Steamed Pork Butt Buns at Sakaya Kitchen Are a Lovely Mess

Jackie Sayet
Disappearing act: Sakaya's new steamed pork buns.
This is wet-nap food. You know, the kind best consumed bent over so the juices don't Jackson Pollock your pants. You eat it with your hands, because it tastes better that way, and you relish licking every last drop of sauce from your fingers.

Midtown's Sakaya Kitchen provides wet naps next to the napkins and utensils on the counter. A good sign. You'll need them as you scarf down chef/owner Richard Hales's new steamed roast pork buns. They're the fold-over variety and a successful exercise in layering flavors, cooking techniques, and ingredients into a taste explosion. Nix on the fluffy white bread stuffed with overcooked and overly sweet pork chunks. 

Here's the method:

First, there's the bone-in pork butt that is cured overnight in a rub-down of brown sugar, toasted spices such as star anise, and sesame oil. Into a roasting pan the hulking slab goes for eight hours, low and slow.

Jackie Sayet
At 6 hours...
Once roasted, slices of pork butt hit the grill. The meat is heavily marbled, occasionally causing flames to leap after its tasty fat drippings.

Jackie Sayet
Pork meets grill
A marinade is prepared of ingredients including but not limited to ginger, scallion, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, red pepper paste, and soybean oil. The chef shows us the mixture in its plastic quart container. The moment the top is popped, a sweet and exotic perfume leaps out, wafting to the nose in a hurry as if it's been stabbed with an adrenaline shot.

Jackie Sayet
A post-cook marinade...
For the buns, there's the Fresh-O-Matic, a retro steamer not unlike one you might find in the Jetsons' kitchen. Buns aren't made in-house, but who cares when you have a Fresh-O-Matic?

Jackie Sayet
Retro, fitting.
Next is sweet chile sauce, Hales's own concoction, like the house pickles. A little drizzle here, some cured cukes stuffed there, add fresh scallions, and... well... freshness. They shower the buns (an order comes with two) right before service. It's a necessary and final step.

Jackie Sayet
Chef Hales with his sweet chile sauce...

Jackie Sayet
Perfect size and shape for clutching.
Korean-American chef David Chang of Momofuku restaurants in New York City has a cult following for his steamed pork buns. Will bun mania ensue in Miami? We would normally advise that you rush in and get Sakaya's before they're gone, because their menu seems to be in a constant state of flux. However, we have a sneaking suspicion they're staying put for a while, perhaps in new permutations, especially with Dim Ssam Sundays launching in the near future. For more info about Sakaya's menu, check out Lee Klein's first look here. For more about chef Richard Hales, check out his story on Kitchen Interviews.

Jackie Sayet
Two buns are better than one, especially when they come in a sustainable dish made of a sugarcane production byproduct.
Jackie Sayet
The new it item on the board. Sakaya's menu is in a constant state of flux.
Jackie Sayet
Good goals.
Chang Buns.jpg via David Chang
Chang's buns: the recipe for this less juicy version can be found in his new Momofuku cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2009)
Sakaya Kitchen
3401 N. Miami Ave.
Miami (Midtown)

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