Chashu is one of the most popular toppings found atop ramen. It can vary in flavor, size, fat content – one ramenya might serve three thick, juicy pieces, another might give you two wafer thin slices the size of half your bowl.
Its origin, just like ramen, stems from the Chinese Char-siu, roasted or barbequed pork. You may recognize Chinese Char-siu by its signature red exterior and lean meat, but Japanese Chashu is completely different. It’s not red, has more fat and tenderness, and is typically braised rather than barbequed. Braising calls for cooking it in liquid at low heat until the tough collagen in the meat breaks down. The result is a melt-in-your mouth, porktastic experience. Chashu can be made from different cuts of pork and is traditionally tied so that it can be sliced into rounds.
Kakuni is also pork but literally means “square simmered”. It’s cooked in fashion similar to Chashu but but the pork is cut into squares before they are braised.
If you are making either Chashu or Kakuni, save the reserved braising liquid. It’s like liquid gold. Use the liquid for marinating half-cooked eggs or for combining with Shiodare (See Tonkotsu Ramen recipe) to make a very basic Shoyu Ramen Base.
Chashu (Braised Pork) and Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly)
Serves: 4-6 portions, depending on size of portion
Prep time: 3 hours cooking time and prep plus overnight to soak
Chashu – 2 pound slab of pork shoulder or other part with fat, cut into 4-5 inch wide long strips, rolled up into a nice round bundle and trussed with cooking string to keep its shape
Kakuni - 1 pound boneless pork belly, cut into large squares
2 ½ quarts or 10 cups water
1 quart or 4 ¼ cups dark shoyu (soy sauce
2 ½ cups of sugar
3/4 cup of mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 clove garlic
1 green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
1. Combine the water, shoyu, sugar, mirin, garlic, onion, ginger and pork in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until pork is tender, about four hours. Skim any scum that floats to the surface.
2. Remove pork from liquid. Insert a medium thick wooden skewer into the center the of meat. If it comes out clean, the pork is done.
3.. When you are ready to use, take the pork out of the liquid. Save the liquid for marinating half-cooked eggs or adding to your Shoyu Ramen Base. Do not throw this away! Let the pork rest for at least 2 hours or overnight in the braising liquid in the refrigerator to make it easier to slice. The latter is the preferred method as the pork will continue to soak up the juices.
4. Saute your sliced pork in a skillet for about 1-2 minutes to render the fat and make the slices crispy before placing on top of ramen. The Chashu should be cut into ¼ inch rounds and the Kakuni can be cut into smaller cubes. Use as many slices as you’d like to serve on your ramen, typical amounts vary from 1 to 3 slices.