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Braised Pork Belly (buta no kakuni)

I read with interest the discussion on buta no kakuni and it's health benefits.
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/351100
I want to try making it.
In Vancouver we have a few Izakaya restaurants, my favourute being Kitanoya Guu With Garlic on Robson St. They serve a buta no kakuni that is sublime. The chopstick tender pork is covered with a thick, dark glaze that must be a reduction of the braising liquid. It is served on a few leaves off blanched cabbage with a perfect 4 minute boiled egg, split in half. The yolk is almost set and some scallions adorn it.
I prefer this version over the pork cubes in a thinner broth. It seem richer and more satisfying and I'm happy with the 1 small portion.
I have found some good recipes that I can finish to a similar state of the product from GUU. Only one mentioned daikon. None mentioned the complex blanching and rinsing procedure. Does anyone have a good recipe (a link to one) that I may play with?
Thanks
Da Cook

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  1. Ok, this is pretty pathetic, I'm replying to myself.
    But... I've done some serious research and followed all the clues from the other Kakuni discussion:
    Here's my recipe, and tomorrow I'll put it to the test with a delivery of 3 lbs. of fresh Berkshire Pork Belly. I'll get back you you (LOL!) with the results.

    Buta no Kakuni
    (Japanese Pork Belly Squares)
    6 - 8 servings

    Ingredients:
    2 pounds pork belly, cut into 2- 3 inch pieces
    1 piece Kombu Seaweed
    1 medium daikon, grated fine w/ juices
    1 2” chunk fresh ginger, grated w/ juices
    1 large leek, split along the length, and rinsed of grit
    1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
    2 tbsp sesame oil
    1/2 cup soy sauce
    1/2 cup sake
    1/2 cup mirin
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup Japanese black vinegar
    1 medium egg, per square of pork
    I head napa or savoy cabbage
    1 bunch scallions, sliced super thin on the bias.

    Directions

    Blanching:
    This is purely a “washing” phase to remove excess proteins, impurities and strong odors.
    Put the pork cubes and the Kombu in a pot and cover with cold water. Slowly bring to boil over medium/low heat. Allow pork to simmer 2 – 3 minutes, remove from heat and let cool. Rinse and pat dry.

    Steaming:
    This is the crucial flavoring and tenderizing step.
    Set steamer over a pot of rapidly boiling water
    In a heatproof dish that it will fit the steamer, place 1/3 of the grated daikon, ginger and liquid over the bottom of the dish. Place the pork belly on top of grated daikon. Cover the pork with the remainder of grated daikon and lay the leeks over top.
    Transfer dish to steamer and steam for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Use a bamboo skewer after about 90 minutes to see how tender the pork belly is. Remember to keep replenishing the steaming water as necessary.
    Once the pork can be easily pierced with a bamboo skewer, remove the dish from the steamer. Place the pork belly in a bowl of lukewarm water and gently rinse the pork. Dry the pork with paper towel, and cool. Strain the liquid and reserve. Defatted, it will be used to cook the cabbage later.
    It would be best to refrigerate the pork, uncovered, overnight to dry the skin.

    Frying:
    The purist should omit this step. This is purely a flavour enhancer. The purist should skip the braising too and go to the “Or Boiling” instructions.
    The next day, preheat a Dutch Oven. Add 1 tbsp sesame oil, adding more as needed. Fry the cold pork cubes in batches ‘till golden brown on all sides.

    Braising:
    Drain the remaining oil from the pan, and add the soya, sake, mirin, brown sugar & vinegar. Add the pork and bring to a simmer, it should all fit in one layer. Put in the oven and braise with just the skin out of the liquid. This will make crispy crackling skin possible.
    Cook over low heat fro 45 mins to 1 hour. Remove pork from sauce and reduce liquid ‘til thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. At this point the pork and sauce could be cooled again and kept refrigerated for up to a week until ready to serve.
    Serving (if Braising):
    Place the pork in a single layer in an oven proof pan. Gently reheat the sauce and pour over the pork. Put pork in oven and reheat at 300 degrees until warm thru and skin is crisp. Risk the broiler for 2 or 3 minutes if you dare.
    Cook the cabbage in the reserved, defatted pork stock or, alternatively, steam it.
    Place the eggs in a pan just covered with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let rest in the hot water 4 minutes. Plunge into cold water and cool ‘till just warm.
    On a small plate or bowl, make a 4” square bed of cooked cabbage just slightly off center. Peel an egg and carefully split in half. The yolk should be barely set, just a bit less than hard-boiled. Place the egg halves on the plate opposite the cabbage. Finely, place a square of Buta No Kakuni on the bed of cabbage. Sprinkle all lightly with scallions. Serve with a small bowl of steamed Japanese rice. Enjoy.
    If the skin is cracklin’ crispy, and the thick, sweet sauce is just running off the pork, down into the cabbage, enjoy it even more.

