Click here to read my complete Niko Niku Ramen series.)
Japanese Cha Shu is a braised pork dish that is a quintessential component of any bowl of ramen. Although it was inspired by Chinese Cha Shao, it has a completely different preparation. Chinese Cha Shao is a sweet, smoked barbecue pork commonly eaten with rice or used as a filling for steamed buns. Japanese Cha Shu is a savory, tender, meltingly soft pork that is thinly sliced and served in ramen.
My Japanese Cha Shu is strongly flavored, with a nice kick from the ginger and a sweet finish. It's a vital part of my Niko Niku Ramen. The process is somewhat long, but is relatively simple and the results are well worth the effort. You can also double or triple this recipe and save the extras in the freezer. However, if you don't have the time to follow this recipe, you can find pre-made versions in the deli sections of some Japanese grocery stores.
(To give credit where credit is due, I based part of my Japanese Cha Shu recipe on this one here. )
Recipe for Japanese Cha Shu
1 chef's knife, Santouku knife, or Chinese cleaver
1 cutting board
1 large sauté pan with lid
1 wooden spoon or spatula
1 blender or food processor
2 1-gallon sealable Ziploc bags
1 sealable plastic container
Cotton cooking thread
Ingredients (Japanese Cha Shu):
1 lbs of pork top loin
1 clove of garlic
1-3 long green onions
1 1-inch piece of ginger
1/3 cup of Chinese rice wine
5 tbsp of soy sauce
5 tbsp of mirin
1 tbsp of sugar
1 tbsp of salt
1 tbsp of vegetable oil (preferably rice bran)
Prep work (Japanese Cha Shu):
Peel and clean the garlic.
Separate the white and green portion of the green onion. Save the green tops for the ramen. Mince the white part.
Peel and julienne the ginger.
In a blender or food processor, blend together the garlic, ginger, green onion, rice wine, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and salt. If you don't have a food processor, use the flat of your knife to bruise the ginger and green onion, and to smash the garlic. Then mix the marinade in a bowl.
Rinse the pork loin and pat dry with paper towels. Using the cotton thread, tie the loin up as you would a roast. This will keep the meat from falling apart while braising. (If enough readers leave comments asking me to, I'll post another article after this series on how to tie up roasts.)
Place the pork loin and marinade in a Ziploc bag. Seal the bag, making sure as little air remains inside as possible. Let the pork to marinate in your refrigerator for at least two hours. I recommend overnight, if possible.
Instructions (Japanese Cha Shu):
Remove the pork loin from the marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade.
Place the vegetable oil in your sauté pan and heat to high. Once the oil starts smoking, add the pork loin. Let it sear on each of its four sides for at least three minutes. The point is not to cook the meat, the point is to add color, flavor, and to toughen the outer edge so the meat holds together better while braising.
Deglaze the pan with a little water, then add enough water to come a third of the way up the side of the pork loin.
Add the reserved marinade, cover, and let the braising liquid come up to a boil. Drop the heat down to medium-low and let the pork simmer for two hours. Turn the meat after the first hour. The braising liquid should bubble gently. If the mixture appears to be boiling too furiously, drop the heat even more. If too much liquid evaporates, add a little more water. The water should be brought to a boil before it's added to the sauté pan.
The Japanese Cha Shu will be done once the juices run clear when the loin is pricked with a toothpick. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the meat from the pan and let cool at room temperature for no more than an hour. Place the meat in a Ziploc bag and let cool completely in the refrigerator. Do not attempt to slice the meat until it has spent several hours in the fridge and hardened. If you attempt to slice it while warm, it will fall apart on you.
Skim any solids from the braising liquid. Let the liquid cool on the stove for no more than an hour. At this point you have two choices. You can strain the braising liquid or puree it. I prefer to puree it, since I feel the aromatics add a lot of flavor. Once strained or pureed, you'll have the soup base for my Niko Niku Ramen.
Store the soup base in a sealable container in your refrigerator for up to a week, or your freezer for up to three months. I like using this squeeze bottle for ease in dispensing.
Once the Japanese Cha Shu has completely chilled and hardened, it will be safe to slice. I prefer to slice only what I need for each bowl of ramen when preparing it and to store the rest unsliced.
In a tightly sealed Ziploc bag, the meat will last for up to a week in the refrigerator and up to three months in the freezer.
Each 1 lbs pork loin should make enough Japanese Cha Shu for 8-10 slices, which is enough for 2-3 bowls of ramen.
Tomorrow, we cover my recipe for Hard Boiled Eggs, another key ingredient in a good bowl of ramen.