“Americans have the perception that Japanese cooking is very complicated,” says Harris Salat, co-author, along with Tadaski Ono, of Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals (Ten Speed Press). “But they’re thinking sushi; not grandma’s home cooking,” a style of cooking that’s finally taking hold here. (Read on for a recipe.)
Salat should know. He’s a culinary renaissance man who’s made a study of both. In addition to authoring two cookbooks, he’s a Saveur contributor, Japanese cooking expert, and wandering sous-chef. On Wednesday nights you’ll find him at En Japanese Brasserie; and he’s also worked alongside Tadaski Ono, his co-author, at Matsuri, and completed 6-month stints at some of Japan’s most prestigious restaurants.
Japanese cooking doesn’t get any simpler than hot pots. Heartier than a soup, but lighter than a stew, hot pots, or nabemono, are a staple of Japanese home cooking. They are delectably savory, cook up in just 20 minutes, and provide the same steaming-pot-at-table communal experience as cheese fondue, minus several hundred fat calories. And the clean up? A single heavy stew pot, or donabe if you buy one of the authentic cooking vessels. If you’ve tried one of the five hot pots served tableside at Matsuri, you know what we’re talking about.
Not only are Japanese hot pots a rib-warming dish on a cold winter’s night, they’re also the perfect low-fat, high-protein and vegetable dish. “Hot pots are full of wholesome ingredients like root vegetables, cabbage, tofu, plus rice or noodles,” says Salat, “You’re eating all the main food groups, and hot pots are a great way to enjoy meat in moderation.”
There’s only one fly in this otherwise perfect broth: creating your pantry of Japanese food items is an adventure. But Salat likes to stress that “you can be as loose with your Japanese cooking as you are with Italian.” His advice: Riff on the recipe and, for example, use whatever type of miso you have, or mix misos. If you don’t have Napa cabbage, regular is fine. And if the recipe calls for four kinds of fresh mushrooms and you only have dried shiitakes, it’ll still be delicious. Use what you’ve got and test early and often. “Hot pot cooking is really very simple,” says Salat. “Slice up the ingredients, create a broth, and cook!”
MUSHROOM HOT POT (KINOKO NABE)
4 cups dashi (use a dashi pack, like a tea bag, to create broth)
1 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 pound napa cabbage, sliced
1/2 package (1/2 pound) firm tofu, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms (about 16 pieces), stemmed
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
3 1/2 ounces (100-gram package) shimeji mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
7 ounces (200-gram package) enoki mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
1/2 pound spinach, stemmed
Minced scallions for garnish (the actual recipe calls for Shichimi togarashi, a spice mixture)
PREPARE 8 OUNCES OF SOBA NOODLES AS A SIDE
Prepare the broth by combining the dashi (using a dashi pack), sake, mirin, and soy sauce in a bowl; reserve.
Add the cabbage and tofu to a hot pot (a LeCreuset dutch oven works well if you don’t have a donabe) and pour in the broth. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes more.
Uncover the hot pot and add the all the mushrooms, piling them randomly on top of the other ingredients. Cover the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot, add the spinach, and simmer for 1 minute.
Transfer the hot pot to the dining table. Serve the ingredients together with the broth, accenting with scallions (or shichimi togarashi.) Serve Soba noodles on the side.
Have you ever made a Japanese hot pot? Tell us about your experience, here!