    …Or Boiling
    This is the way to finish the dish in the traditional style.
    Add the soya, sake, mirin, brown sugar & vinegar to a pot. Add the cooled, steamed pork squares and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over lowest heat for 45 mins to 1 hour. At this point the pork and sauce could be cooled again and kept refrigerated for up to a week until ready to serve.

    Serving (if Boiling):
    Place the pork and sauce in a pan. Gently reheat.
    Meanwhile steam the cabbage until just tender. At the same time place the eggs in a pan just covered with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let rest in the hot water 5 minutes. Plunge into cold water and cool ‘till just warm. Peel and add whole eggs to the pork & sauce. Simmer 10 to 20 minutes.
    On a small plate or bowl, make a 4” square bed of cooked cabbage. Place a Pork square and an egg on the cabbage. Sprinkle all lightly with scallions. Serve with a small bowl of steamed Japanese rice. Enjoy.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Da_Cook

      It's good to see a fellow Pilgrim in Progress toward the Nirvana of the Buta.

      Not to mix metaphors of John Bunyan with pork belly, nor even Siddhartha with stewed meat... but this is a dish that is possible to tweak to the sublime. Many Japanese restaurants specialize in it, because of the long preaparation.

      Da Cook, your post indicates that you've nailed the recipe literature efforts. I saw the Daikon technique, ( I believe in a library copy of Shimbo, Hiroko,The Japanese kitchen), and pondered the difference between it and the bran-simmered techniques that Tsuji, Shizuo, Japanese cooking:,1980 recommended.a an overnight dehydration in rice bran.

      We had a thread going a while back (craving that search engine now) in which I recall cgfan and kareraisu sharing an interest in perfecting this dish.

      You're fortunate to have a local restaurant that does this dish well. One of the top 10 food experiences of my life was to randomly choose a restaurant on a short trip to Nagasaki, and with no prior knowledge of buta no kakuni, I asked for their best local specialty. This happened 22 years ago and I will never forget it.

      The four small 2" squares of pork belly were presented as a four-square in a shallow bowl, with very little extra saucing. Skin side was up; skin was browned but was not stiff or crunchy: a total opposite of "cracklin's".

      The blunt disposable chopsticks, when pressed vertically on top of the fat, slid gently thru the chunk of belly. Astounding. When the first bite of fat hit my mouth, it did not feel heavy or greasy. It was as if the structure of the fat cells was present, but the fat globules within each cell had somehow been reduced. Light and spongy.

      After I had finished the first two squares, I motioned for the staff and asked to order another portion of four. With obvious embarrassment, the waiter explained that I had been served the last portion; regular patrons knew to always call two days ahead to pre-order the 2 day preparation. Now it was me who was embarrassed for committing such a faux pas. But our mutual chagrin was tied to the mutual pleasure that the dish had been so well prepared and was now being well enjoyed.

      And, I still had two squares remaining in my bowl. They were savored as no "last bites" have ever been before or since.

      Ten years later I got a copy of Tsuji's recipe, and used rice bran (nuka) as the simmering medium. But I somehow didn't get it quite right. Gave up on a few future attempts where I simply browned then stovetop braised, which is what most "homestyle recipes" call for.

      Those relative failures were excellent and tasty, but they did not recreate the heavenly structure of the fat that I had in the 2 day prep dish in Nagasaki.

      So, here's how I'm going to try it next time:

      1) Marination in grated raw daikon for enzymes, overnight, in an attempt to affect the fat.

      2) Steaming, in the daikon marinade, using the method you describe above.

      3) After patting dry and an air dry, a quick deep fry only to give a uniform gentle browning.

      4) Stovetop braise with a drop lid. Ingredients as Da Cook's above. Store overnight or longer..

      5) Prior to service, fat removal from cooled sauce surface, then stovetop re-braise, and reduce sauce to a demiglace.

      If anyone has used nuka (rice bran) a la Tsuji 1980, please chip in.

      Da Cook, have you tried to get a few hints and secrets from the folks at Kitanoya Guu With Garlic?

