Sunday 15 September 2013

Miso-Braised Pork Belly

Winter is coming. I don't feel like I can really complain all that much, given that we actually had a decent hot, sunshine-filled summer which hasn't happened since 2004, but that was Very Long Time Ago. Nevertheless, I'm quite a fan of the changing of seasons. I'm autumn's child, but I also love it when the trees turn colour and you can crunch through piles of bronzed leaves, throwing them in the air like you're in Vermont or something, and oh! Those days you get when the sky is blue and the air cold enough to sting your nose a little and you come home to a warming cup of cocoa.

That's all bollocks of course, as was completely evident by my grim cycle home. Autumn in London is grey, windy and miserable. I was soaked to the bone, covered in car filth, and still reeling from screaming across the Elephant & Castle roundabout, desperately trying to see through rain-splattered glasses, in the dark. But I can console myself with the fact that this is one of the best eating times of year. Sweetcorn is in abundance - if you don't like sweetcorn you're dead to me - and those iron-rich brassicas. Mid-cycle, I stopped off at General Store, which is a gorgeous little shop selling top quality cured meats, cheeses, seasonal vegetables and other bits and pieces. I left with kale and chard and oregano and patty pan squashes and I was THIS CLOSE to buying a 'beer stick' (a slim cured salami-type-thing) to chew on the way home, such is the loveliness of everything in that place. My local greengrocer told me that that was the first time in 5 weeks my beloved mooli (an Asian turnip, also called daikon) was finally back in stock. 

Mooli is most often seen in Japanese restaurants, shaved raw into a pile with your sushi. I much prefer it cooked; when done so, especially with meat, it becomes sweet and tender. It takes on the flavours of whatever you're cooking it in, which on this occasion was pork belly and miso. The miso makes the whole stew comforting, sweet but also imparts that essential umami, as it's made from fermented soybeans. I use a combination of red and white miso, the latter giving the dish a deeper saltiness, the white sweeter and milder in flavour. The pork, slowly braised until the meat falls apart in your mouth and the fat becomes silky and flavoursome, is still one of my favourite cuts of meat, despite the over-exposure it now gets on menus. It's the very essence of warming. 

A note on the pork belly. I use skin-on simply because I like the way the skin turns gelatinous and wobbly after a long braising. Asians will say that using skin in there adds collagen to the stew and keeps your skin supple - I don't know if that's actually true - but it sure does make it sticky and delicious. If you're a little squeamish about it simply remove the skin before you cook it, I won't judge you (MUCH). I served this with white rice and some rainbow chard and fresh shiitake mushrooms, stir-fried in garlic and ginger.

Miso-Braised Pork Belly 

Serves 4 greedy people, and would serve 6 with a couple of side dishes 

700gr skin on or off pork belly - if yours comes with ribs, simply take them off and use them for another dish, or stock, or congee 
1 white onion, sliced finely
190ml sake
2 tsp red miso
3 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp mirin
1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
700ml water
450gr mooli / daikon - peeled and sliced into rounds about 1 inch thick
2 spring onions

Cut the pork belly into large cubes and place in a pot of boiling water. Boil for a couple of minutes; this is so that any scum comes floating to the surface now, and not in your stew. 

Drain, rinse and set the saucepan back on the heat. Add a little oil, then add the white onions in a layer on the bottom. You don't want them cooking much at the moment. Add the pork belly in a layer on top. Pour over the sake, then the water. Cut a piece of parchment paper so that it fits into the pot nicely, then place the lid on. Cook on a low heat (you want a bare simmer) for 1.5 hours. 

Add the mirin, light soy and sugar as well as the mooli, re-cover and cook for another hour. By now, the pork belly and the mooli should be tender, if not, cook a little longer. Discard the parchment, take out some of the stock, mix into the miso until it dissolves, then add to the stew. Cook on the barest simmer - don't boil, as it ruins any nutritional benefit in the miso - for another 15 minutes. 

Slice the whites of the spring onion and add to the stew. Julienne the greens of the spring onion and set aside for garnish. 

This isn't a thick stew as much of the liquid hasn't been evaporated off, so best to serve it in a large bowl or a pasta dish. Serve over white rice and garnish with spring onion. 


J@Feasttotheworld said...

This sounds right up my street. Pork belly (check!), Slow braised (check!), good with rice (check!) and skin on (Yes! Always!) :)

I'm not a big fan of autumn when it's all gloomy and drizzly too so I can't wait for proper winter when you wake up to a crisp cold morning and bright winter light.

Unknown said...

Swetcorn is absolutely rank!!

Hollow Legs said...

J - Yes, totally agree - much like today actually. I think you'd love this, though suspect you might throw in a little chilli oil.... ;)

Dominic - YOU'RE DEAD TO ME.

The Twilight Chef said...

This looks great - can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing.

Riocaz said...


Thanks for the reminder about braising Mooli/Daikon. Another root veg for me to use when that heavily calorific potato in my braised dishes.

Kavey said...

Fucking hell, I read that first bit, with the blue skies and crunchy leaves and thought, shit, has an alien taken over Schmoof's body???? Was like one of those schmaltzy American blogs for a millimoment there.

I love the colours and foods of autumn but I hate the darkening nights and the grey and wet days.

tehbus said...

You can always braise it skin off, and then crackle up the skin separately. Extra texture and awesomeness.