To cook buta no kakuni, chunks of pork belly are browned then braised in soy sauce, mirin, dashi, ginger and sugar until the fat literally melts in the mouth.
There are several versions of buta no kakuni on the web — one flavors the braising liquid with dried sardines, another uses chicken stock instead of plain water and still another requires simmering the pork with aromatics before it is braised. All the Japanese braised pork belly recipes I have read, however, start with browning the pork.
It is traditional to use pork belly cubes but if, like me, you only have an hour and a half or so to get lunch ready, slicing the pork belly into pieces about an inch thick cuts the cooking time tremendously.
The exact cooking time depends on a number of factors including the age of the animal and the size into which the meat was cut. Check the liquid once in a while and make sure there is always at least an inch of liquid in the pot.
I was negligent in checking the liquid and, at one point, the mixture got too dry and the sugar caramelized and turned the meat too dark. Not that the caramelization affected the taste of the dish in any negative way but, if you’re aiming for the more traditional look of Japanese braised pork belly, you will want the meat to be less darker than mine.
Japanese Braised Pork Belly (Buta no Kakuni)
- Cut the pork belly into chunks. Two-inch cube would be a good size; cut them smaller if you want a shorter cooking time.
- Peel and slice the ginger.
- Lightly pound the garlic.
- Heat a wide shallow pan and pour in the cooking oil.
- Add the pork belly pieces and cook over high heat, turning them occasionally, until browned.
- Scoop out the pork and transfer to a plate. Keep warm.
- You’ll have more oil in the pan at this point because the cooking oil would have gotten mixed with rendered pork fat. If you have more than a tablespoonful of fat in the pan, pour off the excess.
- Heat the fat and sauté the ginger, garlic and chili flakes until aromatic.
- Pour in the mirin. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Put the browned pork back into the pan.
- Add the soy sauce, dashi granules and sugar.
- Pour in enough water to cover the pork. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the pork is so tender that when poked with a fork, the meat breaks apart.
- Serve Japanese braised pork belly over rice, sprinkled with sliced scallions and with a hard boiled egg on the side.