Owing its heritage to char siu- the bright red, five-spice seasoned barbecued pork served in Cantonese restaurants, chāshū has become perhaps the world’s favourite ramen topping. This is of course for good reason, meltingly tender succulent meat, braised at a low temperature for hours until the tough connective tissues and collagen have turned into silky soft gelatin, yielding to the slightest pressure from a chopstick. The sweet, juicy layers of fat and moist, savoury meat are enhanced further by leaving them in a soy and sake seasoned broth overnight before being thinly sliced and seared in a hot pan to reawaken the glistening fats and juices hiding within the pork.
Chāshū isn’t only enjoyed with soup and noodles however, and one of our favourite ways to eat it is on top of a big bowl of rice as a chāshūdon. Combined with other noodle toppings such as boiled eggs, pink pickled ginger and spicy Korean radish kimchi, you have a dish that gives you the same satisfaction as a deep bowl of brothy noodles but with a lot less effort.
- 1kg piece boneless pork belly (skin left on)
- 100g root ginger
- 10 spring onions
- 450ml soy sauce
- 100ml sake
- 50ml mirin
- 125g sugar
- 6 cloves garlic
- 4 eggs
- Peel the piece of ginger and roughly cut it into slices, then top and tail the spring onions; add both of these to a large saucepan along with the pork and enough cold water to cover the meat by three or four centimetres. Slowly bring the pan of water to the boil, then turn the heat down and let the meat simmer for an hour, skimming off any froth that forms during the first ten minutes or so. Make sure the pork is always covered with water while cooking- if the level gets too low, just top it up with some hot water from a kettle. While the pork is simmering, peel the garlic cloves and lightly crush them with the back of a large knife- you aren’t looking for a paste, just cracked cloves starting to give off their aroma and juices. Add the crushed garlic, soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar to a second large pan and set aside to allow the flavours time to mingle.
- After the pork has had its initial hour of cooking, turn off the heat and carefully transfer the meat from the water into the pan with the soy mixture. Ladle in enough of the cooking water from the pork to just cover the meat and then turn on the heat under this pan. Bring the pork back to a gentle simmer and allow it to cook for a further hour in the soy seasoned liquid. Turn the heat off under the pork and place a lid on the pan, leaving it to cool to room temperature- this will take a few hours.
- While the pork is cooling down, prepare the eggs; boil them for seven and a half minutes, cool them down in iced water and carefully remove their shells. When the pork is at room temperature, add the boiled eggs to the pan ensuring they are fully covered by the liquid- you may need to use a drop lid to keep everything submerged- then place the pan in the refrigerator overnight to let the meat firm up and the eggs take on the soy flavour.
- 2 cups Japanese rice, cooked following our instructions here
- chāshū pork from above recipe
- 250ml soy flavoured cooking liquid from above recipe
- marinated eggs from above recipe
- 100g baby pak choi
- 2 tablespoons beni shōga (pickled ginger)
- 2 tablespoons radish kimchi (or you could use pickled radish instead)
- Japanese mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Take the piece of pork belly from its marinade and pat it dry with some kitchen roll, then cut it into thin slices being careful to keep the pieces as intact as possible and set aside for later. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until they start to colour and give off a nutty aroma, then grind to a coarse powder in a suribachi or pestle and mortar.
- Place 250ml of the reserved cooking liquid from the chāshū in a small saucepan over a high heat and reduce until it becomes a syrupy glaze. At the same time, blanch the baby pak choi in a pan of boiling water for a minute or so, then refresh it in cold water.
- Pour the vegetable oil into a large frying pan and slowly heat it up before adding the slices of chāshū- from this stage onwards the pork is somewhat fragile, so treat it delicately. Fry the pork for two to three minutes on each side, turning it carefully every now and then until it is thoroughly heated, crisped at the edges and gently sizzling. Finally take the eggs from their marinade and slice in half before you start to assemble the bowls of chāshūdon.
- Divide the cooked rice between four bowls, then brush a slick of the reduced glaze over the surface of the rice. Place the still sizzling pork atop the glaze and then surround it with the other toppings, saving the ground sesame seeds for a final garnish before serving.
Serves 4 people (probably with some chāshū leftover).