Buta no Kakuni

Buta no Kakuni Recipe

Pork belly is one of those unctuous culinary pleasures that you know will kill you some day, but you can’t resist taking another bite. The magic of pork belly is in the way the fat and meat are distributed; either one on its own would be cloyingly rich or insipidly bland, but layer the fat and meat like an opera cake, you end up with a gloriously moist and tender morsel that floods your mouth with flavor with each bite.

Buta-no-Kakuni

Buta no Kakuni (豚の角煮) which literally translates to “pork cut square and simmered” is the way that pork belly is most often prepared in Japan. Like ramen and gyoza, kakuni has its roots in Chinese cuisine, and this dish in particular started with Dongpo Pork (东坡肉).

As it worked its way from China to Okinawa to Nagasaki, the dish evolved, adapting to local ingredients and tastes. For my version, I like to use dried sardines to add some oomph to the broth while I include some ginger and garlic to smooth over any overly aggressive fish and pork notes. I’ve also changed my method since I first published this dish, preferring to brown the pork belly first rather than just it. This adds complexity to the flavor though if you prefer a lighter dish, just give the pork a five minute boil in water, before adding it to the rest of the ingredients to simmer.

Buta no Kakuni Recipe

Cooked over low heat for a long period of time, much of the fat renders out, and the collagen breaks down into gelatin making the entire thing dissolve in your mouth on contact. Buta no Kakuni is pretty awesome with some hot mustard and and a frosty mug of beer or sliced up on a bed of hot rice. The braising liquid can be diluted and turned into an awesome broth for for a bowl of buta udon.

One of the most important points for this dish is to chose good pork belly. Japanese often refer to pork belly as sanmainiku which literally means “three layer meat”, referring to the quintessential pork belly that has three even layers of meat sandwiched between three layers of fat. This is important because uneven layers upset the balance of the meat and fat, resulting in a kakuni that’s either tough and stringy or excessively greasy.

Equipment you'll need:

Buta no Kakuni
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Pork belly simmered in soy sauce and dashi until it's melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Buta no Kakuni
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 6
Rating: 4.33
You:
Rate this recipe!
Pork belly simmered in soy sauce and dashi until it's melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Servings Prep Time
5minutes
Cook Time
130minutes
Servings Prep Time
5minutes
Cook Time
130minutes
Ingredients
  • 600 grams pork belly - skinless
  • 45 grams ginger - fresh (~1 1/2-inch length) sliced into coins
  • 12 grams garlic (~2 large cloves)
  • 6 grams niboshi (~ 20 dried baby sardines)
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar - granulated
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Units:
Instructions
  1. Cut the pork into 2 1/2" squares.
  2. Put the pork belly, fat side down, in a small heavy bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven) that's just large enough to hold the pork in a single layer. Put the pot over medium high heat and let the pork fry undisturbed until it's golden brown on the fat side.
  3. Flip each piece over and brown the other side, then transfer to a plate.
  4. Add the ginger, garlic, and niboshi and and fry until browned and fragrant.
  5. Add the sake and boil until you no longer smell alcohol.
  6. Add the water, sugar, soy sauce, salt, and return the pork to the pot. Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat and cover with a tight fitting lid.
  7. Simmer until the pork belly is fall-apart-tender (about 2 hours).
  8. Strain the braising liquid and if you are going to serve the kakuni right away, skim off the extra fat. It's best if you let this sit in the fridge overnight though as this gives the meat a chance to absorb more flavor, and it will make removing the excess fat a lot easier.
  9. To serve, gently reheat the pork belly. Slice and serve with some of the braising liquid, hot mustard and steamed greens.
Categories
  • Nick

    For someone less keen on seafood (blasphemer, I know :P), what would be a good alternative to the sardines?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Nick, I know that the word “sardine” evokes fear amongst even the most seafood-loving folks, but I’d be willing to bet if I made this for you and didn’t tell you what I’d added you’d have no idea there was any seafood component. That said, it’s going to make it taste a lot flatter, but you could just leave them out.

  • Sarah Toasty

    Wow! This is such a new and interesting take on pork belly for me, looks so incredible!

