I posted a photo on Instagram of Okinawan shoyu pork I had made in my crock pot.
A friend of mine (rightfully) commented, “What makes it Okinawan?”
That’s a good question, one I couldn’t answer. I have no idea.
All I know is the dish — called rafute (pronounced ra-foo-teh-) — is part of the food landscape in Okinawa. It’s made with pork belly, stewed or braised in shoyu and brown sugar. It’s supposed to help with longevity. (Okinawans are believed to have the highest life expectancy in the world.)
The only connection I see between this dish and Okinawa is the pork, a mainstay in the country’s diet. Interestingly enough, up until the 19th century and the introduction of pork and goat to the island, people here used to avoid eating meat. Now, pork is so much a part of Okinawan cuisine, it’s often said that “Okinawan cooking begins with the pig and ends with the pig.”
When the Okinawans immigrated to Hawai‘i more than a century ago, they must have brought along this dish, too.
As easy as this dish is to make, I’ve never actually tried to cook it, mostly because I’m not fond of chopping up large chunks of meat. (I’m a lazy cook, what can I say.) But I wanted to whip up something for Super Bowl Sunday that was quick, easy and would go great with a bowl of white rice.
Okinawan shoyu pork it was!
There are tons of recipes online, most with the same key ingredients. Some recipes called for miso, others required garlic, still others used sake over mirin. (I used both.)
Most cooks also recommended trimming the fat from the pork butt before cooking it. I decided to leave the fat on, figuring it would only make the dish that much tastier. (And I was right.)
I also used a crock pot instead of a pressure cooker — too high-maintenance — or on a stovetop. I like the idea of combining all of the ingredients, dumping them into a slow cooker, and going on about my day without having to tend to it.
It’s one of those crowd-pleaser dishes. You really can’t go wrong.
Here’s the recipe:
Okinawan Shoyu Pork
In a crock pot or slow cooker
3-5 pounds of pork butt, chopped into 2- to 3-inch pieces
1 c. shoyu
1 c. brown sugar
1-2 c. water
1/2 c. mirin (sweet rice wine)
1/4 c. cooking sake
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 T. ginger, minced or grated
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl combine the shoyu, mirin, sake, garlic, ginger, brown sugar and water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and set aside.
Butcher down your pork into pieces and place them into the crock pot. Pour the sauce over them. Set the slow cooker on low, cooking for about six to seven hours. (The pork will turn a very dark brown, but the pieces should be fork tender.)
Serve over rice.