The elegant preparation I introduce here, braised pork belly served in a “sandwich” with a tangy hoisin sauce, is a mouthwatering appetizer. But this dish is also fundamental to ramen noodle cooking. Sliced, it’s a classic topping for ramen noodles. And the braising liquid has many uses. You flavor ramen broth with it; simmer bamboo shoots in it, a classic garnish; and even cook hard-boiled eggs in this liquid, which are then sliced in half and added to a bowl of noodles. This recipe takes a little bit of time but is very simple to execute—do not be afraid. In fact, when you’re cooking the pork or simmering it in the braising liquid, just set a kitchen timer and forget about it. You don’t have to watch it closely.–Takashi Yagihashi
You can find milk-steamed bread in the freezer case of Japanese and Asian markets. Don’t confuse them with Chinese steamed buns. Milk-steamed bread is denser and slices beautifully, as you can see in the photo.
Braised Pork Belly Recipe
Hands-On Time: 1 hour | Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes, not including chilling overnight | Serves 4
- For the pork belly
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 9 ounces pork belly
- 4 cups cold water
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
- For the braising liquid
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 1 cup Japanese soy sauce
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 piece star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
- 1/4 head iceberg lettuce
- 1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced on a diagonal
- For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon cold water
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- For the mustard sauce
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons water
- 4 steamed buns (also called “milk-steamed bread”), defrosted and halved
- 1. Place an 11-inch saute pan over high heat. Add the vegetable oil and heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Using tongs, carefully place the fatty side of the pork belly in the pan and cook until it turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the pork belly over and repeat on the other sides until nicely browned all over. Decrease the heat if the oil begins to smoke again.
- 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the seared pork belly, the cold water, sake, and smashed ginger, and place over high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, then decrease the heat; simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
- 3. Make the braising liquid, combine all the ingredients in a 4-quart saucepan.
- 4. Drain the pork belly and discard the liquid, then add the pork belly to the braising liquid in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Braise for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pork belly is very tender. Transfer the pork belly and braising liquid to a container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, then cover and chill overnight.
- 5. The next day, assemble a steamer on the stove top. You can use a perforated pan, steam basket, or bamboo steamer. Fill the bottom with water, cover, and set over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium once the water comes to a boil.
- 6. To prepare the garnishes, discard the outer leaves of the iceberg lettuce. Place 3 large leaves in a bowl of cold water along with the cucumber slices. Set aside. (I like to soak cut vegetables in cold water for 10 minutes because it helps them retain their freshness and crispness.)
- 7. To make the sauce combine 1/2 cup of the chilled braising liquid and the hoisin sauce in a small saucepan and set over high heat. In a bowl, mix the water and cornstarch until smooth. When the sauce just begins to boil, whisk in the cornstarch and cook briefly, just until the sauce begins to thicken. Make sure that it doesn’t thicken too much—the sauce should run in a steady stream when poured. Set aside.
- 8. To make the mustard sauce, mix the mustard powder and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
- 9. Remove the pork belly from the remaining braising liquid and cut into 8 slices, each 1/4 inch thick. (You’ll have left-over pork belly after you cut these slices. See below for other uses.) Place the slices in a single layer side by side with the halved buns on a plate small enough to fit in the steamer (don’t put the buns directly on the steamer because they will stick to it). If you have a large steamer you can do this in one batch, if your steamer is smaller, just steam the pork belly and buns in several batches.
- 10. Set the plate in the steamer, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft and heated through.
- 11. While the pork belly and buns are steaming, finish preparing the garnishes by draining the lettuce and cucumber and patting dry with a towel. Cut the lettuce into pieces the size of the steamed buns and stack in 4 small piles. Top each pile with 2 slices of cucumber.
- 12. To serve, assemble a braised pork “sandwich” by placing the lettuce, cucumber, and 2 slices of pork belly on half of a bun. Drizzle the sauce over the meat and top with the other half of the bun. Serve the mustard on the side. Repeat for the remaining 3 buns.
Ideas for Leftover Pork Belly
- Any leftover pork belly and remaining braising liquid can be frozen for up to 2 months. The braising liquid can be used in the Shoyu Ramen broth and the pork belly can be used as a garnish for various ramens or for fried rice.
Braised Pork Belly Recipe © 2009 Takashi Yagihashi. Photo © 2009 Tyllie Barbosa. All rights reserved.