How adventurous are you in the kitchen?
While I often experiment with spices, vegetables, and starches, I have a tendency to stick to certain proteins; chicken, eggs, lentils, beans, beef and quinoa are often main ingredients in my repertoire of meals. Pork, on the other hand (other than the occasional tenderloin), is rarely seen in my fridge, or on my plate at home.
In late February, I was invited on an akakuro-buta tasting tour where we went to three restaurants to taste variations of the Japanese-style, Albertan grown pork. Tasting the protein in a variety of ways was to show the versatility of the meat, while launching it into the Canadian market by showing its approachability. Apparently you can’t screw up with this meat, even if you are unfamiliar with cooking pork, or terrible in the kitchen all together.
In other words, you can cook it “until it’s dead”, you can char it and keep it rare, you can simmer it in broth or steam it, and it should still be edible and delicious. “The high-quality fat makes this pork taste good in any temperature – even well done,” exclaimed Chef Eric Lee of Damso Restaurant.
The three Chefs who were selected for the project all come from very different backgrounds and, as such, have very different culinary styles. The commonality between them is that they each hold a certain “je ne sais quoi” about them and show extreme prowess in the kitchen. They also all agreed that akakuro-buta was, in fact, of premium quality, after tasting and working with the extremely marbled pork.
Our first stop of the day was at Kingyo Izakaya on Denman Street, conveniently very close to my house. I have been to Kingyo a few times and love the upscale but casual atmosphere, as well as most of Chef Chikayoshi Kittaka‘s dishes.
Chef Kittaka prepared our group Tonteki, which is a Japanese Style Pork Steak. Served with the Tonteki was tomato kimchi with seaweed sauce and a seared albacore tuna tataki with ponzu jelly. The Tonteki on its own was slightly bland, but when dipped in the worcestershire, oyster, soy, mirin sauce it was quite delightful.
Our second stop of the day was just a couple doors over at Damso Restaurant.
Chef Eric Lee opted to highlight the dish in two ways: Kimchi Jim with Akakuro-Nita Loin (a crowd favourite), followed by Akakuro-buta Gamja-Tang. The former was to be “pulled” apart then eaten, while the latter was brought out in a bowl before being doused with an intense broth, as if eaten like a soup.
To whet our appetite and to showcase something off of their regular menu, Chef Lee started with a delicious Korean beef taco in a homemade wrap ($1.99), and finished with an adorable and refreshing snowman yuzu sorbet.
Damso is a small venue, so allow for waiting time or beat the crowd by skipping “regular” dinner hours. It’s affordable, so you won’t break the bank with lunch, dinner or a snack, and they don’t use MSG, so no need to dash to the bathroom after.
Chef Jefferson Alvarez of Secret Location offered the guests on the media tour an absolutely delightful Burnt Apple Crusted Akakuru-buta Collar Butt that was marinaded for three hours before being seared, sliced and served. The flavour came predominantly from the burnt granny smith apple as there was no salt or pepper added to the dish. It was served with an array of organic vegetables. Chef Alvarez’s dish was without a doubt my favourite on the tour, and despite it being our last stop I nearly licked my plate clean. Did I mention that it was also beautifully presented?
This was my first time at Secret Location, and it probably won’t be the last as they have just introduced a new evening format that includes an ever-so enticing five course “discovery dinner”.
This media tour was organized by Wingtat, the exclusive supplier of akakuro-buta in the Canadian market. The premium pork is solely available for purchase at T&T Supermarket, but the aforementioned dishes will be available at the restaurants until the end of March.
So what differs akakuro-buta from regular pork?
For one, the hogs are fed on a consistent diet of barley rather than corn like most hogs in North America. This affects the quality of the fat, making it firm and white-coloured compared to the yellowish tinge common pork has. It also is processed using a high-tech hot skinning process which results in a longer shelf life.
Check out more akakuro-buta photos on Flickr.