Inspired by my maternal grandmother, Marion, I wanted to make a satisfying weeknight potato dish with enough heft to call dinner. All of my memories of her cooking are wrapped up in feelings of warmth and comfort, simple, honest food that tasted good and filled your belly. Although I’ve never had classic nikujaga, she would always make the traditional Okinawan dish rafute– pork belly slowly braised in brown sugar and soy sauce. Nikujaga, a sugar-soy based beef and potato stew from Japan is surely a close cousin. I thought an umami enriched chicken stock base would lighten the strong, dark braising liquid and make it suitable for sipping with a spoon. —gingerroot
2-4, depending on appetite
For almost dashi:
3 ½ cups
store bought or homemade chicken stock
4" x 4"
piece dried kombu, wiped (but not washed) with a clean towel
inch piece fresh ginger (slightly thicker than your thumb), peeled, cut into six coins, lightly crushed with the back of a knife
For potatoes and pork:
5 1/2 ounces
piece of boneless pork belly
bunch green onions, white and light green parts only
large russet potatoes (11/2 - 1 3/4 lb)
2 1/2 cups
mizuna, washed and thoroughly dried
Shichimi Togarashi for serving
For the braising liquid:
dark brown sugar
reduced sodium, gluten free Tamari
In This Recipe
Start almost dashi: In a small saucepan, combine the chicken stock, kombu and ginger coins. With cover slightly ajar, slowly heat the mixture over medium low heat.
Prep potatoes and pork: Using a sharp knife, slice pork belly crosswise into ½” thick pieces. Lay each slice flat and cut in half. Place in a small bowl and set it next to your stovetop. Slice the green onions into thin rounds –you should have about 1/2 cup. Peel, quarter and cut potatoes into roughly 1" pieces –you should have about 4 cups. Chop mizuna (or other greens) into 1" lengths. Set vegetables in bowls near stove.
Make braising liquid: In a glass one cup measure, combine sake, brown sugar and tamari. Stir to dissolve sugar. Set next to bowl of pork.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, swirling pot to evenly coat. When oil is just shimmering, add pork and cook, allowing each side to brown for a minute or two before turning. Add green onion and potatoes, and continue to cook for about a minute, stirring gently to combine.
Add the braising liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, to the pork and potato mixture. Stir after each addition and lower the heat if it starts to burn. Once you’ve added all the liquid, fill cup measure with ¼ cup of water and add that to the pot. Cover with lid and adjust heat as necessary to slowly simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove kombu from chicken stock and discard. Ladle enough stock into potato pot to just cover with liquid. Cover and continue cooking until potatoes are fully cooked and tender, about 15 minutes more. Ladle in remaining warm stock and stir in chopped mizuna. Allow soup to cook for a minute or two more to slightly wilt the greens. Serve immediately in soup bowls topped with a pinch of shichimi togarashi. Enjoy.
My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love.
Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.