Kakuni (角煮) is a Japanese braised pork dish which literally means “square simmered”.
Kakuni is a meibutsu (名物/famous regional product) of Nagasaki Prefecture.
Actually this is not a strictly traditional Japanese dish as its most likely Chinese, similar to Dongpo’s pork, though not as heavy in sauce.
Kakuni as served in some restaurants cut and cold
During the Ming Dynasty and Song Dynasty, the main Sino-Japanese trading route existed between Hangzhou and Kyūshū. Many Chinese lived in major Kyūshū port cities, such as Nagasaki and Japanese in Hangzhou. Therefore pork, was popularized in major Kyūshū cities.
These days kakuni is popular all over Japan with very many varieties depending on the region, climate and prevailing tastes.
Okinawa, probably the region in Japan consuming the largest quantity of pork in Japan has its own recipe called “Rafti”!
Kakuni is made of thick cubes of pork belly simmered in dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake. By cooking it for a long time over a low temperature the collagen breaks-down into gelatin keeping the meat moist while becoming extremely tender allowing it to be consumed with chopsticks easily. The dish is often served with scallions, daikon and karashi/Japanese hot mustard.
For the record, as it is the origin of Kakuni, Dongpo’s pork is a famous Hangzhou dish which is made by pan-frying and then red cooking pork belly. The pork is cut to around 2 inches square in dimensions, consisting of half fat and half lean meat. The mouth feel is oily but not greasy, with the fragrance of wine.
Legend has it that while Su Dongpo was banished to Huangzhou, in a life of poverty, he made an improvement of the traditional process. He first braised the pork, added Chinese fermented wine and made red-braised pork, then slowly stewed it on a low heat. This dish was first launched in Huangzhou, then spread to Hangzhou, the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, flourished, and then became one of Hangzhou’s most famous dishes.
1) BASIC RECIPE
Here the first of a series of 3 recipes for Kakuni, that is, a very basic one!
-Large raw pork belly lumps: 1 or 2 (depending on thickness and width)
-Fresh ginger: 1 or 2 pieces (5×5 cm)
-White leek: 1
-Rice vinegar: 50 ml
–Soy sauce: 50 ml
-Sweet sake/mirin: 50 ml
-Honey: 1 tablespoon
-Water: 400~500 ml
-Thinly slice the fresh ginger. Cut the leeks into small trunks. Punch holes in the pork with a fork to help “taste going inside”.
-Fry pork on a frypan on all sides on a strong fire until all colour has completely changed and fat has changed colour.
-In a large pot, drop/pour all ingredients, add pork, cover with lid and simmer over low medium fire for 60 minutes.
If meat does not cook as quickle as wanted, raise fire after 30 minutes.
Simmer until juices have reduced as low as on pic.
-Cut the pork into large size bites and simmer again for 5 minutes.
-Place on a serving meat cuts on a serving dish. Pour juices/sauce all over and add some chopped thin leeks.
2) SIMPLE RECIPE
Here the second of a series of 3 recipes for Kakuni, a bit more sophisticated than the first one, but still very easy!
INGREDIENTS: For 4 people
-Large raw pork belly lumps: 1 kg
-Fresh ginger: choose a root (or part of), about 5cm long and 2 cm thick/Sliced
-Brown sugar: 50 g
-Honey: 50 ml (liquid)
-Japanese sake: 60 ml
-Soy sauce: 120 ml
-Water: 600 ml
-Star anise: 1
-Steam pork in steamer on a low fire for 2 hours.
-Cool down pork completely. This is important as this will help tenderize the meat!
Cut in bite size.
Put all the pork in deep pan. Add water, Japanese sake, sliced ginger, brown sugar and honey.
-Add soy sauce and star anise. Simmer on a low fire for 30 minutes. Keep taking out the foam to remove harshness.
-When ready serve with its juices/soup and strong mustard.
Do not add star anise at once as the taste might become overwhelming for some people.
Of course, this recipe is adapatble.
You may add chili pepper and other spices of your preferences, or even Chinese ingredients!
3) PROFESSIONAL RECIPE
This is the third of a series of 3 recipes for preparing Kakuni.
This particular recipe can be considered as the basic “professional” one, altough it is open to variations as far as spices and presentations are concerned!
-Large raw pork belly lumps: 1 kg
-Fresh ginger, finely chopped, 1~2 tablespoons
-Japanese sake: 2 cups
-Soy sauce: 2 cups
-Sugar: 2 large tablespoons
-Salt: 2 pinches
One can and ought (according to prefences) to add mirin/sweet sake, star anise, lemon zest, green parts of leeks and so on!
-Get everything prepared first!
-Cut the pork into about 6cm wide slices.
-Fry pork on both sides first. This will help the meat suck in the “juices”!
-Fry until the colour above is reached.
-Scoop out the excess fat, taking care not to run it over the meat.
The picture above shows how much fat can scooped out!
If you use a non-stick frypan, there is no need to add oil before frying the pork, meaning less fat to scoop out!
-In a large and deep pan, drop in the meat. Add water just to cover meat. Switch on the fire. You can add water later litle by little to keep it above the meat.
Add ginger, leeks (green part), lemon zest (whole or minced) and star anise.
If you want to make it sweet, add a whole sliced onion!
-Make sure that all ingredients are clean. Check that the lemons are not waxed (in that case clean it out!)!
-Once brought to a boil, add soy sauce, Japanese sake, mirin/sweet sake and sugar.
Last, add salt (important!).
-Lower fire to low and continue scooping out any scum.
-When no more scum appears, cover with lid or a large piece of foil paper and simmer for a whole hour.
Check from time to time if there is enough soup in the pan. If the soup level goes under that of top of the meat, the taste will become too strong. Add water and Japanese sake until the soup reaches the meat level.
-Above picture shows starting point of the simmering process.
-Above picture shows the finished product inside the deep pan!
Check if the meat is well cooked. A pointed (Japanese-style) chopstick should easily go through the meat all the way.
But this does not mean you can eat it at once.
It is best to switch off the fire, let the cover on, and let it cool completely. Only then, the meat will be fully impregnated with the taste!
It will taste a lot better re-heated before serving it!
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Mummy I Can Cook! by Shu Han in London
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