Juicy Salt-Crusted Pork Filled with the Aroma of Herbs

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Salt-crusted pork

A hunk of meat is covered with salt, ready to be steamed on an iron skillet. Food coordinator and outdoor chef Nahoko Minakuchi introduces a cooking method called “salt crust” using pork in this outdoor-style cuisine. This sturdy dish would easily heat up any open-air party during the cold season.

Known as shiogama in Japan, this method will probably remind many Japanese of a washoku dish involving fish or meat covered with a kneaded mixture of salt and egg whites which is then steamed.

“It’s a bit of pain to separate whites and yolks in outdoor cooking,” Minakuchi said. “I only use salt to cover the ingredients.”

Coarse salt that is moist — due to its bittern content and other substances — is used as a substitute for shiogama crust. Avoid using smooth roast salt as it cannot form a solid crust.

Minakuchi opts for a small skillet 16 centimeters in diameter and 4 centimeters deep, just big enough for the meat to fit, she said.

Salt is spread over the bottom of the skillet, and a hunk of pork and herbs are placed on the salt and then covered with a pile of more salt.

“Cover them just like you’re making a sand mound,” she said. “It’s fun to ram it down.”

If the mound starts falling apart, spray a little water to moisten it. Small cracks may appear on the crust while it’s being cooked. You can leave them as they are or lightly pat them down to fix them.

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Above: Herbs are spread on a coarse salt bed in the skillet. Below: Push the heaping pile of coarse salt to harden.

The pork is heated for 50 minutes to an hour. You may worry whether or not the meat is cooked well as you can’t check inside the crust, but Minakuchi said: “It won’t burn because it’s not cooked directly on the pan.”

Sealed in the salt, the meat is cooked thoroughly and effectively while sealing in its juices, making it soft and moist.

Placed on a cutting board, the crust is cracked open. The well-steamed pork is released from its salt shell with the spicy aroma of the herbs. Despite being cooked well to the core, the meat is still soft and filled with fat and umami. It is a warming dish in the chilly camping season.

Marinated bell peppers

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Honey lemon marinated bell peppers

Minakuchi also introduced a recipe for paprika marinated with honey and lemon to add colors to the main dish and as a freshener.

Half a red and half a yellow bell pepper are cut into 2-centimeter cubes, and a pinch of salt is sprinkled over to soften them. The peppers are marinated in a mixture of 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of olive oil for about 30 minutes. Coarsely ground black pepper is sprinkled to taste.

Salt-crusted pork

Ingredients (for a 16-centimeter skillet with 4 centimeters of depth):

  • 300 grams pork shoulder roast
  • 800 grams coarse salt
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 sprigs thyme

  • Directions:

    1. Spread coarse salt over the skillet’s bottom to a depth of about 1 centimeter.

    2. Place half of the herbs on the salt bed and put the pork on top of the herbs.

    3. Place the remaining half of the herbs on top of the pork. Cover with a heaping pile of the remaining salt and press down with hands.

    4. Cook over medium-low heat for 50 minutes to one hour. Insert a metal skewer into the meat and leave for 5 seconds. Pull the skewer out. A clear juice oozing from the hole means that the meat is cooked. If not, reheat over very low heat.

    5. Remove the skillet from the stove and let it cool.

    6. Crack the crust open, take out the meat and slice it to serve.