You will need to begin this recipe the night before
1kg piece pork belly
150ml malt vinegar
250g brown sugar
5 cloves garlic, bruised
175g maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
3 fresh bay leaves
Sea salt flakes
8 frozen bao buns (available from Asian supermarkets)
6 large iceberg lettuce leaves
1 large carrot, julienned
2 large Lebanese cubumbers, seeds removed, julienned
2 spring onions, julienned
1/2 cup coriander leaves
The night before: prepare pork by using a stanley knife (or super sharp kitchen knife) to score a cross-hatch pattern (cuts about 2cm apart) into the pork rind. Be very careful not the press to hard - you don't want to cut down into the flesh, just enough pressure to score the surface. Place the pork belly, skin side up, on top of a cooling rack and place into the sink. Pour about 1L of boiling water all over the pork. You should notice the cuts opening up - this is good! Remove pork from sink, pat down with paper towel to dry thoroughly then pop the pork (still on the rack) into a deep roasting tray, making sure the skin side of the pork is up. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes, ensuring the entire surface of the skin is covered, then pop into the fridge, uncovered, overnight (at least 12 hours). The salt helps draw out all of the moisture from the skin and will give you an amazing, crispy crackling.
When you are ready to cook: Preheat a fan-forced oven to 230ºC. Brush salt off the pork, then use paper towel to pat the pork belly all over, making sure it is really dry. Place pork, skin side up, in a deep roasting tray (you want the piece of pork to be nestled in without too much room around it so try and use the smallest size tray possible) and pop into the oven for 30 mins.
Meanwhile, combine Cointreau, vinegar, sugar, garlic, maple syrup, bay leaves and cinnamon stick in a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over a high heat until boiling, then cook for a further 2-3 mins. Remove from heat.
Once pork is done, use tongs to carefully remove from the pan. Pour the Cointreau mixture into the tray and then gently place the pork, skin side up, back into the tray. The liquid should not touch the pork skin (if it looks like the liquid will be too deep and cover the skin, just pour less in. Any liquid touching the skin will result in soggy skin and no lovely, crispy crackling - loserbao!). Reduce oven temperature to 150ºC fan then carefully place tray back in oven and allow to cook for 1 1/2 hours.
When you have about 30 mins of cooking time left: Fill a large saucepan with steamer attachment 1/3 full with water and bring to the boil. Line the steamer insert with lettuce leaves (this will stop the bao sticking and also help seal in moisture) and place frozen bao buns on top. Cover with lid and allow to steam for 10-12 mins or until buns are light and fluffy.
To serve, remove crispy pork skin from belly and use a cleaver to cut into smaller pieces. Cut/shred pork flesh and mix together in a bowl with the crispy skin. Add 1/2 cup of the Cointreau liquid from the roasting tray and toss to coat. Stuff the steamed bao buns with pork, carrot, cucumber and spring onion and a sprinkle of coriander leaves.