Makoto's Winning Pork Belly Dish
by bill kearney
Kurobuta pork belly kakuni at Makoto in Bal Harbour Shops.
Pork belly’s been all the rage for a while, but to say you don’t need to see another iteration is like saying you’re done with the concept of “delicious.” It’s the fat-stratified meat from which bacon is sliced and cured, and when cut thick and cooked properly, the results can be both delicate and hearty, luxurious and rustic.
Chef Makoto Okuwa of the namesake Makoto in Bal Harbour Shops decided to introduce his new Kurobuta pork belly kakuni—seared pork belly cubes caramelized in tare sauce and dusted in spices—simply “because I like it,” he says. “Sometimes I would cook this for myself. I wanted to see how people react.”
Heritage and Travel
This dish is inspired both by his reverence for traditional Japanese methods and by his love for our country’s barbecue. Okuwa starts with belly meat of the coveted Berkshire pork, aka Kurobuta, a heritage breed that originated in England and which has maintained a fattier, more marbled meat than typical commercial pig. “The breeding is different and the farming is different,” he says. “The result is better flavor.”
Cubes of pork belly are first braised, then cooked in fragrant hay smoke before being quickly charred over bincho coals on a robata grill.
Heat and Flavor
The chef then braises the belly, first in water and rice, before cutting it into one-inch cubes and braising it again, this time in soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and sake. In traditional Japanese cuisine, the belly would be served at this point, in the braising liquid, says Okuwa. But he takes it several steps further.
Okuwa next grabs a handful of hay and briefly cooks the cubes in the hay’s smoke, allowing it to penetrate the fatty layers. He then pops them onto a robata grill, suspending the meat a mere inch or so above exceptionally hot-burning and odorless bincho charcoals, charring the cubes quickly. As he does so, he pastes them with thick tare sauce, a kind of sweet, thick brown sauce made from chicken bones, sake, mirin, ginger, scallion, and other ingredients. The tare caramelizes into a sticky gloss over the charred pork. Okuwa then dabs the cubes on each side with dry herbs and spices: shiso and chive on one side, shichimi seven-pepper spice on another, followed by ground sesame seed and nori seaweed powder. To top it off, he garnishes the dish with tendrils of piquant micro shiso and pickled cabbage.
Chef Makoto Okuwa finishes his dish with micro shiso and pickled cabbage.
The added steps enhance and play off of what Okuwa calls umami flavor, a subtle savory taste often imparted by cooked protein. The result? Delicate cubes of pork that collapse upon themselves in layers: charred, sweet, savory, all suspended on the opulence only pork belly offers. No, you are not done with delicious. Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-864-8600
photography by gesi schilling