I am not a huge meat eater, with one exception—there is a huge pig-shaped spot in my heart—I love pork. Thankfully (unfortunately?) my friend Noriko understands. Last month we spent Spring Break in Japan, staying at Noriko’s house. Our kids had a blast spending every waking moment together, and are still bemoaning the fact that we live so far apart. On our first full day in Japan we had a party at Noriko’s house with some of Mr. Fuji’s former co-workers and their families.
Noriko prepared a feast, which included nibuta, or Japanese simmered pork shoulder, a personal favorite of mine. I’ve prepared nibuta in the past, but it was never as good as Noriko’s, so of course I asked her how she made hers. When we returned home, and as soon as I had unpacked, I headed to the store to grab some pork shoulder so that I could try out Noriko’s method. It came out perfectly (except for the fact that I couldn’t share it with my friend), and I’ve made it multiple times since.
Nibuta is made by first simmering the pork shoulder in water in a pot with some leeks and ginger. Then it is left to cool overnight. The next day, you skim the fat off the surface and remove the ginger and leeks. Then the pot is returned to the stove and the liquid is simmered down a bit, before you add a combination of soy sauce, miring, and honey. After simmering for a bit, the pork is allowed to cool.
At this point the pork can be removed from the liquid and cut into thin slices and served with some scallions cut into matchsticks. Or, you can add some peeled hard-boiled eggs to the cooking liquid and stick the pot back in the refrigerator overnight, and serve the pork the next day with the marinated eggs. The pork is fall-apart-tender and bursting with flavor from the simmering liquid.
The pork is also delicious served as a donburi (Japanese rice bowl)—rice topped with slices of the pork, marinated egg, and scallions.
Nibuta also makes a divine bento (Japanese lunchbox), which also means it would be perfect to pack for a summer picnic!
Nibuta (Japanese Simmered Pork Shoulder)
Makes approximately 6 to 8 servings
2 pound well-marbled pork shoulder roast, tied with kitchen twine (optional)*
2 leeks, rinsed well and sliced in half lengthwise
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch coins
7 fluid ounces soy sauce*
7 fluid ounces mirin
7 fluid ounces honey
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, optional
Scallions, thinly sliced into matchsticks, for garnish
1. Place the pork roast in a large pot, along with the halved leeks and sliced ginger. Add enough water to cover the pork by 1 to 2 inches, making note of where the water reaches in the pot. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low to maintain a simmer. If you have an otoshi-buta place it on the pork, or if you don’t, place the lid of the pot slightly askew, and swirl the pot occasionally in circular motions to help ensure even cooking.
2. Let the pork simmer for two hours, skimming off any scum or foam that accumulates on the surface of the water or along the sides of the pot.
3. After two hours, take the pot off of the heat, remove the otoshi-buta if you’re using one, put the lid on the pot, and let it cool until it’s warm, then put the pot in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
4. The next day, skim the layer of fat off the top of the water, then remove the ginger and leeks. Return the pot to the stove, and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Continue cooking at a simmer until the broth is reduced to approximately half the amount of water that you started with.
5. Reduce the temperature to low, then add the soy sauce, mirin, and honey and stir to combine. Continue to cook for 15 minutes on low heat, then flip the meat to the other side and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, put the pot lid on, then let the meat cool completely. Once the pork has cooled, it can be cut into thin slices and served with thinly sliced scallions, as desired. If you want to make shoyu tamago (soy sauce eggs), continue with step 6.
6. When the liquid is still warm, but no longer hot, add the peeled hard-boiled eggs to the liquid, then place the pot in the refrigerator overnight, with the lid on. The meat and eggs are ready to serve the following day. Remove the eggs and set them aside. Gently reheat the pork on the stove over medium-low heat. Thinly slice the meat and serve it with the shoyu tamago, sliced in halve, along with thinly sliced scallions.
*Recipe Notes: Tying your roast before cooking it is completely optional, but helps gift it a more uniform shape. (Don’t know how to tie a roast? See this video to learn how!) The pork must be started at least 24 hours in advance of when you plan to serve it. If you want to serve it with shoyu tamago, or Japanese soy sauce eggs, you will need to give yourself two days. To make this dish gluten-free, simply substitute gluten-free soy sauce, gluten-free tamari, or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce used in the broth. Also make sure that the mirin you are using is gluten-free, or simply omit it completely! (Eden Foods sells a wonderful gluten-free mirin.) This meat is very versatile. You can serve it as directed in the recipe, or turn it into a donburi (rice bowl) by topping steamed rice with a few slices of meat, an egg, and some thinly sliced scallions. It is also delicious in a bento (Japanese lunch box)!
*Note: Japanese-style drop-lids, called otoshibuta, float on top of the liquid in a pot while it simmers, helping the heat stay evenly distributed but helping it circulate (which also increases the temperature), reduces the tendency of the liquid to boil with large bubbles, and keep the food from moving around. This helps create a gentler cooking atmosphere for braising! These lids are smaller than the diameter of the pot you are cooking with so they can sit inside on top of the surface. You can order them online, like this silicone one on Amazon.com.
*I love nimono (Japanese dishes that are braised, poached, or simmered)! Here are a couple of other nimono favorites: