Kakuni is a recipe that originated in Japan’s south, and is related to red-braised Chinese pork dishes such as dong-po pork. The Japanese version is lightly seasoned but sweet and gelatinous, and its rich flavours benefit from being offset with the sharpness of mustard, sliced leeks or chilli threads.
- 2 kg pork belly, skin and bone removed
- 2 litres (8 cups) “rice wash” (see note)
- 2 x 5 cm large pieces of ginger, bruised
- 2 brown onions, peeled
- 1 tsp salt
- 10 eggs
- 1 tbsp Japanese mustard (karashi)
- 1 Japanese leek, or 2-3 spring onions (scallions), or handful of Korean dried chilli threads
- 1 litre (4 cups) dashi
- 200 ml sake
- 100 ml mirin
- 150 ml dark soy sauce (koikuchi shoyu)
- ¼ cup black sugar
- 55 g (¼ cup) white sugar
Spinach in cabbage
- 4 large leaves Chinese cabbage (hakusai or wombok)
- 1 bunch spinach
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time overnight
You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.
Cut the pork belly into large 5 cm pieces. Cook, in batches, in a large frying pan until well browned on all sides.
Place the browned pork pieces into a large saucepan. Cover with the rice wash and add the ginger, brown onions and salt. Bring to a boil, cover with a drop lid or cartouche, and simmer for 3-4 hours or until very tender. Remove the meat from the liquid, cover it and refrigerate overnight.
Combine the ingredients for the braising stock in a large saucepan, and add the cold pork. Bring to a simmer, cover with a drop lid or cartouche, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.
In a separate saucepan, boil the eggs in plenty of water for 6 minutes. Transfer immediately to iced water, then peel. When the pork has finished simmering, remove it from the heat, add the eggs and allow to cool.
To make the spinach in cabbage, boil the cabbage leaves in salted water until tender and then refresh in iced water. Squeeze out the excess water and place 2 leaves top-to-tail on a bamboo mat. Blanch the spinach in boiling water, and place in the centre of the cabbage. Roll tightly and squeeze out any excess water. Cut into 2.5 cm lengths, and stand on their ends (like rolled sushi).
To prepare the leek or spring onions, slice into 2.5cm batons, and slice again lengthways to the centre of each baton. Unroll the leek or spring onion into rectangles, and julienne. Place in ice-cold water for 10 minutes or until the pieces curl. Alternatively, serve with Korean dried chilli threads.
Serve the pork with eggs, spinach in cabbage and a smear of Japanese mustard.
• Rice wash is the starchy, cloudy water left over after washing rice. Rather than throwing it out, it can be used for many things. To prepare, in a large bowl, cover rice with water and agitate it with your hand. Discard the first washing. Repeat the process but reserve each additional lot of wash water, until the agitated water remains clear. If you aren’t intending to make rice, you can just use water and add 1 tbsp raw rice to the first simmering of the pork.