Japan Eats

Recipe: Satsumaimo no nimono (sweet potato with pork belly and ginger sauce)

‘Tis harvest season, and what better way to welcome autumn than with satsumaimo?

Satsumaimo (sweet potatoes) have a pink skin and a creamy texture similar to yams. They’re a popular ingredient in Japanese cooking, particularly during the autumn months.

Here, the sweet potato is cooked with pork and ginger. I recommend you serve this together with other dishes and share it out at the dining table.

Sweet potato with pork belly and ginger sauce

Sweet potato with pork belly and ginger sauce

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 300 – 350 g sweet potato
  • 70 g thinly sliced pork belly
  • 10 – 15 g (or 1 clove) ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 150 ml water

Method

Wash the sweet potato and slice into 1.5 cm thick pieces. Place in a bowl of water for 20 – 30 minutes to remove any astringency.

Potato

Soak the potato in a bowl for 20 - 30 minutes.

Peel the ginger and slice thinly.

Pour 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil into a large pot on a low heat and and sauté the ginger. Once it begins to smell, add the thinly sliced pork belly and turn the heat up to medium. Braise the pork so that the fat begins to coat the base of the pot.

Now strain the sweet potato and use a paper towel to take off any excess water. Add the potato to the pot.

Mix with the pork so that the potato is fully coated by the oil. Sauté for approximately 5 minutes. Don’T worry if at this stage the potatoes look oily – that will change when the next set of ingredients are added.

Next, add the sugar, sake, soy sauce and water (in that order). The sauce should now almost cover the ingredients.

Cut the end of the paper.

1. Cut to match the shape of the bowl.

Cut off the the end of the wedge.

2. Cut off the the end of the wedge.

A finished otoshibuta

3. A finished otoshibuta.

Finished otoshibuta

4. Cover the potato with the otoshibuta.

Place an otoshibuta (a drop lid made from paper – see the photos to the left) over the ingredients and simmer on a low to medium heat for 15 – 20 minutes.

If the sweet potato is soft (use a skewer) the dish is ready. At this point, sauce should be left at the bottom of the pot. When serving, be sure to pour some of the sauce over the ingredients.

Recipe: Buta no shogayaki (pork ginger)

A simple pork sauté that’s full of flavor

Pork ginger is Japanese comfort food, pure and simple. It’s often featured in bento lunches, as it can be prepared in advance and tastes equally good served hot or at room temperature. Best of all, its dead easy to prepare. Serve with a handful of shredded cabbage (kyabetsu no sen-giri).

Pork Ginger

Pork Ginger

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 200 – 250 g pork (sliced between 1 and 1.5 mm)
  • 150 g cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 20 g (1 clove) of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 100 g chopped onion

Method

Wash the cabbage leaves and remove the core. Pile the leaves together and then roll and cut into 1 mm slices. Place them in cold water for 10 minutes, and drain.

Place a frying pan on the gas table and add one tablespoon of oil. Warm on a low heat.

While heating the pan, take the slices of pork and coat them in a thin layer of flour. Now increase the heat to medium and sauté the pork until brown. Be sure that the pork strips are cooked evenly. When they are ready, take them from the pan and on a plate.

Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan and warm it on a low heat. Slice the onion into pieces 5 mm thick – cut against the grain. Sauté the onion until it softens and becomes translucent.

Now pour the sake, sugar, and soy into the pan. Turn up the heat to medium. Put the pork back into the pan and add the ginger. Mix and cover the pork and ginger with the sauce. Serve with sliced cabbage and a generous helping of the sauce.

Recipe: Goya champuru

It ain’t easy being green

On the face of it, goya isn’t the most appetizing of fruit. With its dark green complexion, prickly texture and bitter taste, it looks like a cross between a cucumber and a durian. Even its English name is less than appealing – ‘bitter gourd’.

But while it may look intimidating and taste bitter uncooked, goya is actually delicious when properly prepared. And it’s easy to remove much of the bitterness. Simply scoop out the seeds and slice into thin pieces. Soak these in water for 10 – 20 minutes and you’re done.

The fruit is said to have a variety of health benefits (it’s high in Vitamin C) and is commonly used in traditional medicines to combat such things as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Goya is a key ingredient in Okinawan cuisine (the name itself is Okinawan – nigauri in Japanese) and goya champaru is the prefecture’s signature dish. Goya champaru is popular elsewhere in Japan, particularly during the summer months.

This preparation is for a very simple version of the dish. To add volume and texture, add a handful of moyashi (bean shoots). You can also add pickled ginger as a garnish.

Goya champuru

Goya champuru

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 goya
  • 200 to 350 g tofu (momen tofu)
  • 100 to 150 g pork (sliced butabara pork is best)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 5 g kezuribushi

Method

First cut the goya in half and take the seeds out using a tea spoon. These seeds and the white pith around them is very bitter and should be removed carefully. Next, slice the goya into 5 mm slices. Place these into a bowl of iced water for around 10 to 20 minutes (this too is to minimize the bitterness).

