Akakuro-Buta (Japanese style Canadian Pork) at Secret Location

Follow Me Foodie to Akakuro-Buta (Japanese style Canadian Pork)!

  Introducing Akakuro-Buta: the “Kurobuta” pork of Canada & where to eat it.

Could this be the new “Ferrari of pork” in Canada? It’s kind of neat introducing a new breed of quality pork.

The Akakuro-Buta pork is the Canadian version of the highly prized Japanese premium pork, Kurobuta. In Japanese, “Aka” means red and “kuro” means black, “buta” means pork or hog. Kurobuta means Berkshire, but the marketed name has grown in reputation, now carrying more weight and value.

Tonkatsu Wako Tokyo Japan 04Kurobuta is known as the “kobe beef” of pork in Japan. The Kurobuta is a black Berkshire hog in Japan, and the Kyushu states and Kagoshima prefecture are most known for Kurobuta. The highest quality of pork is not only Kurobuta, but Kagoshima Kurobuta which is 100% Berkshire pork also known as Black Diamond Berkshires. Even in Japan there is cross breeding so 100% Kurobuta pork is not necessarily easy to find. It is highly valued for its rich flavour and beautiful marbling, and is often used for shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot), steak, tonkatsu (breaded, fried pork cutlet), ham, bacon etc., and can be served and eaten medium which is usually the case.

Tonkatsu Wako Tokyo Japan 09I was lucky to try Kurobuta pork in Japan last year during Follow Me Foodie to (Tokyo) Japan, and in my article about Japanese food, people and culture, I mentioned the Japanese dedication to perfection. I’m not exactly sure how they breed and care for their Kurobuta, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their Kurobutas were given regular massages.

In terms of diet, the Kurobuta is fed barley, Japanese sweet potato (satsumaimo), and/or shōchū pulp (Japanese distilled spirit made from barley and/or rice). Kagoshima is also known for their shōchū and sweet potatoes, as to why the Kurobuta are fed these premium ingredients.

Kurobuta pork is unique to Japan, but since nobody owns the copyright to the name, anyone can technically call their Berkshire pork “Kurobuta”. However, authentic Kurobuta is most respected from Kagoshima.

Since there is high demand and low supply for this “world’s best pork”, export of true Kurobuta is in limited quantities and even in Japan there is only a small percentage of Berkshire pigs. Therefore, it is not that known, but the most popular genetics in pigs in Japan are Lethbridge hogs; however, they are not called “Akakuro-Buta” and ideally not sold as authentic Kurobuta.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 07Due to the limited quantities of Kurobuta, Canadian farmers created a one-of-a-kind breed of Akakuro-Buta pig, which is an imitation of the premium Kurobuta. The Akakuro-Buta name is not widely known in Japan, but it was only exported to Japan until now.

The Akakuro-Buta is specially bred on free-range family farms in Lethbridge, Alberta for the Canadian market. It is not a Berkshire pig, but a cross-bred with Landrace sows and Duroc boars.

The main similarity is the feeding formula. The Akakuro-Buta pig is fed a 100% barley diet, which results in a whiter and firmer fat and better flavour and visual appeal, compared to corn-fed pigs which have a greasier and yellow coloured fat. As I mentioned, the Kurobuta diet may contain sweet potatoes and shōchū pulp as well, so there are differences despite efforts to mirror feeding methods.

Unlike most North American hogs, Akakuro-Buta are growth promotant free (i.e. – ractopamine free), but they cannot make any claims in regards to antibiotics or 100% natural. Just like humans, animals get sick, so the whole “antibiotic” argument is a sensitive topic for a whole other article which requires more research.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 23In terms of flavour, they taste different which is somewhat expected. Mind you, even quality of Kurobuta varies in Japan, just like Sterling Silver beef. It is impossible to replicate the exact flavour of something once you take it out of its environment. That being said, Kurobuta is so limited in general, that this is still a good option and alternative to it.

