As you may know, Nabe ryori (it’s often called Nabe mono or only Nabe) is a big part of Japanese cuisine. Nabe means pot and ryori means cuisine, so it’s a hot pot dish. The pot is placed on a small stove and the dish is cooked in a pot at the table.
When we have a meal together surrounding a nabe/ hot pot, we feel close to our family and friends.
It’s often eaten here in Japan both at home and in restaurants, especially during the cold winter. I think Nabe warms not only our body but it also warms our heart.
There is a variety of Nabe here in Japan. Each region has a different style of Nabe depending on the climate, history, and products available. Now, we can eat almost every kind of Nabe from all over Japan, but I don’t think I know all of them.
Today, I’m going to introduce the most famous Nabe called “Sukiyaki“. Although I mentioned Nabe is a kind of comfort food, Sukiyaki is an exception. I feel it’s like a feast that makes us excited.
The Background of Sukiyaki
Sukiyaki is one of the symbols of the big transition from the national isolation to modernization. In the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan was rapidly westernized. Western-style buildings were built, people started to wear western-style clothes, changed their hairstyle and started to eat beef. Sukiyaki was called Gyunabe (beef hot pot) at that time, and a lot of these restaurants were in Tokyo. Eating Gyunabe was an amazing new experience and quickly became a popular trend among people with modern thought. That might be why I feel something like power or energy when I look at Sukiyaki.
The beef hot pot was also popular in the Kansai area such as Osaka or Kyoto and there it was called “Sukiyaki“. In 1923 (in the Taisho era), Tokyo was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake, many Gyunabe restaurants collapsed or burnt . After that, Sukiyaki restaurants in Kansai expanded into Tokyo. Now the name “Sukiyaki” is more common than Gyunabe.
The way of making Sukiyaki is different between Kanto (the red part on the map) and Kinki/Kansai (the green part on the map). In Kanto, Sukiyaki is cooked with a soupy mixture called Warishita, however, in Kansai, it’s directly seasoned with sugar and soy sauce. Since I’m from Tokyo, my recipe for Sukiyaki is Kanto style.
Before we move on to the recipe, I can’t skip talking about some of the ingredients.
In general, Wagyu beef is used for Sukiyaki. The literal meaning of 和牛 (wagyu) is “Japanese beef”, but it doesn’t mean just Japanese beef. Wagyu is a type of beef from specific breeds of cattle that have been breeding from the Meiji era here in Japan. There are four kinds of breeds that can be called “Wagyu“, 黒毛和種 (Kuroge wasyu) /Japanese black, 褐毛和種 (Katsumou wasyu) /Japanese red, and the other two breeds are 日本短角種 (Nihon tankakusyu) and 無角和種 (Mukaku wasyu). Sorry, I don’t know the official English names for Nihon tankakusyu or Mukaku wasyu. They may be different from the literal translation. Either way, 90% of Wagyu in the Japanese market are Kuroge wasyu (Japanese black) and it’s usually called “Kuroge Wagyu“. I’m only familiar with this “Kuroge Wagyu“.
Kuroge Wagyu has some brand names depending on where they come from. Matsuzaka beef and Kobe beef are very famous in Japan.
Kuroge Wagyu is also ranked depending on the quality. High-quality Wagyu that is highly marbled with fat is unbelievably tender, sweet and melts in your mouth.
I know in some countries wagyu isn’t available or can be difficult to get. If it’s available in your area, it’s definitely going to be expensive. Even in Japan, Wagyu is expensive as a daily meal. If you want to use other kinds of meat, I recommend using beef loin with fat. I believe that fatty beef goes well with the sweet and salty flavor of Sukiyaki.
However, I know some people don’t like fatty food.
If you’re one of them, you can substitute fatty beef with different parts of beef depending on what you prefer. Some people use pork or chicken for Sukiyaki. The most important thing is you can happily eat it!
Have you ever tried this blackened tofu called Yakidofu. It’s available at almost all of the supermarkets here in Japan and it’s usually used for Sukiyaki.
If it’s not available in your area, I have an idea.
Please check my article below.
The first reason for using Yakidofu is the fact it doesn’t easily crumble in the pan. The second reason is it absorbs soup well.
Shirataki is the other indispensable ingredient for sukiyaki. It probably looks like noodles, but for me, it’s completely different from noodles. Shirataki is a type of konnyaku.
Konnyaku is a hard jelly made from the starch of a konnyaku yam. In the past it was made by grating konnyaku yam, but nowadays most of konnayaku is made from starch.
The ingredients of shirataki are the same as konnyaku, but the shape is different from normal konnyaku as you can see in the pictures below.
Shirataki is written 白滝 in kanji which means “white waterfall”. In the Kanto area, shirataki is always used for sukiyaki, but it’s called 糸こんにゃく (ito konnyaku) in the Kansai area. (the meaning of it is konnyaku thread) They are almost the same thing but ito konnyaku is a little bit thicker than shirataki.
Shirataki absorbs soup well and you can enjoy the unique texture. It’s usually used just the way it comes. However, tied shirataki like below is popular lately because it’s easier to eat and they look nice.
Musubi Shirataki is available in the markets here, but it’s a bit expensive compared to normal shirataki. If you’d like to cut down food cost or Musubi shirataki isn’t available in your area, you can make it.
How to make musubi shirataki
- Separate 3-4 strains of Shirataki.
- Fold the strains into thirds.
- Use 1 or 2 strains to wrap around the center of the folded Shiritaki.
- Blanch the shirataki for a little while. You don’t need to tie them. Once you blanch the shirataki, they won’t untie.