While the goya is soaking in the cold water, wrap the tofu with a paper towel and warm it in a microwave for 3 minutes in order to draw the water out of the tofu. Now cut the pork into bite size pieces and mix with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour 1 tablespoon of salad oil into a pan and cook the pork. Strain the water from the goya and as soon as the pieces of pork begin to change color, add the green vegetable to the mix. Cook the pork and goya together for 1 to 2 minutes.

Breaking the tofu into small pieces by hand, add these to the mixture in the pan. Season with a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce. Mix thoroughly, trying not do break the tofu up too much.

Crack the eggs and pour them into the pan, making a circle around the edges of the pan. Cook these slowly. When the egg begins to cook, turn off the gas and pour a dash of sesame oil into the pan.

Serve, placing kezuribushi onto the top of the dish.

Recipe: Nibuta (braised pork shoulder)

The perfect addition to that bowl of homemade ramen

Ever wondered how to prepare those succulent slices of pork that sit atop ramen? There are two basic approaches to preparing char siu (Chinese) or chashu (Japanese) pork.

The Chinese method is to cut the pork into strips and roast it in an oven or over a fire. It is seasoned with a mixture of honey, soy sauce and five-spice powder.

In Japan, the pork is more often prepared by cooking fatty cuts of pork on a low heat in a heavy iron pot such as a dutch oven (what the British would call a casserole dish). After the meat has cooked for several hours with aromatics such as garlic and ginger,  it is allowed to cool before being cut into slices. The resulting nibuta (braised) pork can be served on its own, or over the ubiquitous ramen noodles.

This recipe may also be prepared in a pressure cooker, but I prefer using an enameled cast iron pot such as those from Staub.

Nibutta: braised pork shoulder

Nibutta: braised pork shoulder

Ingredients (serves 4-8)

  • 1.5 kg pork loin (700 – 800 g loaf of pork loin)
  • 150 g onion (1 whole onion)
  • 250 g green onion (2 whole green onions)
  • 40 – 50 g garlic (4 -5 cloves of garlic)
  • 40 – 50 g ginger
  • 2 red peppers (dried, without seeds)
  • 400 ml sake
  • 100 ml mirin
  • 300 ml soy sauce
  • 300 ml water
  • 5 tablespoons of sugar
  • String for cooking

Method

First, tie each piece of meat so that it fits into your iron pot. Warm a flying pan on a high heat (without oil) and brown the pork well on all sides.

Next, place the meat into the iron pot. Crush the garlic using the flat part of a knife and remove the skin and any sprouts. Roughly peel the skin from the ginger slice into pieces 1 -2 mm thick. Cut off the green part of the green onion. Put all of the ingredients into the pot around the meat. Add the red pepper, sake, mirin, soy sauce and water.

Now peel the onion and cut it in half vertically. Place the pieces into the pot. Warm the iron dish on a medium heat. Once the soup becomes hot, add the sugar and let it dissolve.

Finally add water (not included in the ingredients list)  until the liquid covers the meat. Warm the pot on a medium to high heat.  Once the ingredients have come to the boil, lower the heat and cover with a lid.

One hour later, turn over the pork. An hour after that, turn the pork over again. Turn off the heat and leave the pot for 4 – 5 hours. As the ingredients cook, skim the lard from the top of the soup.

Once the pork has cooled, slice the pork (otherwise it will simply fall apart under the knife).

Finally, cut the white part of the green onion diagonally into pieces 2 -3 mm thick. Warm the soup and add the onion. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Present the sliced pork with the green onion and pour soup over the top of the pork.

A boiled egg would be great addition to the pork on a dish of noodles.

Recipe: Buta no kakuni

Buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) is most often associated with the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, and in particular, the city of Nagasaki. It’s famously soft texture and sweet soy flavor has endeared it to people across Japan, and it can now be found on izakaya menus throughout the country.

This Chinese-influenced dish takes some time to prepare, but results in pork so delicate it breaks apart easily with chopsticks.

Buta no kakuni

Buta no kakuni

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 800g of pork belly
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 pieces of ginger
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of sake
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 green onion

Method

Cut the pork into 5 to 6 cm cubes.

Peel the garlic and the ginger, then slice both into pieces 5 mm wide.

Place the pork, garlic, ginger and sake into a pot, then pour in enough water to just cover them. Bring to the boil on a high heat.

Once boiling, turn the gas down and carefully skim off any scum which has formed on the surface of the mixture. Cook on a low heat for a further hour to hour and a half, then allow the mixture to sit overnight.

The next day, remove the solid fat (lard) from the pan. Naturally it ‘s worth keeping to flavor other Chinese-style dishes.

Add sugar to the dish and place it on a medium heat for 20 minutes. Add soy sauce and cook for a further 30 minutes. At this point it’s worth checking the taste in case you want add a little more sugar or soy.

Slice the green onions diagonally into 5 mm pieces and cook these for about 5 minutes. If you prefer the texture of fresh green onions, simply add them to the pot and turn the gas off immediately – they will cook with the remaining heat.

Serve with a small bowl of Japanese mustard.