Every so often, I like to go treasure-hunting.

In my freezer.

Without fail, I would find some package of meat I had forgotten about hiding way back in the corner, by the little box of baking soda and the bigger box of delicious Melona bars. My last round of treasure hunting unearthed a neatly-wrapped, butcher-paper-encased package of ‘fresh side pork’…Huh?

It turns out that fresh side pork is basically the same cut of meat as bacon, except that it’s fresh and not cured. Not wanting to wait another week before eating it (that’s the amount of time it would take to make bacon), Nathan and I quickly decided on the #2 best use of fresh pork belly: buta no kakuni. We had it at a Japanese izakaya months before and ever since, I’ve been talking about trying to make it at home. Yup, just call me a copycat. Meow.

I will warn you now that this is not a recipe for warm days since you will be heating up your kitchen for multiple hours to make a hearty, belly-warming stew. But on a cold, rainy night, there is nothing better than snuggling up with such a bowl of porky goodness. Plus, your whole house will smell insanely delicious for the rest of the night, so much so that your kitty (if you happen to have one) will go absolutely bonkers.

PS: Another post to come about those miso-glazed eggplants you see in the background above.

Adapted by combining Nori’s recipe at Foods by a Japanese wife and this recipe I found at the kitchn. I also added a step I thought sounded cool from Maki’s recipe at JustHungry.

1 slab of pork belly (about 1-1.5 lbs)
1 medium Japanese white radish (daikon), sliced into thick rounds or half-moons
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake
1/2 cup soy sauce
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1 piece of star anise
green onions, green parts chopped (optional)

Prep the pork: If your pork belly still has skin on, carefully remove the skin with sharp knife. (If this is too difficult/frustrating, you can also leave the skin on for now and remove it when you serve/eat, but it might be a bit more annoying since the pork will be in smaller pieces then.) Cut into big chunks.

Assemble the stew: Heat a pan with tall sides or a pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the pork chunks and brown on all sides (since the pork is already quite fatty, you shouldn’t need to add oil). Once the pork is brown, push the pieces to one side of the pan and add the sugar to the other side. Allow the sugar to heat up and caramelize a little bit before you stir everything around. Add in the liquids (water, mirin, sake, soy sauce), ginger, garlic, star anise, and the daikon pieces.

Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to as low as you can and simmer for 3-4 hours. About every hour or so, go check on the stew and stir things around. If too much liquid has evaporated, add in some water – everything should be pretty much submerged.

Finishing: After all that simmering, the pork should be quite tender. Taste a little sip of the liquid and see if it needs adjusting – with some sugar or salt/soy sauce. If you can find the star anise, it’s a good idea to fish it out so nobody gets a big, surprising bite of it. Sprinkle a little bit of green onion on top for color.

Serve with rice and a small salad, if you want something green that night. ;)

(Makes about 4-6 servings)