Today, I thought we’d take a quick look at another one of my favorite Japanese meals: shabu shabu. Shabu shabu means “swish swish” in Japanese, and it refers to a method of cooking vegetables, tofu, meat, and noodles by swishing them around in a pot of boiling water.
Shabu shabu is very simple to make. First, get yourself some vegetables and cut them into bite-size pieces (or two-bite-size, in some cases). We usually use
- napa cabbage leaves, sliced into two or three pieces;
- carrots, cut into sticks (ew … the Mister likes them, but I am not a fan of carrots cooked in water, whether boiled or steamed. Raw? OK. Roasted? OK. Boiled? Elementary school cafeteria food. Not OK.);
- shiitake mushrooms, cut into thick slices or quartered;
- enoki/enokidake/enokitake mushrooms, trimmed and separated (the Mister does not care for these);
- some kind of winter squash (usually kabocha or butternut), peeled and sliced; and
- onions, cut widthwise–not pole to pole–into thick rings.
You can also use tofu, which I like but the Mister objects to (heat bricks again), and udon or rice noodles. Udon are delicious, but they are very starchy; if you use them, pre-cook and rinse them, and then just dunk them in the boiling water until they’re heated through.
In terms of meat, we pretty much always use beef and/or pork that’s been pre-sliced specifically for shabu shabu (in other words, very thinly). You can find this easily at Japanese markets. You can also use seafood or leave out the meat altogether, especially if you’re including tofu.
Now for the cooking and eating part! Shabu shabu is sort of a “made to order” meal; you cook just a few things at a time, just before you eat them, in a pot of simmering water. So, unless the idea of eating while standing over the stove appeals to you, you’re probably going to want a portable electric burner with a pot of water on top or an electric skillet of some kind. We’ve tried both of these options and found that the skillet works a LOT better. Your mileage may vary. We use an electric wok that looks like this. And yes, it did at one time have two handles.
You can heat your water in the skillet if you don’t mind waiting 100,000 years for it to come to a boil. If you DO mind–and I do–you might want to bring it to a boil first in a kettle and then pour it into your skillet. Once it’s in the skillet, bring it up to a high simmer/very low boil, and add some of the vegetables that will take longer to cook–squash, carrots, onions, that kind of thing. Then take a slice of meat and swish it around in the water until it’s cooked. This will take just a few seconds. You can also cook some of your quicker-cooking vegetables one at a time now too, such as the enoki mushrooms or the napa cabbage.
Now for the best part: the sauces!
Shabu shabu generally comes with two sauces: a sesame sauce (on the left) and ponzu (on the right). The sesame sauce is not unlike peanut sauce, but made with sesame seeds instead of nuts. Ponzu is basically soy sauce seasoned with citrus juice, typically yuzu. It is pretty much my favorite thing in the universe (salty + acidic = WIN!!!). Again, you should be able to find these sauces pretty easily at Japanese/Asian markets. Get out a couple of small bowls–we use large glass custard cups/ramekins–and add your sauce of choice.
When your meat is cooked, dip it in the sauce, or just dump it into the sauce bowl and let it sit there for a couple of minutes while you fish a mushroom or an onion or whatever else you want to eat out of the water. Dunk it all in the sauce and eat! With steamed rice on the side, of course.
If you’re feeling extra-super-fancy, you can add a few aromatics (such as garlic or scallions) to your water at the beginning of the meal. Then, when you’re done eating, you’ll have some nicely flavored water that you can use to make soup, right in the skillet. Skim off any foamy junk, add some udon soup base and precooked udon noodles, and voila! Two meals in one!
Here endeth Japanese Food Week. I hope you found it somewhat useful, or at least interesting. Have a great weekend!