Friday, January 31, 2014

A Japanese Nabe (Hotpot) for Chinese New Year

Today’s coffee: Tokumitsu Valentine Blend

I’ve always been interested in learning to make foods from other countries. I learned some Swedish and German foods from exchange students and friends at church; when I went to college, I learned some Taiwanese cooking from my roommate, Janelle. Moving to Japan, I’ve had many opportunities to learn all sorts of Japanese cooking from friends; recently I got interested in meat pies and fruitcakes due to the influence of my English colleagues here. Sharing meals is a way to deepen friendships.

Yesterday was Chinese New Year; we had friends over to celebrate. It might seem odd to some that we were the hosts of such a party, but we count many Chinese people among our friends, so it’s only natural that we would want to celebrate with them. We also share their enthusiasm for gyoza (potstickers) and hotpot. There’s nothing better (in terms of food, at least) than sitting around a steaming hotpot with friends.

Before we made hotpot, we made gyoza! 120 of them. The flash reflected off all the steam in the air...
The Japanese word for hotpot is nabe (written 鍋and pronounced nah-bay); it is similar to Chinese and Taiwanese hotpot. It’s a similar concept to fondue: everyone takes what they like from a communal pot.

Last night’s menu was gyoza and nabe, with ice cream and mikan (mandarin orange) caramel sauce for dessert. I’ve written my recipe for gyoza here. Perhaps I’ll write up a recipe for the caramel sauce someday too; I used a failed marmalade as a base, so I’m not really sure how to explain that part.

Today I’d like to share the recipe for the nabe we had last night. It’s not really either Chinese or Japanese, but I like it so much that I decided to translate the recipe with my alterations; originally it came from Kyou no Ryouri (Today’s Cooking) magazine.

To make nabe, you will need a pot and a tabletop burner. We use a donabe (earthenware pot) and a gas burner, but anything is fine.

First you will need to make the soup base. This quantity gives you 3-4 hotpots, or you can use it as a base for okayu (Japanese rice porridge), pasta, or other soups. It’s not the most traditional, but I love it; I think it’s a flavour that will appeal to our friends in the US. If you’re in a major city, you should be able to find all of these ingredients easily—in Seattle, I think I could find all of these in a normal grocery store. If not, try an Asian grocery store.

Bacon miso soup base
  • 200g (~½ lb) bacon
  • 300g (~¾ lb) miso
  • 80mL (1/3 c) saké
  • 80mL (1/3 c) mirin (or substitute saké+a bit of sugar)
  • ¼ c sugar
  1. Cut the bacon slices into ¼-inch pieces.
  2. Fry the bacon until it is crispy.
  3. Move the bacon to plates lined with paper towels to drain the grease.
  4. Put the miso, saké, mirin, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add the bacon and cook for about 3 minutes. (Be careful, as the miso splatters and burns easily!)
  5. Move the mixture to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
My favourite way to use this soup base is a slightly spicy hotpot. Here are some suggestions; hotpot is pretty flexible, so use whatever vegetables you like!

  • 2/3 c bacon-miso soup base (see above)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (We used an equivalent amount of homemade roasted garlic paste)
  • Ginger, a piece about the size of your thumb, peeled and minced
  • 2 tsp doubanjiang or kochujang/gochujang (Both of these are spicy fermented bean pastes—delicious—but you can leave this out if you can’t find it or you don’t like spicy food)
  • 3 c water
  • Meat: this can be meatballs (we used leftover gyoza filling), bite-sized chicken pieces, or thin strips of pork. Or you can do without, since there’s already bacon in the soup base.
  • Green vegetables: nappa cabbage, spinach, pak choi, etc. cut into large-ish bite-sized pieces (remember, they cook down). Kimchi is also a delicious option.
  • Green onions or leek, thinly sliced diagonally
  • Mushrooms: we like shiitake, shimeji, and enoki
  • Tofu: doesn’t need to be too firm. Silken is nice, although somewhat hard to fish out. Cut it into big chunks.
  • Shirataki noodles are nice if you can find them. If not, no worries.
  • Carrots, potatoes, and daikon are nice, but they need longer to cook.
  • Ponzu sauce (optional)
  • Cooked rice and/or udon noodles (optional)
  1. Put the soup base, garlic, ginger, and doubanjiang or kochujang in a large pot. Stir as you gradually add water so that there are no lumps of miso.
  2. Arrange the meat, vegetables, and shirataki noodles in the pot. Or don’t bother to “arrange;” just throw them in. Either way is fine. Don’t fill it too full, since you can always refill later, and if it boils over, it’s hard to clean up.
  3. Put on the lid and turn on the stove; if you’re using a donabe (earthenware pot), be sure to turn up the heat gradually (and you probably know this already, but donabe can only be used on a gas stove; they will break on an electric stove!) Bring to a boil; turn down the heat and simmer gently until the meat is cooked.
  4. Take off the lid… and enjoy!! If you like ponzu sauce, drizzle a little over the top of your bowl, but this hotpot is delicious by itself.
  5. Refill as necessary with meat and vegetables.
  6. When most of the meat and vegetables are gone, you can add udon noodles or rice; they soak up the flavour of the broth.
Soup base, ginger, garlic, and kochujang
Vegetables and meat arranged: meatballs in the center; clockwise from the left: shimeji mushrooms, chingensai (I think that's pak choi, but I'm not sure) tofu, leek, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, nappa cabbage, and bundles of shirataki noodles.
Eating gyoza while we wait for the nabe to cook...
Shirley takes off the lid...
Time to eat!!

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