One of my biggest fears before our move to Dubai (from Japan) was pork – or rather the “might be” absence of it in the grocery stores. After all, the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country and pork is banned in the Muslim diet. Luckily, Dubai/the UAE is friendly to non-Muslim expats and grocery stores have this dedicated area where they keep foods like pork meat, sausages and bacon. Pork loving expats like me can’t be more grateful.
Buta no kakuni = buta (pork/pig) + kaku (square) + ni (from the word, “niru”: meaning braised/broiled) so buta no kakuni is tenderly simmered pork squares with a rich flavorful taste. I love it, my husband loves it, my friends love me for it, YOU will love it. It is a popular menu in Japanese izakayas (drinking joints) as an accompaniment to alcohol like sake or beer.
It takes a while to cook this but it is worth the time and and effort. That, I promise you.
- 500 g pork belly
- 1 large ginger, sliced
- 1 cup Japanese rice cooking wine
- 4 Tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp Mirin
1. Cut the pork belly into your desired square sizes. I don’t want to take too much time so my pork belly squares are not too big but not too small to disintegrate during cooking.
Note: If your pork belly comes with the skin and you’re perfectly ok with that, you can by all means retain the skin. We remove it.
2. Slice the ginger. Again, no preference in the sizes. I would cry if recipes call for ginger sizes, like 1 cm thick or 10 mm thin…I don’t keep rulers in my kitchen!
3. Heat a non-stick frying pan in medium fire and braise the belly WITHOUT adding oil. Do you see those white parts of the pork belly? Those shed oil so better not add anything more.
Braise all sides until they are beautifully brown but not fully cooked and have lost all their spirit. Do not fry them to a crisp!
Note: Do not throw the oil from the meat – you can always use them for later, for making fried rice or stir-fried vegetables.
4. Prepare a pot and transfer the braised pork bellies and cover with water. Add the sliced ginger. Bring to boil.
5. Remove the scum that floats while it’s boiling.
6. Pour 1 cup of Japanese rice wine and cover with a drop lid (otoshibuta). If you have none, it’s ok. You can improvise by forming a piece of aluminum foil into a circle and cutting a cross in the center.
Lower the fire to prepare to simmer this for at least two hours, constantly checking on the water level (be careful not to let it all evaporate and burn your meat!) and the tenderness of the meat. The thicker the meat, the more time it will take to cook but you already know that.
By the way, the proper Japanese otoshibuta (drop-lid) looks like this:
7. When the meat is tender, this is where you trasform this seemingly heart-attack menu to a healthier one by telling the extra fats that they have no place in your arteries. Do the following steps:
- Allow the simmered pork belly to cool down
- Refrigerate for a few hours so the fat floats
- Either: scoop out the fats or strain using a fine cheese cloth
- Throw the fat, retain the liquid.
8. Bring back the meat and the fat-reduced liquid and heat in low-medium fire.
9. Add the soy sauce and simmer further.
10. Lastly, add the mirin to glaze. Serve hot with vegetable accompaniment or with boiled egg. Vegetable accompaniments can be green beans, spinach. The whole boiled eggs will taste so good after leaving them in the sauce for a day.
Warning: The oh-so tender meat will melt in your mouth.
Dubai/UAE residents can buy pork at the dedicated non-Muslim sections of Spinney’s, Choithrams and Al Maya supermarkets. Japanese ingredients are available at the Japanese grocery store Dean’s Fujiya, near Lamcy Plaza in Bur Dubai. Telephone no: 04-337-0401.