I was lucky enough to visit Okinawa once and loved it! Here is one of my favorite recipes from there.
- 2-1/4-2-1/2 lbs boneless pork belly, ideally with three layers each of meat and fat
- 1-1/4 cups Awamori, an Okinawan liquor distilled from rice, or good quality sake
- 1-1/4 cups dashi fish stock
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup Japanese soy sauce
- 1 small knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thickly sliced, optional
- Bok choy, spinach, choc (sometimes also called choy) sum or fresh nigauri* (bitter melon/bitter gourd)
Place the port in a deep, thick-bottomed soup pot, fill the pot three-quarters full with water, and bring to a boil. Cover, and continue boiling over medium heat for one hour, occassionally skimming off any scum. (If too much water boils off and the pork is not completely covered, add more boiling water.) Remove pork from heat, and cool down enough to cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks.
Prepare the seasoning stock by combining all ingredients and putting them in the cleaned soup pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the pork, and simmer for two and a half hours, turning the pork chunks over about once every 30 minutes. Halve the boy choy and boil briefly.
Lay the bok choy (or other green garnish) in a serving dish. Place the pork chunks next to it and drizzle the remaining sauce over. Serve hot or at room tempurature.
*If fresh nigauri is available, by all means use it! It can replace the bok choy and or other greens. To prepare nigauri, scrape the skin, slice thinly, remove the seeds, and blanch to
remove the bitterness. It can also be lightly stir-fried.
Modern Okinawa cuisine is based on dishes enjoyed by the rulers of the Ryukyu dynasty, which controlled Okinawa from 1372 to 1879, and traditional island homecooking.
Originally, royal Ryukyuan cuisine was served only during special events and ceremonial occasions. It was gorgeous fare, richly laid out in the style of a Chinese banquet, and dramatically presented on exotic black and red lacquerware. When the dynasty eventually collapsed, and Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan, most of this sumptuous formal cuisine disappeared with it. But some dishes were adapted to fit the budgets and tastes of ordinary folk. The passage of time has made it difficult to find the culinary seam between royal and traditional cooking.
Okinawa’s proximity to China and the Ryukyu’s dynasty’s close ties with the Middle Kingdom are reflected in Okinawa’s overwhelming preference for pork – it’s estimated that there are over 150 pork dishes in Ryukyuan cooking. Other similarities include an abundance of dishes stir-fried in the Chinese fashion, the often heavy-handed use of oil and salt, and the pungent presence of plenty of garlic. Because of its hot, humid climate, many of Okinawa’s dishes are also preserved, using such techniques as slow boiling and braising in sweetened soy sauce. One of these is rafutei, which is also one of Okinawa’s most popular pork dishes. Rafutei’s origins are uncertain, but written records give the original name for the dish as rafutai-ni, so it is likely that it came from China.
Rafutei can be cooked in either a soy or miso-based sauce. My recipe is soy-based. The important thing is that the meat is boiled for a long time, the aim of which is to create a meltingly tender mixture of meat and fat, but without the fattiness. In Nagasaki, they make a similar pork dish called kaku-ni. Kaku-ni is also braised in sweetened soy sauce, but it is cooked for an even longer period than rafutei, resulting in even greater tenderness.
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