      1. re: FoodFuser

        Hey FoodFuser
        Thanks for joining the conversation. I was getting tired of discussing this with myself.
        I will talk to the GUU people, but right now I'm in Whister and Vancouver is 2 hours away.
        Can you tell me a bit more about the rice bran? I must of missed this. All I recall is that the meat was packed in the bran to dry it after steaming. Do you say that it is cooked with it too?
        Anyway, I started my recipe. I'm already thinking that after the blanching step I should have done as you suggested and marinated in the Ginger Daikon mixture before steaming. But that would have added a 3rd day and everything I've read says it's a two day process.
        I've finished the steaming process and have strained the liquid. The meat is in a pyrex dish in a single layer. I'm chilling the liquid so I can lift off the fat. I plan to add it to the pork in the dish so the skin will dry overnight in the fridge but the meat on the bottom will stay moistened.
        I'll report back tomorrow after the next steps.
        Da Cook

        1. re: Da_Cook

          Just an update....
          Once I cooled and de-fatted the steaming liquid I tasted it.
          It had strained out golden and clear and was rich and porky, subtle not harsh. There was a strong taste of ginger but the daikon and leeks had muted to the background and played the role of support. I wasn't really sure if this liquid was to be kept or tossed in the traditional preparation but after trying it, you could not pry it from my cold, dead fingers!
          So I added it to the pan and it came halfway up the sides of the pork. Perfect, the meaty bottom halves were now encased in this stock and the fatty, skin top-sides were open to the elements of my fridge to dry out.
          This morning I peeked at it and the stock had set clear and stiff. To me, that means the skin had broken down to provide the gelatin and that the daikon had played it's part. The skin itself was shiny, golden hued and still very pliable, even cold. The omens are good, I will continue!
          I'll report again after I do the Braise this PM.
          Da Cook

          1. re: Da_Cook

            Sounds like you're gonna have some good eats tonight.

            The rice bran thing comes from two places: 1) a tip from a japanese friend about adding nuka to one of the simmers, followed by 2) the overnight drying of cleaned pieces in dry nuka, for an osmosis dehydration, as in Tsuji 1980. As I recall, Tsuji 1980 does not prescribe a simmering in nuka.

            The daikon thing is inspired by I believe the Shimbo book. (Both books are presently being warehoused on the shelf space of my local library, so I cannot quickly consult them). He opened my eyes to the steaming in daikon, and I simply asked myself what would occur enzymatically if the Raw pork and the Raw daikon were able to interact overnight.

            DC, I appreciate your cataloging of each step, and look forward to your next reply.

            This thread just may call for a "comparative kakuni cookoff", with each participant trying 2 or 3 of the variably stepped recipes in their kitchen to compare the subtly different results.

            For those hounds who may be reading this thread and wondering about the basics of a quicker homestyle rendition of this dish, see this link, with pics:

            http://www.att-japan.net/modules/tiny...

            1. re: FoodFuser

              Hey FoodFuser (and any others that might join in)
              Check this blog out, it's where I got clear on the daikon use.
              http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/2...
              Interestingly, there are chunks of daikon in his finished stew, though that just seems too healthy for my tastes.
              Da Cook

              1. re: Da_Cook

                That's a GOOD link at ...yoso....

                He brings in several points:

                1) Okara as another enzyme source/osmotic dehydrator. It's tough to find in the boonies, unles you make your own soymilk or tofu, or have access to a tofu-making shop. As a lifelong lover of "melding" different approaches in recipes, may I submit the concept of 1/2 okara and 1/2 grated daikon as an overnight enzymatic source for the raw pork?

                2) He emphasizes Nagasaki. It was where the europeans ( Dutch) first got a foothold in Japan. One of the most significant of their culinary introductions was the concept of deep frying in oil. as in tempura. Without a doubt, the kakuni I had in Nagasaki had been gently deep-fried at some point in its preparation, just to yield a caressing exterior browning.

                1. re: FoodFuser

                  I agree with your observations.
                  I am going to fry the cubes, if for no other reason than to develop a fond to de-glaze with the sauce.
                  Cheers
                  Da Cook

      2. I've been silently reading your posts. I've actually never had this dish but I LOVE pork belly and it sounds absolutely delicious. I can't wait to read your results.

        I came across a Thai-style braised pork belly but have yet to try. What do you think?
        http://cheateat.typepad.com/blog/2005...

        2 Replies
        1. re: MeowMixx

          Kind words MeowMix, thanks.
          I liked how the Thai version read, it was similar to a Korean and Vietnamese version I saw in my research. They all use some local ingredient to tenderize and improve the pork's texture. It's cool how eggs and pork belly are friends in so many cultures (we can add bacon and eggs and Spaghetti Carbonara to that list)
          Da Cook

          1. re: MeowMixx

            I made this tonight. I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, adding peeled hard-boiled eggs to the braising liquid with about 20 minutes to go. I sliced the eggs and pork belly and then used them as the protein for your typical bahn mi sandwich. It turned out really well, and I have plenty of leftovers for something else tomorrow.