Akakuro-buta scores 3+ points on average for marbling while most other pork is only 1-2 points. It is ranked amongst the top in all other pork in Canada for tenderness, juiciness, and high marbling, so in the context of Canada this is premium quality pork, but not exactly comparable to Kurobuta.

Akakuro-Buta PorkThe Akakuro-Buta (boneless loin and collar butt) is now available to all Canadian consumers exclusively at all T&T Supermarkets. Prices range from $22 to $50 per kilogram. 

Since it is available at T& T Supermarkets I assume the target market is primarily Asian, who are the biggest consumers of pork in Canada. The traditional Asian community is not as concerned with where their pork comes from, so I am pleased to know Akakuro-Buta is reaching out to this market.

Although I support BC farms and the Sakura Farms brand of pork also exclusively available at T&T Supermarkets, this Akakuro-Buta cannot be compared. I have to do a side by side comparison, but my recommendation would vary depending on what is valued (price, locality, quality).

While the product is meant to be for everyday consumers rather than businesses, selected restaurants in Vancouver are featuring the Akakuro-Buta for the month of March. I was invited to tour the first three restaurants serving Akakuro-Buta pork in Vancouver, BC and each restaurant cooked it in a different style for their clientele. It’s a great way to sample the pork cooked by a professional before purchasing, however I still encourage home experimentation. An excellent dish has to start with an excellent ingredient, but the execution is a big part of it too and it tasted different at each establishment.

Follow Me Foodie to restaurants serving Akakuro-Buta pork in Vancouver!

(Only available at each restaurant for the month of March.)

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Kingyo  (2)Restaurant: Kingyo Izakaya
Cuisine:
 Japanese/Izakaya/Fusion/Eclectic/Tapas
Last visited: 
February 19, 2014
Phone: (604) 608-1677
Location: 
Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address: 
871 Denman Street
Transit: NB Denman St FS Haro St
Price Range:
 $20-30+ (Closer to $30+)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

**Recommendations: Yellowtail and Avocado CarpaccioLightly Seared Toro Pressed SushiBraised Beef Short Rib, Tomato Kimchi

It’s one of my favourite izakaya restaurants in Vancouver. Executive Chef Chikayoshi Kittaka is featuring the Akakuro-Buta pork loin for the month of March and only for lunch (open daily from 11:30am till 2:45pm on weekdays and until 3pm on weekends). I also got to sample a couple other izakaya dishes. See my post for Kingyo on a regular night here.

Note: I came here for the media preview of the Akakuro-Buta pork, so I will comment on the other dishes lightly. The following may or may not be representation of what is served on a regular night.

On the table: 

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 01Famous Homemade Ginger Ale3/6 (Good)

  • Made from scratch at Kingyo with fresh ginger! $4
  • I am a fan or artisan sodas which are not uncommon nowadays.
  • This actually wasn’t very sweet at all and heavier on the club soda.
  • The ginger was fragrant, but not spicy and I wouldn’t mind even more.
  • My favourite artisan ginger ale soda is currently Bruce Coast Fresh Ginger Ale.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 02Marinated Tuna Tataki3/6 (Good)

  • Lightly seared albacore tuna marinated with special mustard sauce, tomato & onion served with ponzu jelly $8.80
  • It is hard to go wrong with local and sustainable albacore tuna.
  • It is more or less prepared the same way at most Japanese restaurants and this was no different.
  • I wasn’t too keen on the ponzu jelly though, although I appreciate the effort to be a bit creative and different.
  • I prefer the regular ponzu sauce because the jelly was a bit chunky and I didn’t find it enhanced the dish.
  • On that note, not having the tuna soaking in ponzu sauce was nice too.
  • It was a nice and light appetizer and what you would expect.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 04**Tomato Kimchi4/6 (Very good)

