Pork belly is one of those unctuous guilty pleasures that you know will kill you some day, but you can’t resist taking another bite. Unlike “pork butt”, porkbelly actually comes from the belly of the pig and has layers of glorious fat. Salted and smoked, this cut is called “bacon”… need I say more?
Cooked over low heat for a long period of time, much of the fat renders out (which you skim off) and the collagen in the tough bits breaks down into gelatin making the entire thing dissolve in your mouth on contact. While I love porkbelly how ever it’s prepared, it’s so rich that I like simple preparations the best.
In Japan, buta kakuni is served as an appetizer along with some beer or sake. Literally translated it means “stewed square cut pork”. While it’s traditionally cut into cubes, I actually like leaving it in longer strips then slicing it before serving.
The dried sardines and pork make a flavorful broth while the ginger and garlic evens out any overly fishy or porky tones. The braising liquid has a small amount of soy sauce for added umami and “that Japanese taste”, but it’s mostly seasoned with salt with just a touch of sugar to balance it all out.
This goes great with some stir fried greens (flavored with the braising liquid), but I also love having slices of this over udon noodles with some of the braising liquid in the dashi.
small handful of dried sardines (about 2 tablespoons)
5 1/4″ thick rounds of ginger
2 cloves of garlic crushed with a heavy object
1 C water
1/4 C mirin
1 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs sake
2 tsp soy sauce
3/4 tsp kosher salt
pork belly cut into 2″ strips
Choosing the right pork belly is important. The meat part should be well marbled, and there should be even layers of fat between the layers of meet (you don’t want thicker meat layers or thicker fat layers).
Wrap the dried baby sardines in a cheese cloth and tie with some kitchen twine to make a “bouquet garni” of fish (if you can find them you can also use a fillable disposable tea bag). You can leave them loose, but it’s a lot easier to fish them out of the stock if you do this.
Pick a small dutch oven (or other heavy bottom pan with a tight fitting lid) that will snugly fit the pork in a single layer. Combine all ingredients except the pork belly in the pot, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes to release stock from fish.
Remove the bouquet garni and throw it out. Add the pork belly (make sure there is enough broth to cover the meat), cover and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat falls apart and the fat is silky smooth.
Ideally you’ll want the pork to sit in the broth overnight putting it in the fridge after it cools off. This will do 2 things: it gives the meat a chance to absorb more flavor and it will give you a chance to easily skim off the rendered fat.
Gently reheat, slice and serve with some of the braising liquid and some steamed bok choy.