Fresh pork belly used to be difficult to get in the past but with the opening of the new gourmet grocery store near us, we now can get pork belly any time. Japanese (including me) somehow love this portion of the hog. Thinly sliced pork belly (like bacon) is called “bara-niku” バラ肉 or “sanmai-niku” 三枚肉 and is widely used in Japanese dishes. But the ultimate is “Butano-kakuni” 豚の角煮 which I have posted several iterations made from pork spare rib, salted pork, and a block of a genuine pork belly. Since we happened to shop in this gourmet grocery store the other day, we bought some pork belly along with fresh whole fish.
I pondered what to make and decided to make a variation of “Kaku-ni” that is miso flavored. This is inspired by a recipe I read but I made substatinal changes since just reading the recipe, I could imagine the meat would not be that tender and the braising sauce would be too salty as well as too sweet. Pork belly requires a long time cooking especially if it is cooked as a block rather than thinly sliced. So I borrowed the idea of using a braising miso sauce from the recipe I read but deviated substantially and made this dish as though making “Kaku-ni” in a more traditional way by pre-boiling it in water (more traditional as compared to what I posted before as “Kakuni”).
The 1 pound of pork belly which I bought will easily serve 8-10 of the small servings pictured above.
I first cut the pork belly block in half so that it would fit better in the pot. I boiled it in enough water so the pork was covered “comfortably”. I added scallions (2, cleaned and light bruised including the green parts), ginger root (thinly sliced , 5-8 slices), and raw rice (1 tsp). I placed the pork belly in the cold water and put the pot on a medium flame. When It started boiling, I turned down the flame to simmer and skimmed off any scum that appeared on the surface (#1). I simmered it for over 1 hour with the lid on. I then washed the prok belly in cold running water and put it in a tight fitting (relatively speaking) baking dish (I used a small Pyrex baking dish with a glass lid) (#2).
Sauce/Marinade: The amount of the marinade has to be varied depending on the size of the baking dish. To accommodate the baking dish I used the marinade consisted of miso (2 tbs), mirin (4 tbs) and soy sauce (2 tbs). As I mixed the miso into the liquid, I added a bit more mirin to make it a saucy consistency. I did not add sugar but I could have added sugar to make it sweeter. (I thought the Mirin was plenty sweet).
I poured the marinade over the meat put a lid on and placed it in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) turning several times (or I could have used a Ziploc bag, with the air squeezed out). Just before putting it into the oven, I added scallion (3, cleaned and cut into 2-3 inch length) and pickled ginger (10, julienned, which added some sweet and sour ginner taste) (#3).
I pre-heated the oven to 350F. I cooked the pork belly with the lid on for 1 hour occasionally basting with the marinade. After one hour, I removed the lid and continued baking for 30 more minutes basting several times (#4). The marinade became dark brown and thick. If needed, add water during the baking/braising (I did not).
This is as good as the more traditional pork belly kaku-ni. The fat layer melted in the mouth and was very sweet. The meaty portion had a good but tender consistency and porky flavor. The miso marinade became nice nutty, salty and sweet sauce. Since this is a rather deadly dish, portion control was an order and I only served three slices per person.
Although sake would be my usual choice of libation, sturdy red wines will go very well. Actually, we were having this with 2007 Caymus cabernet sauvignon. This is one of our favorite wines. It has a nice dark chocolate mingling with complex predominantly black fruit. Hoping that the red wine would lessen the ill-effect of pork belly fat while experiencing hedonistic pleasures in two ways; pork fat and good wine.