  • Kimchi marinated housemade tomato with Chinese chives, garnished with radish sprouts, sesame & original seaweed sauce $4.50
  • This was unassuming and it stole the show. I’d order it again.
  • It is not a vegetarian dish because of the sesame sauce, so just be warned.
  • The tomatoes were meat, fresh, juicy, and not pulpy, powdery or tart. Well they were tart from the marinade, but not unripe tomato-tart.
  • The thick wedges of tomato were aromatic from sesame oil and incredibly flavourful with a bright zing from the ponzu sauce (?).
  • The original seaweed sauce had effortless umami from the seaweed and it was the savoury sauce for the tomato.
  • The sauce is naturally slimy in texture since it’s pureed seaweed, but it goes excellent with the tomatoes.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 06Tonteki (Japanese Style Pork Steak) – 3/6 (Good)

  • Enjoy a premium Akakuro-Buta steak with sweet onion and garlic sauce. Served with rice and miso soup. $14
  • Executive Chef Chikayoshi Kittaka is featuring the Akakuro-Buta pork loin for the month of March and only for lunch (open daily from 11:30am till 2:45pm on weekdays and until 3pm on weekends).
  • He wanted to showcase the high quality and natural flavour of the premium Akakuro-Buta boneless pork loin, so chef didn’t do too much with it.
  • He marinated the pork for 2 hours in salt, pepper, grated onion, sweet soy sauce and garlic, coated it lightly in flour and then seared it.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 07

  • Since this pork can be served medium it is safe to eat pink, but this one was well done.
  • It was whiter in colour than regular corn-fed pork and it was noticeable.
  • There was no undesired pork smell and the fat seemed thin and around the edges, but highly marbled inside.
  • Even though it was well done it was not nearly as dry as how dry a regular pork would be, but it was still on the drier side.
  • It almost tasted like chicken breast and it seemed very lean, but the marbling was high and it was still moist and decently tender.
  • Compared to an overcooked chicken breast this was still moist and not hard to swallow or chew, but compared to a medium cooked high quality pork, it wasn’t as moist.
  • I think chef cooked it all the way through to cater to the palates of the public, but I hope they cook it medium and just educate their diners upon serving. They can always cook it through upon diner request.
  • It was served with a dipping broth on the side which tasted like French onion soup beef broth.
  • It was soy based and very salty and sweet with Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, miring, and liquid kelp stock with grated daikon.
  • That’s a lot of savoury notes in the sauce, so it was quite aggressive and strong.
  • I liked that they served it on the side so I could taste the natural flavour of the clean tasting, non-greasy, Akakuro-Buta pork (since that was the point), but a touch of sauce was nice.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 09Restaurant: Damso Modern Korean Cuisine
Cuisine: Korean/Late Night
Last visited: 
February 19, 2014
Phone: (604) 632-0022
Location: 
Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address:
 867 Denman St
Transit: 
NB Denman St FS Haro St
Price Range:
 $20-30+ (Closer to $30+)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

**Recommendations: Akakuro-Buta (Pork) Gamja-Tang

I feel so bad I haven’t written about this place yet and it’s an underrated restaurant on Denman. Well, underrated or overlooked especially with the ever-so-busy Kingyo next door. It’s not Japanese food though, this is Korean.

I know executive chef and co-owner Eric Lee through cooking competitions and he’s one of the young competition chefs in Vancouver. He opened Damso with his brother Chris and their clientele relies on word of mouth. It is well received by the Korean community and it’s not “Korean fusion” as much as it is authentic Korean food with modern presentation and bistro flair.

Eric is Korean and takes pride in his heritage, but as a formally trained French chef he uses European techniques to elevate the food he grew up with. It is upscale, but not pretentious or fine dining and despite it’s “modern” take, it appeals to Koreans and Westerners alike. It has a solid reputation in the Korean community, but could still use more support from the outside market.

Note: I came here for the media preview of the Akakuro-Buta pork, so I will comment on the other dishes lightly. The following may or may not be representation of what is served on a regular night.

