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Here's my version of a traditional Japanese dish that's perfect for colder weather. Pork belly braises under an otoshibuta (drop lid), until meltingly tender, and flavors hearty and sweet daikon radish. It's a bit more rich and spiced than versions I've had in Japan, and is exactly how I like it, including a soft, rather than hard, boiled egg.
Not a pork fan? I've included some other great ideas that utilize the same technique.
2 pounds of thick-cut pork belly, ideally one piece
1 bunch scallions, washed, trimmed, and chopped into 3" lengths
2" piece of ginger, scrubbed and sliced into thin rounds
1-2 star anise pods
1 black cardamom pod (optional)
1 dashi stock packet – This is also what you want to use when making miso soup, and is a great addition to many western soups as well. Be aware that many commercial dashi powders and stocks are made from yeast extract and/or MSG, and will be less complex in flavor (think vanilla extract vs. imitation vanilla).
A drop lid (this is called otoshibuta in Japanese), you can find them online, or can alternatively use any lid that is slightly smaller than your pot and fits inside. It keeps the ingredients from agitating too much, which keeps the broth clear as is reduces.
1 large daikon radish
1/4 cup shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
1/3 cup mirin, (Japanese sweet cooking sake) or substitute some sake if you prefer it less sweet
6 soft-boiled or poached eggs
Japanese rice (optional)
Karashi (Japanese mustard), alternatively sub any hot mustard
If the belly has the skin attached, trim it off. Cut the belly into large pieces (2 x 2 x 2" blocks are great, thinner is fine also if your belly is thin), and add the blocks and the skin to a large pot. Cover with cool water and add the scallions, ginger, star anise, black cardamom (if using), and dashi stock packet.
Bring to just below a boil and then drop to a simmer for one and a half hours.
Remove the pieces of pork belly (except for the skin) and strain the cooking liquid from the other solids, separating or skimming off any fat.* Rinse out your pot.
At this point if you need to you can pause the cooking, cool the strained broth and pork belly, and start again the next day.
Peel the daikon and slice it into 2" thick rounds. Add the pork belly back to the pot along with the radish pieces, your strained stock, soy sauce, and mirin. Add water to cover the solids by one inch. Stir well and give it a taste (you'll want it to be only lightly salty and sweet as the broth will reduce and concentrate).
Add your drop lid, then heat the broth to a low boil. Allow to cook for an hour and a half.
You can either use rice cooker for Japanese rice or make it on the stove top. The important things to remember: First wash the rice until the water runs clear. Strain to remove excess water/starch, then add fresh water (the proper ratio of rice to water is 1:1.2 for stovetop and 1:1.1 for rice cookers), and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
Cook, covered, in a heavy pot with a lid. First allow the water to boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes (this will vary a bit depending on how fresh the rice is and how stable your heat source is, you'll find the perfect time after a few tries). Allow to stand off the heat for 10 minutes, then fluff with a rice paddle. Any excess rice can be frozen, tightly packed in individual portions, and easily reheated in the microwave.
You can also buy rice which does not need to be rinsed. Kinmemai is a great one and retains more of the nutritious germ through a specialized milling process.
Serve in bowls. Add a piece of daikon and a piece or two of pork belly (depending on the size). Add an egg to each bowl. Top with some of the reduced broth and a sprinkling of Yagenbori or Autre Shichimi.
Rice is a great side for soaking up some of the flavorful broth, but is optional. Karashi (Japanese mustard), is great and I highly recommend it. It's like having horseradish with roast beef, not necessary, but a big plus.
* You can save the solids (minus the dashi packet) and skin (chop it into small pieces) from the initial simmer and cook them together with the fat to make a flavorful spiced oil that's a great starting point for other dishes. The pieces of fried skin can also be eaten as a crackling.
If you're gluten-free try tamari instead of shoyu. Most tamari are made from only soy beans and are wheat-free.
• You can reduce the sauce to more of a glaze. If going this route I like to omit the daikon as they tend to burn as the sauce gets thick. Instead, shred some daikon very finely and use it to top the glazed pork. Serve over a bed of rice with pickled ginger on the side.
• Substitute the pork with beef shank and/or oxtail, prepared the same way, for a great pork alternative. I like to include the black cardamom here rather than having it be optional, as the smoke supplies a great grounding note and the camphor aroma cuts the richness. You can add some sweet vegetables like peeled winter carrots and some cinnamon buds for extra warmth.
• You can omit the meat entirely and just braise daikon radish! Use dashi, shoyu, and mirin and season with a bit of Noga N17 syrup and braise for about 90 minutes (or until fork-tender). I like serving this with a bit of bright and fruity Espelette pepper. As above, I love serving this with rice to soak up the rich sauce. If you keep vegan, simply omit the egg.
Recipe and photo © Christian Leue
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