Kaz Nakamura lives in Toronto, Canada, and over the past 25 years or so has worked on consulting engagements and has experienced extended eating engagements in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Montreal, Quebec City, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville, West Palm Beach, and New York City. His favorite food cities are Osaka, Paris and New York City. He has no food dislikes, and will eat just about anything, as long as it’s very well prepared and tasty.
Kaz is one of my favorite people on Twitter. He constantly provides me with food inspirations and that’s why I asked him to close out the year with a post on how and why Pork Inspires him. Kaz is modest when he talks about his food/cooking chops. But take a look at this recipe and you’ll see he’s got skills.
Pork inspires me because it comforts the best; the kind of comfort that’s even better than sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s night, wrapped up in a big blanket, with a mug of cocoa or hot toddy or what have you.
I’ve been very, very lucky from an early age in that I’ve been surrounded by people that loved well-prepared food, and also knew how to make it. Far from being a trained, and experienced food professional, I’m really an ordinary guy that just happens to love eating good food. I do think I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to so many terrific dishes from so many cultures in my lifetime. My mother was a great food cook, and growing up in suburbs of Toronto, we had neighbours from varied cultural backgrounds who we shared many meals, and recipes. Decades later, I still rely on the Bolognese sauce recipe that our neighbor shared with us when I was 13. And of course, I make my own renditions of the childhood favorites my mother used to make.
I was born in Osaka, Japan … a city, while second in size to Tokyo, took the honors in terms of no-nonsense eating. If you’ve ever been there, it’s a city that feeds on comfort food … takoyaki (octopus dumplings), okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake with pork and seafood), a million permutations of udon (noode soup), oshi-zushi (pressed sushi). Although I left Osaka when I was 7 years old for Canada when my parents immigrated, I’ve been back to visit Osaka many times. In hindsight, each trip back, even in my childhood was a “food trip”. Little did I know that it was to set the tone for the kind of traveling that I was to do as an adult
As a consultant for a multi-national company, in my adult life, I’ve traveled almost my entire career, often spending only a fraction of the time in my home base which was Toronto, Canada, where I’ve lived since 1970. I learned early on that when on the road, you cannot survive on fast-food , chain restaurants, and hotel room-service. No matter where I was, whether it was in a small Midwest city, the deep south, L.A, or New York, I had to seek out “real food” and “real food experiences”.
One of those first eye-opening food discoveries, and specifically a turning point in my pork experience, was in Nashville, TN over 25 years ago. I loved pork before then … Japanese and Chinese bbq pork (cha-siu), bacon, sausages, pork cutlets … but I had never had real southern barbeque until then. The place was literally a trailer home in a parking lot on 2nd Avenue in downtown Nashville. Attached to the trailer was a gigantic smoker, equal in size! Pulled pork and ribs, done up perfectly, in an oddball setting … I was hooked! If that ain’t comfort food, I don’t know what is. I think I ate there at least once a week for a year! The place must be long-gone but what exquisite taste that the barbeque man got out of humble pork.
After that, when I think of all of the pork dishes I loved across the countries and beyond, they’ve all really been simple comfort foods … sometimes the preparation time or technique was quite involved but for the most part, there was nothing “fancy” about these meals. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about :
- Pork rilletes at Les Halles in NYC
- Steamed pork belly buns at Momofuku in NYC
- Steamed pork buns at many Chinatown bakeries
- Glistening slices of cha-siu pork in the ramen noodles at Ippudo NYC
- Cassoulet in any old regular bistros in Paris
- Choucroute garni just about anywhere I’ve had it
- Tourtiere (pork pie) at Au Pied Au Cochon in Montreal
- Whole roast pig at a friend’s farm
- Porchetta sandwiches
I do have to come back to my Japanese roots though for what for me is the ultimate in pork comfort food. Buta-kakuni (or buta-no-kakuni), is literally “cubed braised pork”. It’s quite possibly the only dish that equally at home served by your grandmother at her house or at any neighborhood drinking establishment (izakaya pub). I like to serve this as a meal, with daikon radishes and soft boiled egg added to the braising in the last 30 minutes. Japanese mustard (Keen’s dry mustard is a pretty close facsimile) is a must to cut some of the richness.
- Pork belly 6” x 12”, preferably with a lot of meat, skin and bones removed (reserve the skin for other uses)
- 1/2 knob of fresh ginger, halved, and smashed
- 6” length of medium sized Japanese daikon radish (sometimes called lo-bok at Chinese markets), peeled, and cut into 1” thick round pieces
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- Salt and Pepper
- 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 cups Dashi (Japanese broth – either bonito based or kombu seaweed based. You can use powdered broth mix)
- 3/4 dry sake (as with wine, don’t use what you wouldn’t drink)
- 3/4 cup mirin
- 1 – 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 Green onions, finely chopped for garnish
- 6 Cipollini onions, peeled and cleaned (I know, I know … these are Italian, but work well in this Japanese dish)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 6 eggs, soft boiled and shelled
- 2 tablespoon prepared Japanese or Keen’s dry mustard
*** the Japanese ingredients can be purchased in Japanese specialty food stores, or in major city centers, can be found in some supermarkets.
The night before you plan to serve your Buta Kakuni combine the sugar and salt together. Rub the salt and sugar mixture liberally onto all sides of the pork belly.
Place the seasoned pork belly in either a covered casserole dish or large resealable plastic bag. Let cure for a minimum or 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
After the curing process, thoroughly rinse the sugar/salt mixture off of the pork belly under running water. Pat the pork belly dry with paper towel. Cut the pork belly into 2” x 1” pieces, then lightly salt and pepper to taste.
Pre-heat a heavy bottom skillet or dutch oven over med-high heat. Brown the pork belly pieces on all sides, set aside.
Pour off the oil out of the skillet/dutch oven. De-glaze the skillet or dutch oven with 1/2 cup of the dashi broth over high heat.
Turn down heat to med-high, and add back the pork belly pieces. Add one half of the ginger and enough dashi broth to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer for 40 minutes, turning the pork belly pieces gently so as not to break them apart.
While the pork belling is braising prepare the soft-boiled eggs by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for 5 minutes and 10 seconds. Quickly transfer the eggs into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, remove the shells carefully while they are still in the water bath (helps to remove the shells cleanly). Set aside, or in place in the fridge.
Remove pork belly from heat, discard the cooking broth and the ginger, then once again add new dashi broth to just cover the meat. Add the other half of ginger, ¾ cup soy sauce, and sake and simmer for 60 minutes. About 5 minutes into the simmer, add 1 tablespoon brown sugar or more to taste (if you’re familiar with Teriyaki sauce, then the broth/sake/sugar mix should taste lighter than that).
In the last 30 minutes of braising, add the daikon radishes, adding more dashi broth and sugar if needed.
Also during the last 30 minutes of braising, parboil the cleaned Cipollini onions for about 4 minutes. Turn off heat, but keep the onions in the water. Pre-heat the butter in a pan over med heat. Add the onions and brown on each side, about 3 minutes each until tender. Sprinkle brown sugar on the onions in the last minute of browning. Add the 2 tablespoons of soy sauce over the onions, and cook for 3 minutes longer, turning once. Remove onions from pan and set aside.
Turn down the heat on the simmering pork belly to low and add the onions.
Carefully run warm water over the soft-boiled eggs to re-heat them.
Arrange one pork belly piece, one radish, one onion, and an egg into a serving dish. Pour some broth over the arrangement, and garnish with green onions and a ½ teaspoon of mustard
Serve by itself as an accompaniment to beer or sake, or with a bowl of rice to make a meal.