little bites of tasty perfection and I must give this a try. I love the Ferry Building, I’m due a trip 🙂
Well if you’re ever in town… give me a ring 🙂
Lynn | The Road to Honey says
The Ferry Building sounds like such a magical place Kathleen and I can imagine you walking around trying to stay neat and tidy as you devoured that gao bao (I would have needed a bib). And boy am I glad that visit inspired you to bring us this version as it looks absolutely delicious. I love that you used pulled pork (I find pork belly too fatty for my taste). And those pickled cucumbers. . .yummo! I always have a soft spot for anything pickled.
Yeah… neat and tidy definitely did not work. One of those plastic lobster bibs would have been much better 😉
Rachelle @ Beer Girl Cooks says
Oh my! These pork buns are fantastic! My sister lives in San Francisco and I have been to that FM when visiting her. Sigh… jealous…
That’s awesome! If you ever have some free time in town, let me know 🙂
Marissa (@pinchandswirl) says
I love that farmer’s market in SF – it’s a sensory overload of awesome. 🙂 I’ve been wanting to try making steamed buns FOREVER, but never have. I’m going to try these for sure…and loving your videos, my dear! xo
Oh for sure – that place has everything! You sound like me… I had been wanting to make steamed buns forever and after I made these, I couldn’t believe I waited so long! 🙂
Thao @ In Good Flavor says
I’m so jealous! Lucky you to live near the farmer’s market and all those shops. These pulled pork buns are gorgeous! I would be a rock star if I brought this to the next party! Pinning.
I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have any left 😛
I need to visit that market – hey, how ’bout you be my tour guide? I would love that! Oh my – these little buns are calling to me…and yes, I’d sleep on it… I can see how soft and pillow-y they are. So scrumptious!! And that video? Equally scrumptious! Love the music…It’s playing as I write this…I think I’ll play it again… 🙂
H3ll yeah – I’ll be your tour guide! 😉 Uh yeah, and that song has been stuck in my head for the past 3 days – I woke up this morning humming it! Ahh! 😛
Helen @ scrummy lane says
My goodness, Kathleen! I could gush about these buns for hours! What a treat it would be to find these while out and about (or indeed make some for myself at home). I love your video too – the quick pickled cucumbers are such a novel idea. 🙂
Oh, and absolutely adore your first photo!
Thanks Helen! I’m really having a lot of fun with the videos – something new to learn 😉
Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary says
Okay, why can’t I have a Ferry Building near me?! I would totally live there if I were you!! LOVE these buns, my dear! The pulled pork with quick pickled cucumbers sound fabulous, but stuffed into a pillow-y soft steamed bun?! YAHHHHS! Perfection! Cheers, girlfriend!
Well if you ever come out this way we’ll have to go…. and spend WAY too much money 😛
That Farmer’s Market sounds like a lovely place! And the buns look mouthwatering! Pinning to try them 🙂
The farmer’s market is incredible! I hope you get a chance to go!
karrie @ Tasty Ever After says
Oh my oh my! These pork buns looks delish! And an easy slow cooker to boot! It’s my lucky day 🙂 When I went to San Francisco, I visited the Chinatown area and went to a few take out dim sum places where nothing was labeled in English. I had the best time pointing at what I wanted and got bags filled to the top, even though I had no idea what I was getting. I love all dim sum so I saw it as an adventure if I got something I had never had before. Wish I would have known about the farmer’s market, if it was even there when I was there. I would have loved that market. Guess I’ll just have to make your recipe and pretend I was there 😉
Isn’t Chinatown great! I could seriously spend all week just wandering the streets and exploring/sampling food! Hope the move is going well, xoxo!
Dawn @ Girl Heart Food says
YAAAAS! These look amazing. I could eat like 8 or 10 of these and call it a day! That market sounds unreal!!!
Thanks, Dawn! If you ever get the chance, check it out! I think it’s the biggest farmers market I’ve ever seen!