Editor’s note: In the Taste of Life series, cooking experts, chefs and others involved in the field of food introduce their special recipes intertwined with their paths in life.
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Chef Masayuki Okuda is a leading expert on “chisan-chisho,” the concept of farming locally for local consumption.
He uses produce from his home area in Shonai, Yamagata Prefecture.
Over the past 20 years or so, Okuda has been invited to local food fairs nationwide. He has drawn up menus and recipes that use the ingredients.
On a trip to Kochi Prefecture more than 10 years ago, Okuda was asked to cook with a chef who specialized in Italian cuisine.
The chef was renowned and Okuda assumed the chef would make the main dish. But the chef told Okuda: “The main dish is all yours! I’ll have the ingredients lined up.”
Okuda had about five hours to work on the dish. Contemplating a block of pork belly in front of him, he decided to make “kakuni,” a stew of cubed pork, in Italian style.
Sweet mirin sake helps flavors seep swiftly into stewing ingredients. Okuda realized this would allow him to finish the dish in time despite being unable to let the meat marinade overnight.
He poured into a pot a generous amount of red wine and sweet mirin sake, added the pork belly and started simmering on low heat.
When the meat was cooked, he looked in the pot: The pork had turned dark as if it had been toasted brown. When he tasted it, he sensed a sweet and rich flavor similar to port wine. It also tasted good eaten cold.
“‘Amazing,’ I thought,” Okuda said.
Since then, Okuda has often made the dish at food fairs using local pork.
“It came in handy,” he said. “I didn’t have to put extra work in preparing the meat dish and could use the time to prepare the vegetables and other dishes.”
A sprinkle of young leaves and shoots (“kinome”) or powder of Japanese pepper (“sansho”) will add Japanese elements to the dish.
You get a richer wine flavor if you heat a small amount of red wine in another pot, allow the alcohol to evaporate and add the wine to the sauce.
This week’s recipe shows how to shorten the simmering time.
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Masayuki Okuda: Born in Yamagata Prefecture in 1969, Okuda opened Al che-cciano in 2000. He has received many awards, including the Shizuo Tsuji Award for Food Culture and an honor from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
BASIC COOKING METHOD
Ingredients (serves four)
320 grams block of pork belly (buta-bara), 325 ml each of sweet mirin sake and red wine, with a little unsalted butter and black pepper to taste
1. Cut pork belly into bite-size pieces.
2. Heat the pork in a pot containing sweet mirin sake and red wine.
3. When the pot comes to a boil, skim off the foam and simmer for about an hour until the pork becomes tender. The sauce should not be boiling. Aim for a temperature of about 70 degrees.
4. Remove pork and continue simmering sauce until it is reduced by half. Adding butter to taste will thicken the sauce and add richness. Black pepper may be added also. Return pork, heat until thoroughly warm and serve.
The dish contains about 580 kcal and 0.1 gram salt per portion (calculation by the Nutrition Clinic of Kagawa Nutrition University).
Dry red wines such as Sangiovese and Montepulciano from Italy are recommended for this dish.
You may add salt at the end. If available, balsamic vinegar can be reduced and mixed with the sauce to coat the pork. This step enhances the Italian feel.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Jinsei Reshipi (Life Recipe) column