Serves 6 to 8 | Prep time 10 minutes | Cook Time 3.5 hours (or about 40 minutes with a pressure cooker)
Braised Pork Belly
In Japan, one of my favorite meat dishes was Buta no Kakuni — braised pork belly. If I spotted it on the menu at an izakaya (Japanese gastropub), I would not leave the place without enjoying the succulent, unbelievably tender pieces of slow-cooked meat. But when I arrived in Seattle from Japan 22 years ago, I came face to face with a shocking fact: in food trends back then, fat was the enemy. People were so afraid of eating fat that butchers did not even carry pork belly. Thankfully, the trend has changed since then and you can find pork belly on menus at many restaurants and in meat aisles at local grocery stores.
Kakuni is surprisingly easy to make (though it takes a few hours to cook) and it freezes well. It’s a great weekend project to cook in quantity and freeze, stocking up for the rest of the cold season. Simply thaw, reheat, and serve with Japanese mustard. An optional garnish of blanched spinach or bok choy adds an attractive green accent.
If you can’t find pork belly at your grocery store or butcher, Costco sells large cuts that are perfect for this recipe.
3 – 4 cups kombu dashi (see below)
4 fl. oz. high-heat cooking oil such as rice bran or canola
1 2-lb. pork belly slab, cut into 12 1 x 2 x 1-inch rectangular pieces
2 oz. fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 or 3 green onions, green part only
3.5 fl. oz. soy sauce
3.5 fl. oz. sake
6 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. mirin
2 dried red chili pods
1 bunch spinach, blanched and cut into inch-long pieces (optional)
2 – 3 tbsp. powdered mustard (preferably Japanese but you can use any powdered mustard), mixed with the same amount of water to make a paste
- To make kombu dashi, soak 2 3×3-inch sheets of kombu in 4 cups of water overnight, or place kombu and 4 cups of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Discard kombu and set liquid aside.
- Place a frying pan over medium-high heat and add oil. The amount of oil might seem like a lot for pan frying, but this is the first step for removing a good amount of fat from the pork. When oil is heated, add pork pieces and brown on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. I recommend wearing gloves, as the oil splatters.
- Once the pork is lightly browned on all sides, remove from heat and transfer to paper towels to absorb excess grease. The pork doesn’t need to be fully cooked at this point.
- Place the pork in a deep stock pot and add water to cover by a few inches. Add half of the fresh ginger and the green onions. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about two hours. This is the second step for removing more fat from the pork. (If you use a pressure cooker: Place pork, half of the ginger, and green onion in the pressure cooker, and cover it with two inches of water. Turn on heat and bring up to pressure, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow cooker to stand for another 20 minutes, or until pressure is naturally released.)
- Pat cooked pork belly dry. Discard cooking liquid.
- In a clean pot, place the cooked pork, kombu dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar, rest of ginger, and red chili pods. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a simmer. On the surface of the mixture, place a sheet of parchment paper with a few small holes poked in it, and simmer for one hour. Covering with the parchment paper helps the meat cook faster and evenly. Transfer the pork pieces to a serving bowl or plate. Continue to cook the liquid, reducing it to one-third its original volume, 10 to 15 minutes. It should be dark brown with slightly thickened.
- Pour the sauce over the pork and serve with blanched spinach and mustard paste on the side.
Recipe by Kanako Koizumi | www. kozmokitchen.com
Kanako, a native of Akita, Japan, is a chef, author and instructor focused on authentic Japanese homecooking. Chef Kanako also offers in-home private cooking classes for groups up to 12. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Would you like to travel to Japan with Kanako? She will be your travel companion for sharing authentic Japanese food and culture in her first culinary tour of Japan in November! The tour will visit Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Noto Peninsula and Tokyo. Please visit http://www.pontetravels.com for the itinerary details!
Want to hear more? Join us for a slide presentation and introduction to the tour on 02/28 at 5:30pm in Fremont. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Kanako also offers popular nabe hands-on classes in February at PCC Cooks (https://www.pccmarkets.com/class/japanese-nabe-party/) and sushi making class at Chefshop (http://chefshop.com/COOKING-CLASSES-C571.aspx).