The literal translation of nabe
(pronounced "na-beh") is "pot
". In Japanese cooking, nabe is a quick-cooking stew
cooked in a pot (usually made of clay
or cast iron
), often at your table.
Nabe is a traditional Japanese hearty Autumn and Winter dish prepared from any of a huge variety of ingredients: chicken, beef, pork, oysters, scallops, cod, salmon, and turtle are all popular ingredients, as well as a range of vegetables. Whatever ingredients are fresh and at hand go into making this stew. Exotic meats such as wild boar, venison, and horse meat can often be found in Japanese regional restaurants. Probably the best-known nabe for westerners is beef sukiyaki. Chanko-nabe, a variety made with chicken, seafood, potatoes, and other vegetables, is the staple diet of Japan's sumo wrestlers, and is (as you would expect) very hearty and filling.
If you are wary of cooking this dish at home before seeing how it all works, the best place to first try nabe is at a good Japanese restaurant. Nabe dishes are cooked at your table over a small gas burner, or a portable charcoal hibachi burner at more traditional establishments. Because the ingredients are cooked so quickly, each of the ingredients maintains its flavour and texture.
I am not going to include a recipe for nabe, simply because there are too many to choose from; however, I will give you some ideas about preparation and possible ingredients. Choose the ingredients you enjoy most and please don't be afraid to experiment. The enjoyment of nabe comes from trying different flavour combinations and choosing the freshest produce, as well as the simple fun of the cooking itself.
So, where to start? Firstly you need a portable gas, electric, or charcoal burner. The best place to find one is at your local camping store. Next you will need to buy yourself a pot. The nabe pot itself is sold at just about any department store and some shopping centres in Japan, so try a good Asian supermarket in your local Chinatown. Failing this, a deep earthenware or cast iron pot will do, or even a stainless steel skillet.
Now it's time to decide on ingredients. As I mentioned earlier, it is best to buy seasonal vegetables which will be at their most flavoursome, and to make sure every ingredient is as fresh as possible.
Below is a list of possible ingredients. Pick and choose from these, but by no means feel limited to what I have mentioned!
- Kobe beef (if you can't find Kobe beef, or want something a little less expensive, any lean, high quality cut of beef will do)
- pork fillet
- pork belly (the bit of the pig that bacon is made from)
- skinless chicken breast
- raw, de-veined king prawns
- fillets of fish (eg. cod, salmon, tuna, mackerel)
- kamaboko (Japanese fish sausage)
- hard boiled egg cut into quarters
- firm tofu cut into 3cm cubes
To prepare, cut the meat into wafer thin slices and clean the seafood, discarding shells.
The basic stock used for nabe is dashi. sensei has a great writeup there for you to follow.
Once you have prepared the dashi, other ingredients are added for different flavours. For a traditional stock combine the following: 2 litres of dashi, 1/2 cup of shoyu and 7 tablespoons of mirin. Alternatively, try adding Japanese green tea to make Kombucha, or some miso paste.
Dipping Sauces, Condiments and extras
The following can be served alongside nabe. Diners can season their individual bowls and dip the cooked morsels to create a variety of different taste sensations.
- goma-dare (sesame sauce)
- momiji-oroshi (daikon and chilli)
- shichimi-togarashi ("seven-flavour pepper")
- chopped scallions
- something I like to call sensei's YAY! Sauce
- ponzu (equal parts shoyu, lemon juice, and dashi)
Steamed rice can be served on the side. As the meal progresses, the broth absorbs flavours from the foods being cooked, and at the end of the meal, rice, udon noodles, or even beaten egg can be added to soak up the leftover juices.
Now that you have everything ready, it's time for...
The Fun Bit: The Cooking!
Light the burner and put the stock on to heat. Once the liquid bubbles, start adding food, beginning with the ingredients which take longest to cook. (This includes meat, fish, prawns, mushrooms, carrots and other crisp vegetables.)
After a few minutes add more veggies, leaving the most delicate ingredients (such as tofu and chrysanthemum leaves) to be added just prior to serving.
When the nabe is ready, everyone helps themselves and fishes out the bits they want, leading to a frenzy of chopsticks, dip dribbles, and war over the last piece of tofu (which, now overcooked, disintegrates to a chorus of miserable wails). The noodles or rice are then added and shared out, and the wonderful, social event that is nabe is over for another day.