Home cooking: Rafute

Easy Japanese recipes for beginners

Rafute (ラフテー) is a well-loved Okinawan braised pork belly dish which is simmered in sake, sugar and soy sauce. The dish was originally part of the Ryukyu royal court cuisine, and has since become one of Okinawa's representative dishes alongside goya champuru and Okinawan soba. Rafute is a very close cousin of buta kakuni, which is readily available in the rest of Japan. The main difference between the two is in the simmering liquid. Rafute uses awamori, an Okinawan distilled liquor similar to shochu, and Okinawan brown sugar, while buta kakuni uses regular sake, sugar and includes ginger.

This pork dish has won many fans with its smooth, gelatinous fat that melts in your mouth and oh-so-tender meat that almost falls apart at the slightest touch. One of the key points of making rafute before it can reach that state is: the pork belly has to be simmered at low heat for a couple of hours. Making rafute is a small exercise in patience and self control as you wait for the meat to be cooked to perfection while smelling its delicious aroma.

Read on to find out how to make rafute.

Ingredient list for rafute

  • 350 grams of pork belly
  • 100 milliliters of awamori (sake or vodka would work too)
  • 45 milliliters of soy sauce
  • 35 grams of Okinawan brown sugar (or dark brown sugar)
  • 3 grams of stock powder (vegetable or fish or meat)
  • Water

Condiments for rafute

  • Fresh ginger, sliced into thin strips
  • Karashi mustard or any mustard with a kick

Making a paper lid

This recipe calls for a cartouche, a paper lid, instead of a regular lid during the simmering process. Making a paper lid is very simple, and requires a square of parchment paper and a pair of scissors.

  1. Fold a square of parchment paper into a triangle and keep halving that triangle until it reaches a wedge/cone shape.
  2. Place the pointy end of the wedge in the middle of the saucepan you are going to use and make a mark where the wall of the pan reaches on the paper.
  3. Using a pair of scissors, cut along the mark you made on the wide end of the wedge as well as a tiny bit off the pointy end. You can make a few triangular cuts along the body of the wedge as well.
  4. Unfold the wedge, and it should be the size of a lid for your saucepan.

Directions for making rafute

  1. Take a saucepan that is slightly bigger than the pork belly. Add the pork belly in skin side up, and fill the saucepan with tap water until the pork is completely submerged. Let the water come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and parboil the meat for about 5-10 minutes. This initial boil will help get rid of the blood and impurities in the meat. Discard the water and rinse the pork after parboiling.
  2. Slice the pork belly into fat slices and place them into a clean saucepan.
  3. Add the awamori, soy sauce, brown sugar and stock powder into the saucepan, and turn the heat on to low. Finally, add enough water until the liquid just covers the top of the pork slices. Swirl or stir the saucepan carefully to mix the liquids, sugar and stock powder together. Put the paper lid on top and set your timer for about 2-2.5 hours.
  4. It would be good to check on the progress of the rafute midway through to give it a stir and make sure that not too much liquid has evaporated. If the water level looks very low, add some water so that the pork belly slices do not dry out.
  5. The rafute is done when the pork is tender. Serve with sliced ginger and a dab of mustard on the side. Itadakimasu!
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