On the table:

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 10Akakuro-Buta (Pork) Korean Taco2.5/6 (Okay-good)

  • I really appreciate the fact that they made their own taco shells, but I wasn’t keen on them.
  • It was more like a Peking Duck crepe than a tortilla shell which was suitable for the concept, but the crepe was a bit thick, hard and chewy so I think it dried out.
  • The pork could have been shredded beef and I couldn’t really taste it, but it was still enjoyable overall.
  • There was a sweet and spicy Gochujang (fermented hot pepper chill paste) like sauce and shredded lettuce.
  • It was pretty straight forward, but I wouldn’t mind for stuffing and a better wrap.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 12Akakuro-Buta (Pork Butt Collar) Kimchi Jim – 3/6 (Good)

  • I tried a couple of these and I found them slightly inconsistent and some cuts were fattier and others more tender.
  • This small plate featured the Akakuro-Buta collar butt, also known as pork butt, which comes from the upper shoulder of the pig.
  • Being pork butt, it was naturally very fatty with a thicker fat cap but the interior was highly marbleized.
  • The shoulder is quite tough so the cooking method should be low and slow.
  • This cut is ideal for pulled pork.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 14

  • The execution for this was catered a bit for an Asian palate.
  • Most Canadian palates would not value such a distinct and significant fat cap.
  • This fat cap was considered rather thin for a pork shoulder, but it was still quite thick for most North American diners to appreciate.
  • My piece cut like a pork roast almost, but my neighbours was more like pulled pork which I preferred.
  • The collar butt was brined overnight and then sous vide for 24 hours at 155F.
  • It wasn’t dry and the meat was tender, but the fat cap was still a bit too chewy for my tastes.
  • It was topped with house made chicharrón (deep fried pork cracking or rinds) for texture.
  • It was also served with house made kimchi and kimchi juice, so it was spicy, sweet and pickled in flavour.
  • The kimchi was a nice acid to cut the richer cut of pork collar butt, albeit a bit too sour for me.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 16Akakuro-Buta (Pork Loin) Gamja-Tang – 4/6 (Very Good)

  • Gamja-Tang is a spicy Korean pork bone stew with potatoes and vegetables. This is Korean comfort food.
  • I really liked this dish and partially because I was feeling under the weather so the hot spicy soup was satisfying.
  • It’s a really healthy dish and it’s not greasy or too rich, but still filling.
  • This pork loin was sous vide in a house made chicken and pork stock.
  • It was lean, but not dry or tough and it was quite tender and moist for being the loin.
  • The Akakuro-Buta pork has highly marbled fat so even when it’s lean, it’s still rather moist.
  • The soup it was served with was chicken and pork stock and also a house made dashi made from bonito and kelp, so it was very savouy with wonderful umami.
  • He clarified the stock so it wasn’t oily and it was clean in flavour and colour.
  • It was spicy from added Dwenjang (Korean fermented soy bean paste), Gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste) and Gochugaru (Korean chill pepper powder).
  • The spice surprisingly did not overpower the flavour of the pork and it was a good amount of medium-spicy heat.
  • It was also aromatic and fragrant from added Kettnip (Korean wild sesame leaf or Perilla leaves) and Deulkae (Korean wild sesame seed).
  • There were some tender potatoes and baby napa cabbage and it was a well rounded meal.
  • Traditionally it might have shiitake mushrooms and almost always fresh soy bean sprouts too, which I missed in this modern version.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 17Housemade Yuzu Sorbet Snowman (This was a perfect palate cleanser/dessert after a garlicky and spicy Korean meal.)

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 21 Restaurant: Secret Location
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/West Coast/Desserts
Last visited: February 19, 2014
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 1 Water Street
Phone: (604) 685-0090
Transit: Waterfront Stn Eastbound
Price Range: $50+ (3 course price fixe for $70)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

**Recommendations: Burnt Apple crusted Akakuro-Buta Collar Butt

The last stop featuring the Akakuro-Buta pork was Secret Location with executive chef Jefferson Alvarez. I’ve known Jefferson since he was at Fraiche and am supportive of his creativity and artistry.

