Piggin’ Out on Kurobuta Pork
For most food enthusiasts, especially those carnivorous ones like myself, few culinary pursuits are as exciting as the hunt for ono pork. In my case, after years of fending off my two older brothers from taking the last pieces of juicy meat on the dinner table — whether it was our parents’ traditional kielbasa (Polish sausage) or local staples we grew up with like kalua pig and Portuguese sausage — I definitely developed a knack for piggin’ out.
This week, I could not resist the urge to search the island for the sauciest, most succulent swine around. Now, this wasn’t any old piece of pork I was looking for. My maturing taste buds were seeking the holy grail of hog varieties — Kurobuta pork.
Coveted as some of the best heritage pork on the market, Kurobuta meat not only stems from a longstanding tradition of humane farming practices, but it also represents an exclusive group of Berkshire breed pigs that may only be called “Kurobuta” if they meet the highest standards of quality. Put simply, Kurobuta is to pork what Kobe and Wagyu are to beef.
With tender pieces that are beautifully marbled and more flavorful than any pork I’ve tasted before, you can imagine how hog wild I went for the mouthwatering Kurobuta creations at the following Ono, You Know restaurants.
As soon as I journeyed to Restaurant Epic on Nuuanu Avenue, I struck Kurobuta gold. There, co-owner and head chef Brian Chan brings together his signature mix of versatile cooking styles — whether they be Southern- or Asian-influenced — to create incredible flavor combinations and modern fare.
Perhaps the most indulgent of Kurobuta cuts is found in the Pork Belly Confit ($8) dinner appetizer.
“It’s porkier and the fat-to-meat ratio is really good, too,” says Chan, when describing his preference for Kurobuta. “It’s not really fatty like regular pork belly. It’s meatier and tastes better, in my opinion.”
Lending to that amazing flavor is Chan’s skillful preparation of the dish. The pork belly first marinates in the refrigerator for three days while it soaks up a melange of spices, which include black peppercorn, star anise, coriander and more. Then, the meat leisurely cooks away for two hours in rendered pork fat — a key step in the confit process — before it is chopped into perfectly edible squares.
Playing on Chan’s love for Southern flavors, the chef places his luscious pork belly on a bed of refreshing apple cider-braised collard greens, complete with none other than food’s best friend, bacon.
“When it’s done, we just drizzle the pork belly with a bourbon spice maple syrup, just to give it a little sweetness,” adds Chan. This contrasting flavor really kicks up the Kurobuta’s savoriness, making for a pork lover’s dream dish.
1131 Nuuanu Ave.
Stage Restaurant in Honolulu Design Center presents a Kurobuta masterpiece under the talented direction of chef de cuisine Tim Petersen. Known for its contemporary Asian American fare, the eatery showcases food-forward trends while maintaining an air of traditional fine dining.
This week’s spotlight falls on Persillade Crusted Sous Vide Kurobuta Pork Chop ($30). Petersen brings a juicy chop to its full tenderness potential through a sous vide technique, in which the Kurobuta is placed in a vacuum-sealed bag along with rosemary and garlic, then slow cooked in a water bath.
“Modern cooking is going that route because you can get a perfect temperature on the meats,” says Petersen. “Slow cooking in the water bath actually breaks down all the muscle, so the meat just melts in your mouth.”
The chef suggests trying his Kurobuta prepared medium to fully appreciate the naturally moist pork. It’s crusted with garlic, bread crumbs and parsley flakes, then served with white bean cassoulet, asparagus and a gorgeous rosemary-scented demi glace.
“Rosemary and pork is always a classic pair,” adds Petersen. All together, this rendition of Kurobuta is a smashing hit.
1250 Kapiolani Blvd.
3660 On The Rise
Last, but not least, I ventured to 3660 On The Rise to try a taste of Kurobuta prepared with the glorious Pacific Rim flavors with which the restaurant has delighted diners since 1992.
Chef de cuisine Lydell Leong steered me in the right direction with his Kurobuta Pork Two Ways ($28.50), which features not one, but two cuts of this magnificent heritage pork.
On one side of the entree, Leong highlights crispy braised pork belly, which is marinated overnight, braised and chilled to bring out all of its porky greatness. The belly is served with house-made flat bread, braised Napa cabbage and a beautiful sauce crafted from the meat’s flavorful juices mixed with hints of sherry, thyme, garlic and rosemary.
“It’s going to be crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside,” says Leong.
The other side of the plate shines with the chef’s pork loin, which is quickly fried before it is covered with sauteed garlic and green onion.
“Im using a bone-in loin because there’s so much flavor in the loin,” says Leong. “If you can cook it with the bone, especially deep-fry it crispy with the bone in, that’s even better because the bone will lend a lot of flavor to that part of the loin.” To accompany his rich, meaty dish, the chef adds a bite of freshness with scallion rice.
With an inspiring variety of unique and delicious Kurobuta dishes, it’s no surprise that Leong, along with the other chefs, consider this pork to be a cut above the rest.
3660 On The Rise
3660 Waialae Ave.