Buta Kabuni (pork belly and turnips)

Buta Kabuni (braise pork belly and turnips)

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”.

Buta Kabu Kakuni

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.

Buta Kabuni

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.

  • http://breadetbutter.wordpress.com/ Su-yin

    This looks great. I've only had this once at a Japanese restaurant, will have to try making it when it gets less warm here in London.

  • http://www.tasteofbeirut.com tasteofbeirut

    Never had pork belly but your photo makes me want to try in the shortest possible time!

  • http://myboyfriendcooksforme.blogspot.com my boyfriend cooks for me

    This looks amazing! Now it just needs to cool down in Nashville so we can be inspired to braise…

  • http://junglefrog-cooking.com Simone

    That looks delicious! We finally have some rain here too, now if only it also cooled down a bit!

  • TokyoTerrace

    Pork belly is one of those things that screams comfort food- this meal is a great example! I love braising pork belly then slicing it and giving it a quick stir-fry in a light sauce and serving over sticky rice with some scallions. Super simple and delicious… Will have to try this in the fall in Tokyo!

  • http://joyjoycreativeoutlet.blogspot.com Joy

    That looks so good. My husband would love this.

  • http://www.foodgal.com Carolyn Jung

    Your photos are amazing. I feel like that dish is sitting right in front of me, ready for me to dig into. If ONLY!! 😉

  • http://limecake.net LimeCake

    this looks incredible and hearty – perfect for winter for me right now in Australia.

  • philandlauren

    thanks for introducing a new ingredient-niboshi-I'll head to chinatown.

  • http://twitter.com/grungrygirl Angela Y

    Wow, this is one of my favorite dishes!!! Thnx for posting the recipe, it looks amazing and easy to make at home!

  • Bee

    I like this, always come with the tebayaki at Furaibo here. However, they sliced their pork belly into thin pieces though. Such a beautiful bowl. I am having major prop envy. 😉

  • http://www.tastewiththeeyes.com/ Lori Lynn

    Sounds delightful Great melding of flavors. I like that it has turnip and pork together.

  • http://twitter.com/aBigMouthful aBigMouthful

    I am just obsessed with this bowl! Is it an antique, or did you buy it at a retail store? Gorgeous!

  • norecipes

    I'm glad you like it:-) To be honest, I got it on sale at the Japanese
    equivalent to Walmart for about $2. If you're ever in Japan it's totally
    worth checking out the discount stores for props:-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7913535 Joy Jangles

    Pork belly = heaven. Your Buta Kabuni = perfection.

  • Deb

    hi marc, this might sound a bit dim, I was wondering which type of turnip did you use. Was it the turnip that has some purple skin on it? thanks

  • norecipes

    Actually, that's a great question! I used the small ones (about 1.5-2″ in
    diameter) that are all white. They usually sell them with the leaves still
    attached. I think you could still use the ones with the purple tops, but
    they might need to cook a little longer to soften up.

  • http://www.perfectsimplicity.wordpress.com keri

    lovely. for some reason, i always feel intimidated cooking buta kakuni, thus i let restaurants do it for me. i think this may help me to overcome my fear! thanks!

  • norecipes

    I could see how it might seem intimidating, but it's a really simple “set it
    and forget it” kind of dish. You could probably even do it in a crock pot.
    Give it a try sometime and let me know what you think:-)

  • http://gourmetgorman.wordpress.com/ Gourmet Gorman

    This is an amazing looking dish, I’m always looking for good things to do with pork belly.
    Great blog here :)

  • Helen in Houston

    So I’m 2 years late in commenting on this recipe – lol ! Reminds me of our good ol’ Southern cooking. We peel and cube turnips and cook them with salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of sugar, and bacon that has been cut into 1″ cubes. Mouth-watering delicious…..

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      That sounds great. I’m gonna have to try that next time I find some slab bacon!

  • Ritsuko

    If I’m using niboshi powder (with added salt), how much should I add to the pot?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Powder will cloud the braising liquid making it difficult to reuse. That said about 1 teaspoon of powder should do and as long as it’s not too salty you shouldn’t need to adjust anything else. If it’s very salty, you may want to reduce the amount of salt by a bit.

  • miss ody

    hi! can i use korean myulchi dashi instead of niboshi?
    and what is equivalent of a handful of niboshi if i’m using myulchi powder (in tsp / tbsp) ?


    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      HI Miss Ody, Myulchi is the same as Niboshi, but I’ve never used the powder. I’d imagine that it’s pretty potent so you shouldn’t need much. Maybe a teaspoon? The pork has plenty of umami on it’s own so the point of the niboshi is to add a subtle seafood flavor without making it taste fishy.

      • miss ody

        arigato! am trying this tonight

  • Island Embrace

    Delicious!!! Yumm. You were right about the part where it’s challenging not to pick and eat straight out of the pot. This requires very little work, just patience and it so very comforting. Thank you for another great recipe!


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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