Secret Location recently relaunched as a tasting menu only restaurant which is ambitious for Vancouver. I don’t doubt Jefferson’s skills to bring a new menu everyday considering he just finished making 300 dishes in 30 days, but I’m not sure Vancouver has a market who can afford a 3 course price fixed menu for $70 on a regular basis. Not only that, but local palates aren’t as adventurous compared to Europe or Asia, so this high end concept might not sit as comfortably; but if they are targeting affluent tourists looking for an unique experience, then this is it.

Diners are not limited to a “3 Course Experiment” for $70, but they can also select a “5 Course Discovery” for $95 or “10 Course Adventure” for $150. Wine and cocktail pairings are included in the price and there is a non-beverage meal option available.

Note: I came here for the media preview of the Akakuro-Buta pork, so I will comment on the other dishes lightly. The following may or may not be representation of what is served on a regular night.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 19Italian soda (mocktail) w/candied violet from France and housemade lavender syrup1.5/6 (Poor-Okay)

  • I really appreciate the quality of ingredients and the description sounded not bad, but I wasn’t keen on the end product.
  • It almost felt like a waste of the carefully sourced ingredients because they didn’t showcase well.
  • The blue colour was a bit aggressive and it was very floral and soapy in flavour.
  • It was also quite sweet and overall I can’t say I was a fan.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 22**Burnt Apple crusted Akakuro-Buta Collar Butt5/6 (Excellent)

  • Grilled apple, apple pine jus, mushrooms, butternut squash puree
  • If you have a Western palate, then this is likely where you will enjoy the Akakuro-Buta pork most out of the 3 restaurants featuring it.
  • I liked it the most, but not because I have a Western palate, but I just liked it the most and thought it was well executed.
  • Each restaurant has something different to offer and I think Asian palates will like the Korean style Akakuro-Buta pork at Damso most, but it is comparing apples and oranges.
  • I preferred this one because of execution and I found it showcased the qualities of the Akakuro-pork extremely well.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 23

  • I was thrilled to see the Akakuro-Buta pork cooked to a medium and the inside was still pink, but totally safe to eat.
  • The thing with pork is that it does not have to be cooked well done and so many people think a little bit of pink in pork will lead to food poisoning, but it’s not true.
  • You don’t want to have it raw and rare, but a little pink is okay and the inside just has to reach a certain internal temperature to be considered safe. You can trust Jefferson to know what he’s doing.
  • He used the pork collar butt, also known as pork butt, which comes from the upper shoulder of the pig.
  • Naturally this cut is tough and fatty, so execution is key.
  • The pork collar butt was brined in brown sugar and salt and then cooked over stove top with thyme and star anise.
  • I was actually really surprised it was not baked or sous-vide before being seared to finish because it was so tender, super juicy and succulent.
  • The pork steak was soft and the fat was broken down and tender, albeit there was quite a bit of fat like a rib eye steak.
  • I loved the burnt apple crust which used no salt or pepper and it was a fresh technique.
  • Pork and apple go hand in hand so it was a very creative yet traditional pairing of flavours.
  • At first I thought it was coffee crusted and it was very nutty, but also slightly sweet.
  • The blackened apple dust was made with Granny Smith apple and cinnamon and it was a bit sweet from the caramelization of the apples.
  • It was a sweet and savoury dish with the butternut squash puree which was scented with Tonka bean.
  • Tonka bean has flavours of vanilla, almonds and cloves and I could taste the vanilla notes without knowing chef used Tonka bean.
  • The mushrooms were undercooked, but the pine jus was well reduced and fruity which was complementing.
  • The dish was aromatic and fragrant with warm spices and the pork was really the star of the show, but the components played a supporting role that really gave the dish elegance and sophistication.
  • This would be excellent served with a couple scallops too, but regardless I would recommend it and order it again.

Akakuro Kurobuta Japanese Pork Tour 24Assorted petit fours by pastry chef assistant Remi Ho. The desserts here are fantastic.

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