We’ve been getting more snow this winter than I can remember since moving to New York in 2006. The snow really transforms the city from a dingy grey concrete jungle to a pristine white wonderland that brightens even the darkest alleys. Walking up the middle of a milky white Broadway without a car in sight, or a horn to be heard, is truly a breathtaking experience and is one of the things that got me to move out here in the first place.
But the thing about snow in New York (or probably snow anywhere) is that it’s beautiful while it’s falling, but then you have to deal with at least a week of delayed trains, sidewalks obstructed by labyrinthine walls of snow, and ankle deep grey sludge. It makes leaving the apartment unpleasant to put it mildly. That’s why I like to keep the freezer stocked with braising meat, like pork butt and the veggie drawer filled with root vegetables that will keep for weeks, like carrots, gobo and daikon.
Despite having just returned from Japan, I found myself still craving Japanese food, but I was also in the mood for something a little different. This braised pork with daikon is a pretty classic Japanese nimono (stew), but I’ve added some garlic and cinnamon to take it in an unexpected direction. The stew has a deep earthiness due to the root vegetables, and the cinnamon adds sweet, spicy highlights that brightens the entire dish.
If you can’t find the same root vegetables, don’t worry, just replace them with whatever you can find. Parsnips, rutabaga, and turnips would all taste wonderful in this dish. Also, if you can find it, I prefer cooking with Cassia bark (a.k.a. Saigon Cinnamon) over “true” Cinnamon. It has a more potent aroma, has a sweeter taste, and is less biter. Now before you go and get too excited, you should know that that Cassia contains coumarin, a compound that’s “moderately toxic” to humans in large doses. That said, a lot of foods we eat contain coumarin including parsley, celery, and chamomile (though in varying doses).
The first night, I served the stew over a bowl of hot rice, but this dish really shone the second night when I reduced the sauce and tossed it along with the veggies and meat with some homemade ramen noodles. It would also be just as good tossed with your favorite Italian pasta as well.
Cinnamon Braised Pork with Daikon
makes 5-6 servings
2 tablespoons oil
1 block of konnyaku, sliced 1/4″ thick
1.5 pounds pork butt, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 gobo (burdock), peeled and cut into diamonds
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into diamonds
1/2 medium daikon peeled, and cut into uniform 1″ thick wedges
2 Tbs honey
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
3″ length of cassia bark (or 2 cinnamon sticks)
Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat until very hot. Add the oil then the konnyaku (be very careful it will spatter). Fry until the smooth surface of the konnyaku becomes rough. Transfer the konnyaku to a bowl. Add the pork to the pot in a single layer and allow one side to brown before flipping and browning the other. If the pork sticks to the pan it’s not ready to flip yet. Transfer the pork to the same bowl as the konnyaku.
Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are wilted. Add the gobo, carrots, daikon, and honey and continue sautéing for about 1 minute. Add the sake, mirin, soy sauce, and cassia bark along with the pork and konnyaku and stir to combine. Partially cover the pot with a lid, turn down the heat to low and allow it to simmer until a fork easily passes through the pork (about 2 hours), stirring occasionally to ensure everything gets evenly cooked.
Serve with rice, or reduce the sauce and toss the meat, vegetables, and reduced sauce with homemade ramen noodles.