This dish is great over rice, in a noodle soup or as part of a multi-dish meal that includes rice and an assortment of vegetable dishes. Although there is quite a lot of fat in pork belly, it also contains a substantial amount of collagen. Much sought-after in Japan, pork belly is always eaten in small amounts as part of a multi-dish meal; it is also sliced and served over ramen noodles, and in fluffy steamed buns called nikuman.
Introduced to Japan from China, this dish, also called rafute, is tender as butter and has a lovely sweet shoyu flavour.
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 800 g (1 lb 12 oz) piece of boneless pork belly, cut into 6 x 4 cm (2½ x 1½ inch) rectangular pieces
- 50 g (1¾ oz) fresh ginger, cut into thick slices
- 2 pencil-thin leeks, or 1 small leek, split down the centre, but kept hinged together
- 1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cups) niban dashi (page 29) or water
- 310 ml (10¾ fl oz/1¼ cups) sake
- 1½ tbsp usukuchi shoyu (light Japanese soy)
- 1½ tbsp koikuchi shoyu (dark Japanese soy)
- 60 g (2¼ oz/⅓ cup) kurosato (Japanese black sugar) or dark brown sugar
- 1½ tbsp Japanese black vinegar (optional)
- 4 eggs, boiled for 4 minutes, then cooled and shelled (optional)
- 6 blanched, trimmed snow peas (mangetout), to garnish
- karashi (Japanese mustard) or hot English mustard, to serve
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.
Resting time 45 minutes or overnight
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the pork and cook, turning now and then, for about 5 minutes, until golden on all sides. Remove from the pan, place in a colander and pour boiling water over to rinse off the excess oil.
Place the pork in a large saucepan with the ginger, leek, dashi and sake and bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top.
Add a Japanese drop-lid or a vented cartouche (a round of baking paper, with an air vent cut in the middle). Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 ¼ hours, or until the pork is quite tender.
Stir in the light and dark shoyu, sugar and vinegar and cook for a further 1 hour, or until the pork is very tender – as knives and forks are not served at Japanese meals, the pork should be tender enough to break with chopsticks.
Turn off the heat, then remove and discard the leek and ginger. Add the eggs, if using, submerging them in the liquid.
Allow the pork to sit and soak up more of the sauce for 45 minutes. Alternatively, you can allow the dish to cool slightly, then transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight — if you do this, you’ll be able to scrape off the excess fat that settles on the top of the dish.
When ready to serve, gently reheat the dish. Carefully cut the eggs in half. Serve garnished with snow peas, with the Japanese mustard on the side, to help cut through the richness.
If you prefer a thicker sauce, remove the pork and eggs from the pot and thicken the sauce slightly either by reducing it over the heat, or stirring in some kuzu starch or cornflour (cornstarch) that has first been mixed to a paste with a little water.
Recipe and images from Zenbu Zen by Jane Lawson, published by Murdoch Books $69.99.