Buta Kakuni: Braised Pork Belly
Buta kakuni, simmered pork belly stew cut into cubes, is a regional dish from Nagasaki. The slow cooking method breaks down collagen of the meat, making it melt inside your mouth!
During the Sakoku (Seclusion) period, Nagasaki was the only port where trade with foreign countries was permitted. Since old times, that region is very famous for keeping contact and trade relations with mainland China: medicinal products, luxury goods, books, food… That is the reason why buta kakuni, the Nagasaki-Style Braised Pork, is a dish in which its origins are probably connected to Chinese cuisine as well.
There is also another very similar dish, called rafute (pork simmered in shoyu and sugar), in Okinawan cuisine. It is not a coincidence that Okinawa is also another region of Japan with a historical relationship with China. Both buta kakuni and rafute are closely related to a Hangzhou dish called Dong Po Rou (东坡肉), a red-braised pork meat.
I have read once that the Dongpo pork recipe is commonly attributed to Su Shi [Su Dongpo]. He was a famous Chinese author, artist, scholar and court official from Song dynasty. Myth or not, all these simmered pork dishes taste heavenly like art!
Buta kakuni makes a good otsumami, going really nicely with cold alcohol. It also makes an incredible main dish, making an appetizing combination with cooked rice. Finally, the karashi mustard offers that spicy splash that makes the dish just perfect.
The typical buta kakuni has that cube format (after all, kakuni literally means “simmered cube”), but actually sometimes I make a variation using these recipe steps and spare ribs. Well, what can I do? Those are not cubes but they are equally delicious!
- 400g of Pork belly fillet, cut into large pieces.
- 2.5L katsuobushi + kombudashi
- 4 tbsp of shoyu
- 4 tbsp cup of mirin
- 2 tbsp of sugar
- Half thumb of ginger, cut roughly into slices (skin on)
- One negi
- Half daikon, cut into large half moons
- One bok choy
- Karashi (Japanese mustard)
- Set a pan on high heat.
- Sear the surface of the pork belly until it gets some color. Discard the fat and separate the meat.
- Separate the green portion of the negi. Cut the white portion in diagonal cuts.
- On a deep pot, add the seared meat, the dashi stock, the green portion of negi and ginger.
- Set the heat to low and cover the pan with an otoshibuta (or a sheet of aluminum foil).
- Simmer and remove the foam/scum from the surface every half hour.
- Keep the water level constant.
- After around one and a half hour, add the seasonings.
- Add the white negi, the daikon, the bok choi and cook everything for more half an hour.
- Serve the kakuni with karashi.
You can reduce the cooking time by using a pressure cooker. I would not recommend it, though. The final result won’t be the same.
Some people rather preparing this recipe with a very thick, strong sauce. This recipe version uses a lighter sauce due to personal preferences, you can make it the way you find it better!
Do not add the seasonings early on, otherwise it will break the consistency of the meat.
Try picking a piece of meat with at least three layers of fat, this ensures that the kakuni will be super soft when cooked. What if the meat has an irregular distribution of fat/not enough fat at all? Try adding at least half an hour of extra cooking time just to be safe.