Last time I was experimenting with salt pork to make Pork “kaku-ni” 角煮, it turns out, although the meat was not too salty and the fatty part was cooked just fine, the meaty part became too dry and never got to a melt-in-your-mouth texture (it improved a bit after left in the refrigerator for few days in the broth and reheated before serving). This time, I used bone-in pork spare ribs instead of salt pork. I selected the ribs with the meat from the front part of the pork, i.e. a portion close to the real pork belly. Still this meat is not quite a real pork belly. It does not have the complete layering of meat and fat. Although there is good amount of fat, it is more meaty than pork belly. As before, I used the recipes by Atsushi Tsuchiya 土屋敦.
I used two pork spare ribs (with bone, about 500 grams, meat alone may be about 300 grams). I first remove the bone and cut into 2 inch by 4 inch rectangles. In a small bowl, add 4 tbs of soy sauce (I used 1/3 low sodium soy sauce) and marinate the pork cubes for 10 minutes. Afterwards pat dry the surface of the pork. I brown all sides starting with the fatty side in a dry sauce pan so that some fat will render out first (2-3 minutes on each side). I then add the remaining soy sauce, in which the pork was marinaded, in the pan. I put the pan on a low flame and cook for 5 minutes until the soy sauce reduces a little and becomes slightly viscous. I add abut 200ml of sake, increase the 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 the fat and scum which will appear on the surface. I placed the kelp to cover most of the meat and turn down the heat to simmer. I cook about 2 hours on simmer with a lid on, turning the meat over after about 1 hour, adding more water as needed. I let it cool to room temperature and place the pan in the refrigerator.
The next day, I skimmed off any congealed white pork fat and removed the kelp. I warmed up the broth and pork in a low flame for 10 minutes or until thoroughly warmed (avoiding boiling). This time, everything was wonderful. I served it with a dab of hot Japanese mustard, sliced scallion with simply boiled (still crispy) snow peas. The meat is so tender and flavorful. So, to make a Japanese-style stewed pork belly, use the front parts of the pork spare ribs. Salt pork does not work that well. The recipe I used appears better than more common recipes which suggest pre-boiling the pork belly in water before cooking in seasoned broth. As I mentioned before, you could get pork belly from on-line specialty stores, directly from producers, and some Asian markets, which I have not tried. Recently, more and more restaurants are serving Japanese style pork bellies. Our experience has been that the portions they serve is too big and the pork belly is not as tender as it should be. We just can not handle a large amount of this fatty meat, although a small amount is fabulous.