          2. Ok, it's in the oven braising and the smell is GOOOOD!
            I took the pan from the fridge with the cold pork sitting in beautiful pork jelly and put it in a cold oven. I set it to 275 just to melt the stock. I made the sauce and heated it to melt the sugar.
            I took the pork from the oven and fried the squares in Sesame oil, skin side down. There was much splattering and popping. I turned them after a few minutes and did the other side. I now wish I had deep fried them for a more even browning. That will happen next time.
            I put them in a roasting pan, skin side down, and added the sauce. It wasn't enough. I reserved 1 cup of my golden pork stock for cooking the cabbage and added the rest to the pan. I covered the pork with a loose sheet of parchment and then tightly sealed the pan with foil. It's now braising for an hour. After which I'll remove the foil, flip the pork over and braise it uncovered for another hour.
            Wish me luck, I'll report again on my progress.
            Da Cook

            9 Replies
            1. re: Da_Cook

              I can't wait! I hope you'll post some pictures too :)

              1. re: MeowMixx

                Darn!!
                It's been 3 hours and I'm not happy.
                I checked the meat after two hours and found the meat too firm, like stew meat that has gone a bit dry.
                I gave it another hour. I just took it out of the oven and picked off a piece of meat. It is tough and stringy. It is tasty as all heck, but in no way could it be eaten with only chopsticks.
                I'm not sure what to do. My inclination is to let it cool in the sauce, set the meat aside, reduce the sauce and try reheating a piece tomorrow. Maybe this final step will help.... I hope I didn't over cook it somehow.
                Da Cook

                1. re: Da_Cook

                  There's nothing like real-time cooking on Chowhound... maybe soon they'll give us webcam capability and we can visit each other's kitchens.

                  I can feel your pain, even half a continent away. The difference between the "streak and lean" is a perennial problem in pork belly, even when sliced as breakfast bacon.

                  Here's what I'd do at this point:

                  1) Chow down, suck, slurp and savor the taste of the fat on a few of the pieces, yet reserving the lean layer that has gone hard and stringy; these will serve as your test strips for tomorrow. Chewing some fat tonight will not only give you pleasure, but will give your alimentary canal some fair warning of what it can expect tomorrow.

                  2) Store the rest of the whole cubes in a jar, to let the cylinder submerge the chunks in juice.

                  3) Tomorrow, use a stovetop simmer method for reheat, with a drop lid resting right on top of the barely floating meat, to keep steam/bubbles in direct contact with the meat. Use a thinned refortified version of the sauce for the simmer, reserving the bulk of today's sauce for your serving reduction.

                  3a) Use your test strips of "lean" to test at 15 min intervals by taking a tiny bite into the meat. You may find that it will soften.

                  Keep havin' fun.

                  1. re: FoodFuser

                    I did in one square already and though chewy, it was tasty.
                    The rest is for tomorrow, a Japanese themed dinner, I've got lots of unagi, tuna & salmon plus a whack of seaweed salad. The beauty of it is that none of my family or guests have ever had this before.... so low expectations can be easily met. And... I know it's tasty.
                    I had a similar experience the last time I made Wild Boar Ragu, after day two, it was still tough and stringy, so I chopped it up and added some Pecorino Romano, a dollop of creme fraiche and HOT DAMM after another hour simmering it was sublime.
                    My glass is half full and I still have another chunk of pork belly to try again!
                    Da Cook

                    1. re: FoodFuser

                      I forgot to add that I didn't take any pictures.
                      I'm gonna do this again and I will take photos, promise.
                      Got a complete update coming.
                      Da Cook

                      1. re: Da_Cook

                        Where do you get Berkshire pork?

                        1. re: jayes

                          The Japanese butchers bring it in from Oregon and Alberta. It's barley fed and a superior product.
                          I can also get it from Vancouver Island as there are lots of farmers raising it there. There is even a butcher shop in Nanaimo that specializes in it.
                          Finally, Hills Foods in Coquitlam, BC sells loins and tenders and occasionally the belly.
                          Da Cook

                          1. re: Da_Cook

                            Cool. Thanks for the tip. I've been trying to find it around Vancouver shops, but haven't been successful.