Naga Negi (long onion)
I’m not sure what I should call this onion in English. It seems there are many kinds of onions in the world. Each onion has multiple names. It’s very confusing! I’m calling this onion as 長ねぎ (naga negi) or long onion.
In general, the most commonly used long onion is different between kanto and kansai. The long onion in Kanto has a long white part at the bottom. People in Kanto prefer eating it. People in Kansai prefer eating the green part. So the onions like below are common in Kansai.
Both types of onions are used for Sukiyaki. If these types of onions aren’t available, I would recommend using a Green onion or Leek.
Shungiku is a green leafy vegetable that has a unique smell and the flavor is a bit bitter. It’s used for sukiyaki regularly. I think that watercress would be a nice substitute for shungiku if it’s not available in your area.
Enokitake/enoki mushrooms are long, slim and milky white in color. More detailed information is here.
椎茸 (shiitake) is already well known as Shiitake mushrooms all over the world. It’s often used in Japanese cuisine. I bet you already know about this mushroom. I’m going to post more detailed information later.
When I introduce sukiyaki, I can’t ignore talking about eggs. Actually, Japanese people love eating raw eggs, and we can get fresh and high-quality eggs anytime.
Japanese like dipping food in raw eggs while eating. Especially when we eat sukiyaki beef, the thick eggs make the beef flavor more mellow and richer.
If it’s difficult to get fresh eggs, Please enjoy sukiyaki with soft boiled eggs.
So far, I’ve been introducing the regular ingredients for Sukiyaki. However, it seems the ingredients for Sukiyaki are a little bit different depending on the person or region. I’m going to tell you about some optional ingredients I used for this Sukiyaki.
It seems that some people don’t use this for Sukiyaki. But at least everyone around me uses this.
To be honest, I usually don’t use carrots for my Sukiyaki. But this time I used them to make it look better. Many restaurants use carrots as well. I also made some plum blossoms to make my dish more appealing. It’s a very common decorative cut called “Nejiri Ume”. You can see how to make it here.
It’s common to use some beef tallow when making Sukiyaki. for instance, When you buy beef for Sukiyaki, butchers usually ask “Do you want beef tallow?” Also, most of the supermarkets in Japan keep free beef tallow beside the beef. Using tallow definitely makes the flavor richer. But it’s completely optional. You can substitute it with vegetable oil.
I used some ザラメ (zarame) for my sukiyaki. This sugar contains caramel and makes the flavor of simmered food richer. However, zarame is not always used for sukiyaki. You can also use other types of sugar. I believe, light brown sugar would be a good substitute instead of using zarame.
How to serve Sukiyaki
Once you prepared the ingredients for sukiyaki, you don’t need to cook them beforehand. Just serve the ingredients by themselves and cook them at the table while eating. That’s the way of enjoying sukiyaki!
Thank you so much for reading such a long explanation. We are finally able to go on to the recipe! Actually, we have one more thing to enjoy after this recipe. Sukiyaki!
Don’t miss it!
Recipe for Sukiyaki
- 600 g beef (21 oz)
- 2 naga negi (long onion)
- 1 pack shirataki or musubi shirataki
- 100 g shungiku (3.5 oz)
- 200 g Chinese cabbage (7 oz)
- 1 yakidoufu
- 1 bunch enokitake About 100 g (3.5 oz)
- 4 shiitake mushrooms
- 40 g carrots (1.4 oz)
- some beef tallow 1 tbs vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
Warishita (Sukiyaki sauce)
- 100 ml konbu dashi stock (3.5 oz)
- 100 ml soy sauce (3.5 oz)
- 100 ml mirin (3.5 oz)
- 30 g zarame sugar or light brown sugar (1 oz)
Warishita (Sukiyaki Sauce)
- First, prepare konbu dashi stock. Put 15g (0.5 oz) konbu seaweed into the 500 ml of water. Leave it for 8 hours. You can just use water if you don't have konbu.
- In a small pan, combine konbu dashi stock, sugar, soy sauce and mirin. Heat them over medium-low heat till the sugar has dissolved. Then put it aside.
Preparation of ingredients
- Cut off the stems of the shiitake.
- Make decorative cuts into the caps like these.
- Cut the carrot into 1 cm slices. Make the Plum blossoms if you like. See how to make...
- Blanch the shirataki and drain.
- Cut them into easy-to-eat sizes.
- Cut off the bits from the bottom of the enokitake. Separate them into small bunches.
- Slice the white part of the long onions diagonally.
- Cut shungiku into the proper size for ease of eating.
- Cut Chinese cabbage into easy to eat sizes.
- Cut the yakidoufu into an edible size.
How to cook
- Heat the frying pan over medium heat, then grease with beef tallow.
- Place the long onions into the pan and saute them lightly. Then take them out of the pan.
- Saute the beef lightly.
- Pour the warishita sauce into the pan.
- Move the beef to one side of the pan, then place each of the ingredients in the pan.
- Occasionally add more of the ingredients while eating.
We always enjoy finishing nabe up with cooked rice, udon noodles and so on! That’s called シメ (shime). Usually, udon noodles are used for the shime of sukiyaki. You can also add eggs into the sukiyaki pan.
We choose what we add depending on the nabe (hot pot dishes). Sometimes, ramen noodles and pasta are also available for shime.
Imagine! The rice or noodles you add absorb the umami flavor from all of the ingredients.
Enjoy your Nabe until the last moment!
Thank you for allowing me to share my recipe with you. I hope to see you again soon.
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