Now, I'll probably jinx myself by saying this as I have in the past, but, I think Autumn is here! There is FINALLY a nip in the air and no dreadful humidity. Yee hah!
Anyway, it is said that the Okinawans eat every part of the pig except its squeal. Pork is a major part of their diet and I've heard that pig farmers in Hawaii were instrumental in bringing back Okinawa's pig population after WWII.
After re-connecting with my long lost Okinawan relatives a few years ago, I was interested to learn more about the Okinawan cuisine. It wasn't something that I grew up with, because my mom is of Japanese ancestry, so growing up we had mainland Japanese dishes.
One Okinawan dish that I really love is called rafute or what the Japanese call buta no kakuni (braised pork belly). Satoshi doesn't care for this dish much because it has this nice layer of fat on top, as well as some fat layered in between too. I love it because it has all this nice, melt in your mouth fat. Since he isn't home this weekend (he went to Thailand with his company, for their company trip, like those school field trips only with work members instead of classmates, and no spouses), I decided to make some for my dinner.
It was my first time making this dish and let me warn you, it is a bit time consuming--you definitely have to plan ahead. But, at least you don't have to stand next to the stove the whole time, as the book says, "just put the meat into the pot and let the heat do the cooking".
Here's the recipe translated from "Shiawase no Okinawa Ryori"
Shoyu flavored rafute -- Serves 4 (1 serving equals 2 slices)
600g pork belly (about 1.5 pounds)
3/4 cup awamori (Okinawan sake)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
4 cups katsuo (bonito) stock
nub of ginger, thinly sliced
1. Pour some hot water over the pork, then put into a pot with enough water to cover the pork. Simmer for 1 hour.
2. After the pork simmers, cut into 8 pieces, 2-3 centimeters thick by 6-7 centimeters wide.
NOTE: you can use the stock that is made from simmering the pork for other Okinawan dishes like soki soba (spare rib soup with noodles) or ju-shi (rice cooked with veggies and pork)--so save it. Unfortunately, I didn't read this part carefully and threw it out and am now kicking myself for doing so...argh!
3. In another pot, add the bonito stock, awamori and sugar, bring to a boil and add the meat.
4. Boil on high for the 5 minutes, then add half of the shoyu & mirin. Turn the heat to a simmer and add the rest of the shoyu & mirin.
5. Cook on simmer for 1 hour. When your chopsticks or fork can smoothly cut through the meat, the dish is done.
6. Add the thinly sliced ginger and turn off the heat.
This is the awamori I used. It is called Churatora (chura means beautiful in Okinawan and tora is tiger in Japanese). We bought this back in 2003 when the Tigers won the Central League Championships. I told Satoshi that he should wait until they take champions again to drink from it again... so, he's been waiting, but hasn't had much luck since the Tigers haven't been doing well. At times, he's even said that he thinks he should "taste it" just to be sure it isn't rotten....ha! (it smelled fine...don't tell him I used part of it for this dish....shh)
The pork was so tender (because of the awamori), if you don't have any, I think you could substitute with Japanese sake (wine made from rice), shochu (wine-like beverage which is stronger than sake, made from barley, rice or potato) or maybe even vodka...and the caramelized gravy poured onto my bowl of rice...heavenly!
One word of caution...the last 10 minutes or so is when the gravy will start to caramelize. Just check the pot off and on to make sure your pot doesn't go dry--wouldn't want you to ruin a pot for this dish.