Izakaya recipe: Buta Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly)

Buta Kakuni. This isn’t a dish I grew up with, but I once read a list of the top 5 things a Japanese man would want their wives to cook for them and this was on the list. The other 4, I no longer remember. Buta kakuni is almost a delicacy. It’s never served in huge quantities. It’s something that you eat, taste, and savor. The moist, soft, and sweet pork belly that falls apart when you pick it up with your sticks. If it had a bone, you’d say the cliche line, “the meat just slides right off the bone.” It’s sweet but at the same time has a rich flavor that attacks your palette, but at the same time won’t continue to dominate it. It’s a companion to a multi course meal, yet at the same time, eaten with a bowl of rice, it could easily be the main feature. The catch? It takes hours to make. Here’s how:


Start with about a pound of pork belly. Chop pork belly in pieces. Larger than 1″ cubes are ideal. I’ve seen large pieces closer to 2″ cubes and that works. In a pot, using medium heat, brown the outside for about 5 minutes. I turned the cubes so each side could have it’s sides torched. The meat has fat and will be the natural pan greaser. Remove the meat, and add about 3 tbsps of sugar to the leftover and melt down the sugar.


Add chopped green onion, and 6 small slices of ginger.


Add about two cups of water, bring to boil and then simmer for… 3 hours or so. Yes, this is a longer process and the part that requires planning. At the the near end mark, I actually added extra soy sauce to taste, and a bit more sugar to taste.


When it’s done, serve it with rice, and it’s tasty. I started off with 1″ cube pieces and it does shrink down, so start with larger pieces. Optional: add salt, Coke!, and mirin (sweet sake).