Buta no kakuni or Braised Pork Belly is the Japanese counterpart of the Chinese braised belly, it is a pork dish made by slowly braised in a mix of soy sauce, sake, anise, ginger and sugar. The pork cut used is the belly; it is the same part used for bacon hence the layers of fat you see in the photo. This part is a common ingredient in Asian cuisines and one of the best parts of meat to use as it contain a lot of fat helping to maintain the moisture on meats even with long periods of cooking.
Kakuni in Japanese means “square simmered” due to the fact that it is made out of large square chunks of pork meat. This dish is a popular regional product of Nagasaki; the influence of this dish is Chinese and started to evolve during the Ming Dynasty and Song Dynasty when the Sino-Japanese trading route was created between Hangzhou and Kyushu. During those times many Chinese nationals lived in major Kyushu port cities such as Nagasaki; on the other hand there are also a lot of Japanese nationals that live in Hangzhou. During those times this dish became really popular.
There are several similar dishes that might look the same across the South East and East Asian region where this fatty part of pork is slowly braised like the Bak Kut Teh in Malaysia, the Adobo in the Philippines and the Thit Heo Kho of Vietnam to name some. The cooking methods of those dishes are the same but it is adjusted to the local taste of each country.
This is a really good simple dish and once done properly the flavours will be superb and the meat texture is so tender it melts in your mouth.
- In a heavy pot add a very small amount of oil then brown pork belly on all sides. Once it turns golden brown add the ginger paste and white part of the spring onions, stir fry for 30 seconds.
- Add the sugar and let it caramelize on the bottom of the pot, do not burn. Once sugar is melted combine it with the pork, make sure pork is coated with the caramel.
- Pour the dashi stock, water, soy sauce, sake, and star anise. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer in low heat while covered for 2 hours.
- Cook your bok choy by placing it in boiling water for 30 seconds and running them in cold water. Set this aside.
- Once pork is cooked, place in serving bowls with some sauce (get the bottom part, the top would be very oily) garnished with chopped spring onions. Serve with rice or ramen, bok choy and mustard (In Japan they dab meat with mustard)