January 3, 2018

Dear friends,

When my husband gets homesick for Japan he has a nice, long conversation with his family in Hokkaido and then he starts cooking. With the temperature in the teens last weekend and a holiday in the offing, he made one of Japan’s iconic cold-weather celebration meals, shabu-shabu.

Tony tells me about eating the communal hot-pot meal around a kotatsu — a table with heavy blankets to cover laps, with a heater under the table. Diners are served platters of thin sliced meats and chunks of vegetables, which they cook at the table in seasoned dashi — dried bonito flake broth spiked with soy sauce. The food is removed from the bubbling broth with chopsticks and dunked in sauce. Tony likes sesame and ginger sauces, although ponzu sauce is also used.

The meal is healthful and delicious, and designed for entertaining. Although hot pot/shabu-shabu restaurants are popping up in the United States now, it is so easy and economical to make at home that there’s no reason to spend big bucks dining out.

Tony and I cooked our meals in a shabu-shabu nabe — a Japanese hot pot pan — that he bought in Japan. The stainless steel, lidded pan is about 9 inches in diameter with a center chimney for heating over an electric or gas hot plate. You can buy a nabe on Amazon for about $45, but there’s no need. Google the item, then choose one of your lidded pans that is close to that shape. The center chimney helps the broth heat faster, but it is not essential.

You will have to visit an Asian store to buy some of the items, such as dashi granules, for shabu-shabu. While you’re there, check out the produce, which often costs less than at supermarkets. Although the vegetables in shabu-shabu may be varied according to taste, do try to find a daikon radish to cube and add to the pot. It becomes sweet, soft and almost translucent when cooked.

 

SHABU-SHABU

 

Shabu Shabu

• 4 cup dashi (bonito soup stock made from instant granules (Tony uses Honashi brand)
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• Sesame dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• Ginger dipping sauce (recipe follows)
• 9 oz. thinly sliced pork, beef or chicken
• 4 oz. enoki mushrooms
• 4 oz. tofu, cut into cubes
• 2 handfuls bean sprouts
• 2 handfuls spinach leaves
• 1 cup napa cabbage leaves
• 2 cups 1-inch chunks of  daikon radish
• Sugar-snap  peas, green onions or other vegetables as desired

Make dashi according to package directions and stir in soy sauce. Make dipping sauces. Clean and cut vegetables and arrange on platters.

Pour enough of the hot dashi into a a hot pot pan or other shallow, lidded pan to come halfway up sides. Place on a heat source in the middle of the table and add a few pieces of the meat and each vegetable. Replace lid and simmer until food is cooked. Diners remove food with chopsticks and dip in sauces to eat, replenishing meat and vegetables in the broth as they are consumed. The daikon will take the longest to cook. It should be very tender when done.

SESAME SAUCE
• 2/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1/4 cup sesame oil
• 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GINGER SAUCE
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup mirin
• 2 tbsp. grated ginger
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tbsp. chopped green onion

Combine ingredients in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Lentil soup with ham; Parmesan popovers; pork chops, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, roast cubed sweet potatoes and dried cranberries at Earth Fare; Hot Nashville Chicken with coleslaw at KFC in Wadsworth (way too sweet; won’t try it again); single hamburger with grilled onions, pickle and mustard at Five Guys.

THE MAILBAG
From Nancy S.:

I think since Brad P. and his wife are retired (see last week’s Mailbag), he and his wife should start a foodie group through you.

Dear Nancy:
Did you forget I’m retired, too? This newsletter is enough work for me, thanks. But Meetup is a good place to start a group, as several writers pointed out.

From Jan C.:
When you dry-brine, which I plan to try soon, can seasonings be added to the salt?

Dear Jan:
Yes, feel free to add any dry flavoring ingredients, from herbs and spices to grated citrus peel, to the salt rub.

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