  • Uchino Debbu

    Mark, I have read that it is recommended to pinch off the heads and entrails of the niboshi, which tend to lend bitterness to the dashi. Any comment on this?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Proper technique would be to remove the head and stomach portion of niboshi, but if you use smaller niboshi (no longer than 1 1/2-inches), the bitterness isn’t noticeable. If I were making a delicate dashi I’d probably remove the heads and stomach, but the pork, ginger and garlic are the dominant flavors here, with the niboshi added for kakushiaji (hidden flavor).

  • Vicki Cheung

    This looks fantastic! Do you think I could use this for pork belly buns?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Vicki, sounds like a great idea!

  • Kate

    I used to snack on those little dry sardines when I was a kid! This seems like a good way to get some of the flavor from a bonito dashi but with a different method (and different ingredients). I’ll look forward to trying this… New York is very cold right now–perfect porkbelly weather!

  • Ritsuko

    I can’t find niboshi right now but have niboshiko, the fish powder. Can I use that? If I can, can you please tell me how much? Arigato :)

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Ritsuko, it will work, but you’ll end up with little silver flecks clouding the stock and all over the pork. Since it will probably have more potency when powdered you can reduce the amount to about 4 grams.

  • Carmen

    Hi Marc, I read in a few recipes that putting soy sauce early in the cooking stage toughens the pork belly. True?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Carmen, although I’ve never heard this before, I suspect it is a myth (like adding salt to beans while cooking).Pork belly ends up tender because of the large amount of fat and connective tissue that need time and heat to break down into gelatin and fat. Although high temperatures cause proteins to contract, forcing out liquid, the fat and gelatin take the place of the water forced out rendering the meat incredibly tender. I can’t think of any scientific reason why the presence of soy sauce would hinder this process. I would be curious to see if those recipes you’re referring to have some kind of scientific explanation as to why soy sauce would toughen the pork belly.

      • Carmen

        Thanks for the quick reply! It must be a culinary urban legend then. I followed your recipe to the letter – adding soya sauce early in the cooking stage – and the pork belly was fork tender :) thanks!

  • geemcwee

    Hi Marc, loved your site for years now. How would a pressure cooker factor in here? I also bought a drop lid……needed? Keep up the great work

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      I do this with a pressure cooker sometimes if I’m in a rush, but it does change the flavor somewhat (makes the meat taste canned). If you use a pressure cooker you can cut the time back to about 30 minutes.

      • geemcwee

        Will try yours to the T and get back to you. Tbh kakuni is an ambition of mine to perfect. It’s in my top 10 food moments….changed my perception of Japanese cuisine, along with katsudon. Some recipes break the stages into: fry, boil then flavour? Unnecessary?

        • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

          There are a lot of recipes that fry first. This helps the flavor penetrate faster, but it tends to make the outside surface of the meat leathery, which is why I prefer to just sear, and simmer and let it soak in the liquid overnight if you want it super flavorful. Also, just FYI, my kakuni isn’t super traditional. Usually there’s a lot more soy sauce and sugar in kakuni. But every Japanese person I’ve ever fed this too has said they like my version better than the traditional version because it tastes more wafu (Japanese style).

          • geemcwee

            Thanks for the responses Marc, to be commended! I’m a fan of a little sweeter kakuni with some star anise in there too…but it’s cracking the fall apart pork that for me is paramount

  • David Torrey Peters

    Oh man. This was so good. I used dried anchovies rather than sardines once, because that’s what my local Asian store had, and I couldn’t tell the difference from the time I used sardines. I have also made it with the Udon, and that was delicious too. These days, when I want a recipe, your blog is the first I go to.

  • Sikona

    Do you think using fish sauce would be acceptable instead of the niboshi? I can’t get them easily and I already have fish sauce.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Sikona, fish sauce is going to taste quite different, but it will provide umami. If it were me, I’d probably just leave the niboshi out as you’ll still get a lot of flavor from the pork.

  • Teng

    Great recipe, I used this as a food tech class to serve to guest and they just loved it!

  • Yogicfoodie

    simmering now. Smelling AWESOME~~

  • Graeme Hedley

    do i use cooking sake or drinking sake.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      If you wouldn’t drink it never cook with it. Sakes and wines with “cooking” in the label always start with low quality sake/wine and then add a ton of salt and additives. The reason is to make it undrinkable so they can avoid alcohol taxes. This not only screws up the salt measurements of recipes, it will also give your food an unpleasant taste. The irony is that given the small size most “cooking” wines come in they’re actually not any cheaper than the kind for drinking (which is taxed).

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