Chef Oscar Cheung and his wife, April, whom he met while travelling in Japan, opened Shigatsu less than a year ago, but already the place is a fixture of Calgary's Northwest neighbourhood. Although Oscar serves sushi, he is most excited about the izakaya items on his menu, such as this slow-cooked pork belly flavoured with kombu. This hard, dried sea kelp is often covered in a whitish powder that might be mistaken for dust, but don't wipe it off, as it's the source of so much of the ingredient's knockout umami flavour.
Ready time: 4 hours
1 pound pork-belly pieces
3 tablespoons mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 large lumps rock sugar (or substitute 1/3 cup white sugar)
1 credit-card-sized piece kombu
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, then add pork belly to pot and simmer for 10 minutes over medium heat. Reserve meat and discard water. Bring another 4 cups of water to a boil and return meat to the pot for 30 minutes. Remove meat and cool in fridge; this time, keep the cooking water.
In a small saucepan, heat mirin for 30 seconds on high heat to burn off the alcohol.
Add mirin to the reserved cooking water, along with the soy sauce, rock sugar, kombu and ginger; mix well and return to a simmer.
Cut each pork-belly piece in half width-wise before adding meat back to seasoned liquid. Simmer on low for about 1 hour; add dark soy sauce and cook for 2 hours. For a crispier texture, place the meat in an oven set to 400 F for 20 minutes. Serve pork over sautéed bok choy or a bed of scallion curls.