We’ve mercifully been given a break to the heatwave that’s turned New York City into a soupy swamp of humidity. A light cloud cover and extra time are two things I haven’t experienced in weeks, so I jumped at the chance to braise a luscious slab of Niman Ranch pork belly I’ve had sitting in the freezer for nearly a month.
Buta Kakuni is a Japanese dish that literally translates to “square simmered pork” and is a popular dish at Japanese pubs (a.k.a. izakayas). Since the Japanese word for turnip is “kabu” I decided to have a little fun with the name and am calling this version of the classic “Buta Kabuni”.
It’s without a doubt my favorite way of having pork belly as the long braise renders out most of the excess grease, leaving alternating layers of silky smooth fat and melt-in-your-mouth meat. The ginger and garlic cover up any unpleasant odors coming from the pork, and the sweet soy sauce and dashi braising liquid infuse just the right amount of flavor into the meat without drowning it in a thick cloying sauce.
Kakuni makes for a great tapa to have with some beer, sake or wine, but it’s equally good with a hot bowl of rice. I guarantee you’ll have a hard time not eating this straight out of the pot, but if you have the patience to let it soak overnight in the braising liquid, it will be even better the next day. The leftover braising liquid also makes a great soup for a hot bowl of soba or udon.
small handful niboshi (about 2 tablespoons)
5 1/4″ thick rounds of ginger
2 cloves of garlic crushed with a heavy object
1 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound pork belly cut into 1″ cubes
3 medium turnips peeled and cut into 8 cubes
Wrap the niboshi in cheesecloth and tie the edges together with kitchen twine to make a little satchel. Add the satchel along with the ginger, garlic, water, mirin, sugar, sake, soy sauce, and kosher salt to a small dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid. Heat the pot over high heat until it comes to a boil, then turn down to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove the satchel of fish, then add the pork belly. Turn down the heat to low, cover, then simmer for 2 hours.
Add the turnip and cook until the turnip is tender and the pork belly falls apart when prodded with a fork (about another 30 minutes). Gently transfer the pork belly and turnips to a bowl, then skim all the fat off the braising liquid. Strain the liquid over the pork and turnips and serve with hot rice.