One of my favourite foods is belly pork. And one of my favourite ways of eating it is the Japanese dish of braised, slow-cooked pork served on rice with whole grain mustard (that most traditional of Japanese ingredients). If I get it right, the pork will be very tender; soft enough to pull apart with chopsticks, sweet, and spicy with an unctuous gravy that is very moreish. The sake bar and restaurant Kura in Auckland do a good version of it, and I always leave wanting more. Because their portions are so small. (Actually, that's not fair, their portions are fine.)
If I get it wrong, I'm not telling.
I am, however, deviating from the conventional, and purists, devoted to the art of Buta will be appalled. However, because of my European ancestry, I can't go past a piece of belly pork without insisting on some crackling, so here's what I'm doing:
Marinating the cubed, boned belly (still with skin on) in soy, dry sherry, ginger, crushed star anise and cracked pepper. For a day at least.
only 2 days to go...
after a day in the marinade, the meat has gone quite dark.
Dry the pork cubes, reserve the marinade, and then fry the pork in a big pan until browned on all sides.
Meanwhile, dissolve about 2 tablespoons of sugar in a cup of water and add to the marinade, and return the pork to it once browned. Return this to the fridge, and once cooled, skim off any fat, and place the cubes of pork in a roasting dish, skin side up.
Add the marinade, and top up with water until the pork is covered except for the skin.
Slow cook in the oven at 140deg C for several hours; the liquid will need topping up with water from time to time, and the pork should become sticky and soft enough to carve with a chopstick. When it's cooked,turn on the grill in the oven and crisp up the skin. (I hope!)
UPDATE: the skin was so full of moisture from the marinade that it just didn't want to go crispy! Instead, it had become soft and silky and not a bit chewy, so I didn't risk any more cooking (after 3.5 hours), and here's how it looked:
Decant the gravy, separate the stock from the fat, and reduce the stock in a pan until it's glossy and thick enough to coat the back of the moon.
Serve with steamed shredded
cabbage silverbeet, grainy mustard, and steamed rice. With the gravy. Don't forget the gravy. Apparently hard-boiled eggs are a traditional accompaniment but this is just lunch!
3 days to prepare, 30 min to eat!
But it was really worth it; absolutely sensational! I will be doing this again.