This is one of the rather classic home cooked or Izakaya dish. Pork “kaku-ni” 角煮 has an origin in China and reportedly came into Japanese culinary vocabulary through Okinawa 沖縄 and Kyushu 九州. Although one may think that Japanese food is rather low-fat and healthy (which is mostly correct), Japanese also like totally unhealthy fatty items such as this dish. Cubes of Pork belly (portions used for salt pork and bacon) are cooked a long time in a soy sauce based broth producing a meltingly soft and sweet fatty morsel. This cut of pork is very common in Japan called “sanmai niku” 三枚肉 or “bara niku” バラ肉. The closest we can get in a regular grocery store in the U.S. is pork spare ribs. But unless you get pork spare ribs which include the front side, you do not get this cut of pork. The types of meat you get under “pork spare ribs” vary and, toward the back of the ribs, you get a cut similar to pork chops. Since salt pork is exactly a block of a pork belly (which is salt cured), I decided to experiment making this dish from salt pork. There are many recipes including using a pressure cooker. The vast majority of the recipes suggest boiling the meat in a large amount of water first before cooking it in a seasoned broth. I figured that even though salt pork is salty, by boiling it in water or a seasoned broth with a lower salt content for a long time, the salt will eventually leach out from the salt pork. I looked through several recipes and decided on one which looked differet from the vast majority of the recipes and interesting by Atsushi Tsuchiya 土屋敦.
I first removed the rind (or skin) and cut a block of salt pork (about 500 grams) into 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles. Using a small dry frying pan, I browned all sides starting with the fatty side so that some fat will render out first (2-3 minutes on each side). In a small bowl, add 4 tbs of soy sauce (I used 1/3 low sodium soy sauce) and marinate the seared pork cubes for 10 minutes. I then put the pan on a low flame and cook for 5 minutes until soy sauce reduces a little and becomes slightly viscous. I add 200ml of sake and increased heat and cook 8-10 minutes and add 3 tbs of sugar.
Meanwhile I soak about 5-6 inch long dried kelp in water and let it rehydrate for 30 minutes or more. Add the water in which the kelp was soaking to the pan above so that the meat is covered. As it comes back to the boil, I skim off fat and scum which will appear on the surface. I placed the kelp to cover most of the meat as shown below and turn down the heat to simmer. I cook about 4 hours on simmer turning the meat over after about 2 hours, adding more water as needed.
I served this with a dab of Japanese mustard and sliced scallion. As an accompaniment, I made blanched baby Bok choy or チンゲンサイ青梗菜 dressed with a mustard soy sauce (Japanese mustard, sugar and soy sauce). This is a partial success. Although the meat is not too salty and fat is nicely rendered and soft, the meaty parts are a bit dry. I have to try this recipe with pork spare ribs.
P.S. I posted two other attempt at making “Kakuni”; one with spare ribs and the other using genuine pork belly (to be posted).