Rafute – Okinawan braised pork belly

nam zestThis is one of my favourite ways of eating pork. Rafute is flavourful, tender and moreish. It’s a dish popular in Okinawa in the far (very far) south-west of Japan. It’s traditionally made with two local staples – Awamori, which is Okinawa’s celebrated spirit, and the island’s brown sugar, which is often made into candy.

I have substituted Japanese sake or western vodka for the Awamori which isn’t very readily available outside Japan, and I have used dark brown sugar instead of the classic Okinawan sugar, kokuto, which I have never found in London. The flavour will be a little different from the original dish but it will still be delightful.

Ingredients:Okinawa 2

1 kg piece    boneless pork belly, skin on
250 ml     dry sake or vodka
125 ml    dark soy sauce – preferably Japanese
120 g     dark brown sugar
130 ml   mirin
8     thin slices fresh ginger

To serve: English mustard or French grain mustard, a few green beans, chopped spring onions and soy sauce.

Method:

Place the pork belly in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat, discard the water and rinse any scum from both pork and saucepan. Return the pork to the pan and cover with cold water. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour. Or place in a slow cooker (crockpot) and cook on High for 2½ hours.

Remove the pork from the pan or slow cooker, reserving the cooking liquid, then cut the meat into 5 cm squares. Place the pork pieces in another saucepan and add the sake or vodka, soy sauce, sugar, mirin and ginger. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to cover the pork by half a centimetre. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 1½ hours or until the pork is very tender. Remove the pork and keep warm but continue to cook the liquid to reduce a little. This should take 5 or 10 minutes.

Arrange the pork pieces in a warm dish and pour over the braising liquid (you can freeze the remaining liquid for future use). Serve with mustard and extra soy sauce. Sprinkle over the spring onions and green beans.