I start by marinating the pork belly in a mixture of grated ginger, grated garlic, finely diced green onion, shoyu, mirin (or sake and sugar) and a splash of Togarashi sesame oil. The pork belly is scored lightly on the fat side and then placed in a plastic bag with the marinade for 8 hours. I then seared it in my braising pan and cooked it on it's own in the over, uncovered, for 1 hour at 350F. This started the rendering process and gave it a great color.
Caramelized and rendered
From here, the belly was chopped into small-ish bite sized pieces and reserved. The pan was deglazed with more sake, Some finely chopped onion was added, then some pieces of carrot, and tofu. This was then tossed in the pan to pick up some of the liquid, the pieces of belly were returned, along with some shiitake mushrooms. I used dried mushrooms, which have a deeper flavor which works great in this application. I also added some of what my sister kept calling the 'mother dashi'. By the time I was done, the pan was quite full, I only used about 1 cup of the 'mother dashi'.
About the mother dashi, I will get a post together about it. But, for the moment, what it really represents in the frugality of not wanting to toss away any flavor. Japanese food really relies upon the manipulations of just a few elements; bonito, shoyu, sugar, sake, ginger, onion, and the foods that are cooked in them. So much of what we cook relied upon these flavors in various braises and steeps. Over a 48 hour period, we make and use so much of this, we decided to just put it all into a stock pot which stayed at a low heat, just around 180F, so as we prepared fillings for futomaki, or oden, or soba etc...all the fluids ended up in that pot, even my teriyaki drippings ended up in that stock.
On to the end product...once out of the oven, where it was cooked at 400F for 2 hours, the braise resulted in silky belly pieces that were laced through with an unctuous, salty, sweet, umami laden sauce. The tofu and mushrooms picking up that flavor, each texture well defined. I could have done most of this on my Weber kettle as I did last year, using the belly as a smoked product, but, I was not cooking at home.
Chunks of Braised Fat
The end product. Although this dish uses chunks of pork belly, it is a lot lighter than it might first appear. The flavors are retained, everything has it's own texture and taste. The braise ends up as quite complex, with simple and limited ingredients as the carrier.