The most popular meat in modern Japan- with yearly sales surpassing both chicken and beef combined- is without a doubt, pork. Ever since the wild boar was domesticated during the iron age, it has made up a large part of the country’s diet; even during the Warring States years of samurai rule and national adherence to Buddhism, when the eating of four-legged beasts was particularly frowned upon, the descriptive euphemisms “mountain whale” and “walking vegetable” were used to tiptoe around the rules denying the people their favourite meat. Much like prohibition pharmacists in the US selling whisky to patients with enough money, unscrupulous Edo period doctors would prescribe pork as a health food for its stamina building properties and a black market trade developed up until the 1900s. The twentieth century saw the government’s opinion of meat change dramatically- advisors decided that it was the vast amounts of meat consumed by Europeans that made them grow large and powerful; so for them to not be left behind in the changing world, it became of great national importance that the Japanese took up eating pork again.
The Kagoshima region on the south-western tip of Kyūshū is home to the most acclaimed pork in all of Japan; bred from Okinawan Berkshire pigs, Kurobuta pork has particularly fine muscle fibres, a rich delicate flavour and above all, light, non-sticky and incredibly tasty fat. Besides the regular pork dishes found across the country, Kagoshima has a number of delicacies that are almost impossible to find anywhere else, our favourite of these is a sticky variation on niku miso, packed with the savoury black pork that the region prides itself on. Darkly sweet from unrefined brown sugar, salty and umami-rich from the mugimiso and deeply satisfying and savoury from slowly simmered pork, kurobuta miso is Japan’s answer to bacon jam. It can be enjoyed smeared across an onigiri, packed into a sandwich, spooned over hot steamed rice, dropped into a bowl of ramen like a savoury depth charge or used as a simple sauce for a vegetable stir fry. Perhaps the best way to eat it though is with crudités, scooped up greedily on a stick of raw cucumber or carrot, the cooling crunch of the vegetables offsetting the rich, intensity of the miso perfectly.
- 200g miso (if you want to be really traditional, use barley mugimiso)
- 300g pork shoulder (again, if you want to be really traditional use Berkshire pork)
- 150g demerara sugar
- 100ml mirin
- 100ml sake
- 30ml soy sauce
- 20ml rapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, then add to a medium saucepan with 750ml cold water, 45ml each of the sake and mirin, and 15ml of the soy sauce. Place over a medium heat and bring the liquid to a simmer, then turn the heat right down so the pan is barely bubbling; cook at a low heat like this for an hour and a half, topping up with extra hot water if necessary and discarding any froth that forms. When the time’s up, put a lid on the pan and leave the pork to cool down completely in the cooking liquor.
- Put the sugar along with the remaining mirin, sake and soy sauce in another pan and start to cook over a medium heat. Let the liquid bubble away until it starts to thicken and turn syrupy, ensuring you stir it often to make sure the sugar doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat down to very low, and keep warm whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Remove the cooled pork pieces from the cooking liquid, then chop the meat very finely- you want it to be almost like a paste, but with a little more texture. Mix the rapeseed oil and the grated garlic into the miso, then add this to the thick sake-soy syrup. Stir again thoroughly to combine, then finally add the chopped pork (and any of the smooth pork fat you can rescue from the top of the cooking liquid), sesame seeds and chilli flakes; continue cooking for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens more. Be careful not to overcook the pork miso at this point or the fibres will become tough and chewy.
- Transfer the pork miso to a bowl or sterilised jar and allow it to cool fully before use. The kurobuta miso will store well in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Makes 1 large jar of kurobuta miso, enough for 8-10 people with crudités.