Japanese Pork Belly (Buta No Kakuni)
Japanese food is far more diverse than most people imagine. We’re thankfully getting more exposure to the lesser-known styles of Japanese cooking in Australia but it’s still just the tip of the proverbial iceberg! Being half Japanese and having lived in and visited Japan at various points throughout my life, I’m fortunate to have experienced the many intricate details of Japanese cuisine. However, of the many ways the Japanese enjoy food [fried (agemono), pickled (tsukemono), broths (osuimono), to name a few], my favourite style is nimono, or simmered dishes. Simmered dishes are wonderfully home-style and nourishing (definitely a comfort food!) and as an added bonus, many simmering recipes adapt easily to the slow cooker. As an (occasionally) working mother of two, I like being able to enjoy my nimono and not having to hang around the kitchen (or home) waiting for it to simmer is great. Most of all though, I love the home-cooked warmth I get from nimono which reminds me of my mother’s cooking. Other than that, who doesn’t love pork belly?
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time in slow cooker: 4 hours and 15 minutes
Cooking time on stove top: 1 hour and 14 minutes
500 g pork belly (see notes)
Enough water to cover meat during simmering phase
1/2 cup Japanese soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup Japanese cooking sake
50 g sugar
1 small piece (1 cm) fresh ginger (if desired)
3 1/2 cups water
1 carrot, sliced fairly thinly
8 snow peas, ends removed
Japanese udon noodles, to serve
1) Sear pork belly strips on a hot frying pan (no oil required), ensuring all sides of the pork belly are fried to a nice golden brown colour. Once fried evenly, transfer to a large bowl and rinse the strips well with hot water to remove excess fat. Transfer strips to a large pot (stove) or to slow cooker bowl.
2) Pour in enough water to cover the meat (whether using a stove or slow cooker) and bring pork to a high simmer then reducing to low simmer. Allow pork to simmer for one hour, topping up water as needed. If using a slow cooker, place cooker on ‘low’ setting and allow to cook for 3 hours.
3) Once the first simmering step is completed, transfer pork to a plate and wash pot or slow cooker bowl. Add the broth ingredients into a saucepan or slow cooker bowl and replace the pork. On the stove, bring the broth to a gentle boil then reduce to low simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Add carrots and snow peas at the 15-minute mark.
4) With the slow cooker, allow pork to cook in broth for one hour, adding vegetables at the 30-minute mark.
5) Remove pork belly from broth and cut into bite-sized cubes. Serve 4-6 pork belly pieces in a bowl with a generous ladle of broth and a few pieces of the carrot slices and snow peas per person. If desired, serve pork belly with Japanese udon noodles (prepare as per pack and place in bowl before ladling pork belly and broth).
Cook’s Notes: Be careful when selecting your cut of pork belly. Some butchers will prepare pork belly in thin strips but for this dish, it’s best to have thicker cuts that can then be cut into cube-like pieces after cooking. Alternatively, buy roasting belly and cut strips to your own preferred thickness. If you can only get hold of thin cuts of belly, don’t despair. The dish still tastes great! All broth ingredients can be easily found in Asian grocery stores.