Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly)
Kakuni — “square-simmered” in Japanese — is a dish of pork belly cubes that are tender and savory after simmering slowly in a base of soy sauce, sugar and sake. The dish is eaten all over Japan, but its origins are in China. The dish most likely stemmed from dongpo pork: a Chinese braised pork belly dish believed to have been created in the Song dynasty. Because of a strong Chinese presence on Japan’s island of Kyushu, Japanese-Chinese style dishes emerged over time, becoming more distinctly local with each passing century. Now, kakuni remains popular in hubs like Nagasaki — but it’s cooked in homes and izakayas all over. By blending basic Japanese ingredients and allowing ample patience while cooking, a deeply flavorful and rich dish that embodies comfort results.
- Serves: 2 persons
- 1 ½pounds boneless pork belly, cut into 2 1/2-inch squares
- 1knob ginger (1 1/2 inches), scrubbed and sliced
- 1 ½cups sake
- Soft-boiled eggs (optional)
- 3tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3tablespoons soy sauce
- Karashi (Japanese mustard paste), for serving (optional)
Step 1Heat a frying pan over medium (you don’t need to oil the pan) and sear the pork pieces on all sides until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side. At the same time, bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
Step 2Remove the pork from the frying pan and wipe off the excess fat with paper towels. Place the pork and ginger in the boiling water, cover with a Japanese drop lid (see Tip) or make your own by shaping a sheet of aluminum foil into a round slightly smaller than the diameter of your pot, cutting large holes all through the foil for ventilation and setting it over the pork. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Step 3Drain pork and rinse under running water. Discard ginger. Place pork in a bowl, cover with cold water and allow meat to cool for 5 minutes, changing the water twice.
Step 4Lay the pork pieces in a single layer in the same pot (no need to wash), and add the sake and enough water so the liquids just cover the meat (about 4 cups). Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming the scum as needed, then reduce the heat to low. Cover with the drop lid or foil with holes. Simmer for 1 hour, replenishing with water if needed. If you want to serve this dish with soft-boiled eggs, start preparing them now and then peel them.
Step 5After the pork has simmered for an hour, add the sugar to the pot. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then check meat for tenderness. A skewer should slide through easily. Continue simmering if needed.
Step 6Add the soy sauce to the pot, along with the peeled soft-boiled eggs, if using. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and allow the dish to cool.
Step 7When ready to serve, pour 1/4 cup broth from the pot into a frying pan, and allow it to reduce for 5 minutes to create a sauce. To serve, place kakuni pork pieces and eggs, if serving, in dishes, and top with the sauce. Serve with karashi to taste, if using.