Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Braised Pork Belly - 豚のかくに

Buta no Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly

Well, it seems like it's been a month of red meat here on the blog. For those of you worried about my heart health, rest assured that the other food I'm eating is full of non-animal proteins and leafy greens. I just can't seem to get enough of the pork and shouyu combinations.

About two months ago I picked up a slab of pork belly (豚ばら) on sale, intending to make Buta no Kakuni. It's one of my favorite Japanese indulgences - chunks of pork belly striped with fat, simmered with hard-boiled eggs in a dark salty stock until they're so tender you can pick the meat apart with your chopsticks. When this dish appears on the table at a work party, my co-workers' eyes just light up. For Japanese cuisine, it's incredibly rich and decadent.

The dish requires more than 3 hours of patient simmering, with a stint in the refrigerator to skim the fat in between, so I wisely put the meat in the freezer until I had time to give it my full attention. Months passed. Finally, I remembered my poor porcine friend and dug out the recipes I'd bookmarked. I pretty much worked from these two, taking some pointers from Obachan, who (cleverly) used a slow cooker for hers.

(If you can read Japanese, you could try this rice cooker version that uses only pork belly, daikon, soy sauce, sugar and Coca Cola(?!). You don't see a lot of coke in Japanese cooking, I wonder how it would taste?)

Anyway, my final result was delicious and tender, but there were moments where I worried the meat wouldn't get there. I started off following the more precise cooking times from the first recipe, but ended up simmering for another hour at the end, after storing in the fridge overnight. It was only during the final half hour or so that the meat approached 'cut with your chopsticks' territory. Next time I'll take the advice of the second recipe and test the meat with a skewer before moving on to the next stage, which I've recommended below.

Recipe: Buta no Kakuni - 豚のかくに
Serves 2 or 3 with rice and vegetables.

400 grams pork belly(豚ばら), cut into large cubes*
3 eggs (or one per person) hard-boiled and peeled
4 cups water to start, more as needed
1 peice of ginger (しょうが), peeled and halved
1 negi (Japanese leek) (長ネギ)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
2 TBSP sugar
  • Brown the pork cubes in your saucepan and discard any excess fat.
  • Cover with water (4 cups or more) and add negi and ginger to the pot.
  • Simmer for the next two hours or so uncovered, then test the meat with a skewer. Does it slide through easily? If not, continue simmering. Add a little more water if the liquid has reduced past half the original amount.
  • Once meat is tender, cool and skim the excess fat from the top.
  • Add sugar, sake and half the soy sauce then cover with a drop lid** or foil and simmer for another half hour.
  • Add eggs and remaining 1/4 cup of soy sauce and simmer for a final half hour or so, turning the eggs every now and then for an even color.
  • Enjoy the soft, fatty goodness, taking comfort in the popular Japanese belief that the collagen in pork fat is good for your skin.

Serve with plenty of the simmering liquid and a dab of Japanese mustard, know as karashi (からし)on the side. If you can't get it, any other hot yellow mustard would work.

Feel free to do what I did and break this up over two days, popping the pot into the fridge in between. If anything, the rest seems to improve on the tenderness of the meat. Also, if you screw it up and end up simmering for another hour or two after you've added the eggs and the seasoning, don't worry. The eggs will not develop mushy brown yolks. they turn out fine.

When I was finished I added some more water to the left over sauce, boiled and strained it again and popped the resulting golden brown broth in the freezer. I have a theory that it will make a great ramen base. (Well, not so much a theory as that this recipe is almost identical to one for ramen stock in one of my cookbooks.) I'll try it out as soon as I've recovered from this week's pork overload.

Pork Stock

* Buy the pork belly in lumps or a slab, not sliced. It looks like uncured streaky bacon (because it is :)).
**Japanese recipes frequently call for a lid smaller than the saucepan, called an otoshibuta or 'drop lid', to be placed directly on top of the ingredients. This is supposed to allow liquid to reduce while keeping the contents moist and tender. You can buy a plastic one at the 100yen store or use the lid from a smaller pot, but a sheet of foil placed on top of the ingredients will work just as well.


K & S said...

that looks delicious! I've been wanting to try to make this but haven't been lucky finding pork butt....

Cass said...

I saw the pre-cubed stuff all the time in winter, but now my supermarket only has the big slabs. I guess either they're hiding amongst the pork roasts or it's a seasonal thing.

K & S said...

I'll be on the look out for either. Thanks for the tip!