Chashu, i.e. Japanese braised pork belly, is Japan’s gift to the world. Most Americans may be familiar with its place atop a steaming bowl of tonkotsu ramen, but the dish is much more versatile than first glance implies. The thin slices can be individually frozen and stored together in the freezer for months (we ALWAYS have some in our freezer). And while you can absolutely pop a few pieces into your instant ramen for a 5 second glow-up, they can also be used in stir fries, with dumplings, or on a simple bowl of steamed rice.
If you thought bacon made everything better, get ready for a life upgrade.
Now, full disclosure, it is a pain to cook. Which is why we tend to make a big deal out of it on chashu day. I’ll make 5-10 lbs (split between two “rolls”), and after a long day of braising, we celebrate with a bottle of sake and maybe some friends, if we feel like sharing. The ingredients are also a bit pricey for the volume of food you’re getting, but since chashu is so rich? You really only need a tiny amount for each meal. I treat the melty, fatty slices almost as a condiment.
Because chashu is so rich, it’s important to add elements of freshness to the rest of your meal. In ramen, that usually comes in the form of crisp scallions and sweet corn. But for this dinner, I wanted something cold, and something that would feel filling and flavorful without being overly heavy or fatty. A soba salad is the perfect pairing. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t invent this recipe on the fly. Because I totally did. But that’s the cool thing about a noodle salad (as most Midwesterners already know)– you start with cold noodles and add literally anything and everything until it tastes good.
Then you win the potluck.
Luckily, this salad tasted fantastic after only a couple very simple ingredients, so it’s both easy and accessible. Of course, you can substitute the soba noodles for any other Asian noodle of choice, but I find that soba, by far, stores the best. It’s just as good the next day, whereas most wheat noodles tend to bulk up and become mushy, and rice noodles tend to dry out.
Chashu (Japanese Braised Pork Belly)
- 3 lb. slab of pork belly, skin on
- 1 t. salt
- 6-7 green onions or scallions, roughly chopped
- 2 in. fresh ginger, sliced
- 4-8 cloves garlic, smashed (depending on taste)
- 1 c. mirin
- 1 1/2 c. sake
- 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
- 1 c. water
- 1 c. soy sauce
To make chashu:
Preheat oven to 325 F. Thoroughly clean and trim pork belly, if needed. Place on a large cutting board or work surface, skin side down. Sprinkle top side lightly with salt, and then tightly roll the slab away from you to create a log. Secure with kitchen twine, and don’t be afraid to use a lot– you want the log to hold its shape. Place the log in the bottom of a heavy, oven safe stock pot with lid ( I like to use my cast iron dutch oven). Add green onions, ginger, mirin, sake, water, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Turn to coat the pork belly and mix ingredients.
Place the lid on the pot and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise four hours, turning the “log” about every hour to ensure even coloring. After four hours, remove lid and increase heat to 450 F. Roast for 30 minutes, turn the “log,” and then roast another thirty minutes. All sides should be an even dark brown. Remove from oven and let rest, in the juice, for at least 20 minutes.
To serve and store:
Remove the chashu from the pot and either use the liquid to cook another pork belly roll (what I usually do), or alternately, reserve some of the liquid to marinate boiled eggs for ramen. After all cooking, I like to strain and freeze the cooking liquid in an ice cube tray, and then thaw a few cubes every time I want to make the famous “yummy egg.”
You can either remove the kitchen twine and slice and serve the chashu as-is, or sear it first. I like to bring a large cast iron skillet to high heat on the stove top, and add about a tablespoon of oil (this is optional, but helps keep the tender skin from falling off). Then once the oil is shimmering and smoking a bit, I add the whole chashu roll (with twine removed) and turn it every minute or so to sear it evenly on every side. This will be very smokey, so have your hood fan on. Searing isn’t necessary, but it adds flavor and further renders the fat for those who want really crispy, mely chashu.
After searing, let rest again for at least ten minutes, then slice. For very thin slices, you will have to refrigerate the chashu overnight so that it can fully firm up, allowing you to make paper thin cuts ( I usually do this with all left over chashu on the second day). Either serve immediately or freeze individual slices for long-term storage and meal prep.
To add some color and texture, use a torch to brown individual slices of chashu when serving.
Cold Soba & Cucumber Salad
- 1 bundle dry soba noodles
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 daikon radish
- 1/2 English cucumber
- 4-5 scallions or green onions
- 2 T spicy mayo (or to taste)
- 1 T soy sauce (or to taste)
- 1 t. sesame seeds, opt.
In a medium sized stock pot, add about two quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt to the water, and then add dry soba noodles. Cook according to package directions.
While noodles are cooking, use a mandoline slicer to create paper thin slices of radish and cucumber. Thinly slice scallions and set aside. Drain soba noodles and rinse with cold water until they are fully cooled, then transfer to a serving bowl. Add radish, cucumber, scallions, soy sauce, and spicy mayo to the bowl and toss until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Taste and adjust with more soy sauce or spicy mayo. Top with sesame seeds, if desired. Serve cold and store in fridge up to 48 hours.