Kakuni is braised pork belly cooked and flavored strongly with Soy Sauce and sugar. It is not a traditional Japanese dish to put in Osechi Ryori (New Year feast), but a lot of people today enjoy Kakuni in their Osechi as well as many other occasions.
Kakuni has its origin in China, over time adapted to the flavors of Japan. Chinese cuisine has a dish called Dongporou which looks very similar to Kakuni but has different spices such as star anise. Today Kakuni is well known throughout Japan but is often seen as a regional dish in Kyushu, in souther Japan. Okinawa island, where pork is widely eaten, also has a dish called Rafute. Rafute is almost exactly like Kakuni but typically uses local Okinawa versions of a few ingredients, such as awamori sake instead of typical cooking sake.
The pork used for Kakuni is the belly with a lot of layered fat. Some people steer away from the dish just because of the amount of fat content, however, a lot of it is removed in the process of boiling the meat in water for hours. By boiling for so long, the pork becomes very soft and falls apart very easily, and that’s the part a lot of people enjoy in this dish. Other people, on the other hand, may not like the texture of very soft fat. We pan-fried the meat after long boiling. This may help the fat texture to be not too soft, crisping up the surface a little. Or, if you like super soft meat, you can pan-fry raw meat before boiling. Adjust and tweak how you cook to suit to your liking.
The long boiling is important but it is time consuming. You don’t have hours and hours to spend in the kitchen? No problem. Use a pressure cooker, and you will need only a fraction of the original time.
This is a perfectly fine entree standing alone. However, it can be a great topping when sliced for your Ramen too, along with boiled eggs in the dish. You can make extra pork and freeze until you need the pork slices for the noodles (keeping up to a month). It takes some time to make Kakuni, but the outcome is well worth the effort. Try this over the break when you have a lot of time at home!
- 1 brown onion
- 2 lb (900g) pork belly
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 3 green onions, cut into thirds
- 1/2 cup (120ml) Soy Sauce
- 1/2 cup (120ml) Sake
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 4 boiled eggs
- Japanese yellow mustard
- Slice brown onion thinly. Cut pork belly strips into halves or so to fit into a pot you use.
- Put onion slices and pork in a pressure cooker and pour water to submerge. Bring to a boil at high heat. Put the lid on, lock, and build pressure. After the pressure is on, turn down to low heat and cook 30 minutes or until meat becomes very tender. Let the pressure release naturally. (Following the directions for your own pressure cooker, of course.) If you don't have a pressure cooker, use a large heavy pot such as a dutch oven and cook for 3 hours until meat is very tender.
- Remove pork from the pot, and cut into 12 pieces or so. (Discard the brown onions.) Heat a wok with oil and green onions, and take the green onions out when browned. (Discard the green onions.) Cook pork pieces in the wok until surfaces are slightly browned. Add Soy Sauce, Sake and sugar. Put boiled eggs in the pan and cook until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.
- Serve with Japanese yellow mustard.