Wafu Pork Belly Skewers

Adapted from Donna Hay’s Twice-Cooked Pork Belly Yakitori Skewers

Makes about 6 skewers

This is a great recipe for if you’re having a barbeque and want to impress your guests with your gourmet skills and global perspective. The pork belly is succulently tender and really sucks up the sweet and salty sauce that it’s first cooked in and then basted with, and the bite of the scallion, sweetened by a bit of char, in between make for a simple but memorable meal that makes my fiancé nostalgic for good times in Japanese yakiniku restaurants. You can slow-cook and compress the meat a day ahead of time, or earlier in the day before guests come, and then pull out the skewers when you’re ready to barbeque!

In Japan, yakiniku (literally, grilled meat) is extremely popular. You usually order the ingredients (typically beef or horumon, offal, along with vegetables) you want raw, then cook them on skewers yourself over a grill right at your table. It’s a unique experience that offers diners a deeper connection with their food, and it’s also noteworthy in that offal is here a popular ingredient rather than a shunned one. Fortunately, yakiniku is just beginning to infiltrate the Western food scene, with Chef Takashi’s NYC restaurant being a notable example.

This recipe for pork belly skewers is yakiniku-inspired, but, strictly speaking, is not yakiniku. Because we’re using pork, not beef or horumon, and because it’s cut into cubes and slow-cooked in a sweet sauce first, it actually has more in common with kakuni (simmered pork belly). Yet because the meat is then skewered and given a crisp on the grill right before serving, and because the sauce it’s basted with is very much like the basic mirin and soy sauce mixture served with yakiniku, the final dish is also heavily reminiscent of the beloved Japanese skewers. Ultimately, I’d just call the recipe wafu, or Japanese-style, without trying to fit it into any neat category. 

Ingredients:

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup mirin

½ cup soy sauce

1 ½ boneless pork belly, cut into pieces about 2” tall, 1” wide

4 scallions, the white and light green parts cut into 2” sections, the dark green parts thinly sliced

Shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice blend), to serve (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the garlic, mirin, and soy sauce to a 9” square casserole dish. Place the pork belly pieces in skin-side up (it’s okay if they lean on one another) and cover with aluminum foil; place in the preheated oven on the center rack and roast for 2 hours, or until the pork is tender.

Do not throw away the cooking liquid! Remove the pork from the casserole dish with tongs and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a second sheet of parchment paper, put a second baking sheet on top, and then put a large cast iron skillet (or other heavy item) on top; put in the refrigerator for at least an hour, until cool. The point of the compression is to get the meat more compact so that it can be skewered and cooked more easily, and while this may seem like an unnecessary step, it’s actually important.

Pour the cooking liquid out of the casserole into a small pot and place in the fridge with the pork. The fat will solidify on top so that you can remove it (you want to do this because this liquid will be used for basting the pork on the grill, and you don’t want the fat causing flare-ups). Once that’s done, you can put the pot back on the stove and cook the liquid at a simmer for about 2 minutes, or until it’s slightly reduced.

Thread a few pieces of pork belly onto metal skewers (if using bamboo, you’ll have wanted to soak the bamboo for at least 20 minutes, so they won’t burn on the grill), alternating with the large pieces of scallion. Brush the cooking liquid over both the meat and the scallions.

Cook the skewers on the grill at medium heat, continuously turning and basting each skewer with the cooking liquid for about 5 minutes, just to get them crispy and achieve a sticky layer of the sauce. If you have any flare-ups, remove the skewers to the cool side of the grill, baste them, then move them back once the flare-up is gone.

Serve sprinkled with the sliced scallion and togarashi.

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