                            1. re: jayes

                              Nikuya Meats
                              specializing in Kobe Beef, Kurubata Pork and Barley Fed Pork
                              107 - 2828 East Hastings St.
                              Vancouver BC V5K 5C5

                              Westlynn Meats & Seafood
                              This guy has a rep for natural and organic meat of all kinds
                              1199 Lynn Valley Road
                              North Vancouver BC V7J 3H2

              2. Ok, so what happened?
                Well, my Japanese dinner got postponed/cancelled 'til next Thursday.
                The Pork is sitting, covered in a pyrex dish in my commercial fridge. The sauce is on the side in a tupperware tub. I guess I'm now testing my theory that it will hold for a week and that a little controlled decomposition will help out the texture.
                So, when I got canceled, I took my son to Vancouver to see the Auto Show.
                We went to GUU afterwards and, of coarse, we ordered two orders of Kakuni.
                It wasn't as good as I remember, in fact it wasn't much more tender than my batch. The head chef was on, so I quizzed him about their version. Yes, they steam then chill then braise; no they don't use Kombu or Daikon. He didn't have anything to add about health benefits either.
                Hmmm.... tricky.
                Well, I'll post again after we do have it. Also my Barbecue teammates wants to know if we can do this in the smoker for the appetizer entry at the Canadian national BBQ Championship. You know, if I use only charcoal and no wood, it could just work.
                Da Cook

                3 Replies
                1. re: Da_Cook

                  Intersting insights on the GUU dish versus yours.

                  Did they mention the nuka thing?

                  The dish in Tsuji, Shizuo, Japanese cooking:,1980, was named "Nagasaki braised pork", where he describes the nuka step. Maybe someone has a copy and could paraphrase the procedure for the rice bran (nuka) step?

                  1. re: FoodFuser

                    I can guarantee that there is no rice bran in the kitchens Guu.
                    Lots of testosterone, attitude and Japanese culture.
                    I'm gonna point Chef Hayashi San towards this post and see if we can get some insight.
                    Da Cook

                    1. re: Da_Cook

                      No rice in the guu kitchen? The rice rinse water is loaded with rice bran. That is why Japanese cooks often use it to cook strong flavored ingredients like daikon or pork.

                2. Sorry about the delay.
                  The Japanese dinner got put off again and I ended up doing this the night before I roasted my whole lamb for Easter.
                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/387826
                  Sigh, it wasn't that good.
                  It was tough and wasn't chop stick tender.
                  The taste was excellent and a non-pork eater, who I had to cajole into trying it, gobbled hers up. The eggs were over cooked too, I might as well have cooked them in the sauce as the original recipe intended.
                  I have some left over pieces that I will steam to reheat in the sauce. I post the results when I try this. I'm also gonna try this again from scratch with better pork and use the refinements discussed above. Watch for it in the next few weeks.
                  I'll take pictures next time as well.
                  Thanks

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Da_Cook

                    Thanks for checking back in. The quest for the best kakuni will always continue. Looking forward to the pics. Nice rig ya' got there.

                    When I first did a recipe search on it a while back, I realized quickly that it's possible that the recipes with the most secrets are probably posted only in Japanese. I got hits from sites that had a little English to bridge the kanji/kana gap, but I bet that the keeper of the grail posts only in the Japanese characters. Are there any hounds out there who are fluent readers of Japanese who can help us gelatinize that pork belly?

                    1. re: FoodFuser

                      Hey Foodfuser
                      I know I was a little sloppy in parts. I didn't have enough daikon for the amount of pork I was doing or sauce. I should have made enough to completely submerge the pork, at least until it began to reduce.
                      I'm still pretty confident in the recipe except for some details, like the blanching part. I can't help but wonder if I should skip that step and just marinade overnight in the daikon/ginger and next day steam then braise.
                      Your thoughts?

                      1. re: Da_Cook

                        With the repeated caveat that I am NOT an expert on this dish (only an aspirer), I would add the raw daikon to marinate with the raw pork, to see if the two raws together are able to do some kind of enzymatic digestion that affects the fat cells.of the pork. The blanching (cleaning) can be done as effectively after marination.

                        Drop-lid type submerging would seem important to keeping the lean portion tender. It's so typical in Japanese cooking that it just seems to fit.

                        "Ganbatte".

                        1. re: FoodFuser

                          Daikon is usually paired with oily foods, but the enzymes involved deal with protein and starches, not fats. I can't think of any foods that get marinated in daikon, though octopus and abalone get washed in daikon oroshi sometimes. You may be barking up the wrong tree here. The recipe in the Kikunoi Kaiseki cookbook, though not Nagasaki based, called for a 16 hour simmering in rice rinse water. a cooling, a 10 min. steaming and then a final 30 min. simmering in water, black sugar, sake, soy sauce and haccho miso.

                          1. re: steamer

                            Just bought and devoured a bowl of Japanese curry "fatty" beef brisket and daikon. Another combo or rich fatty meat and daikon. It was YUMMY!