Pork Sukiyaki – clockwise from upper left, shitake mushrooms, gobo chikuwa, pork, o-fu, a little more pork, and mizuna greens
Last week I bought a nabe (鍋). What's a nabe you ask? A ceramic pot used for making hot pot dishes like kim-chi nabe, kani (crab) nabe, dishes that are especially heart-warming in the winter. Generally these foods are cooked on the table, and everyone helps make the food, sort of like fondu or raclette parties. And like fondu or raclette, it's an incredibly fun idea for a party. However, I usually cook for only myself instead of a party. So I bought a two-person nabe, that I might at least sometimes invite my roommate or my boyfriend to join me… or eat a lot by myself.
That night, I made sukiyaki for myself (though technically sukiyaki is made in a metal pot, but that would have meant another especially heavy pot to deal with if I move). So, I had to go shopping on my way home, and between the store I bought the nabe and home was … Nishiski market.
I went to the o-fu shop to buy yaki-fu, to the butcher to buy pork, to the chikuwa shop to buy chikuwa, and to the vegetable shop to buy mizuna. 'What are these things?! Are they even food?' you may ask. Of course they're food!
O-fu (or simply fu, 麩) is a Japanese form of wheat gluten. I bought yaki-fu, which is a dried variety, made by mixing fu with baking powder and then baking the mixture. The result is dry and colored light brown. When it is soaked in water, it becomes soft, light, and fluffy. It's very good at absorbing flavor.
Chikuwa (竹 輪) is a fish sausage. Made from a mixture that can include ground fish, sugar, salt, starch, and egg white, it's usually wrapped around bamboo and then steamed or broiled. What I bought was gobo chikuwa, chikuwa wrapped around gobo, aka burdock root, one of my favorite Japanese veggies.
And mizuna is a leafy green with more flavor than spinach. It's a gentle leafy, nutty flavor far more interesting than spinach, but not nearly as overpowering as arugula. I really like mizuna especially lightly boiled in nabe, as it keeps its character even after being boiled.
Put all of these things together with some pork (though traditionally it's beef), and you have… sukiyaki!
Sukiyaki for One
(multiply by number of eaters)
100g super thinly sliced pork
Choose a few or all of the following:
2 large green onions (ながねぎ, naganegi), cut diagonally into large pieces
1 cup roughly chopped Chinese cabbage (白菜, hakusai)
2 small gobo chikuwa, cut in halves diagonally
3 shiitake mushrooms
5 pieces of yaki-fu (dried o-fu)
100g tofu cut into large cubes
3 or 4 mizuna plants (or spinach)
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs mirin
2 tbs cooking sake
1 cup dashi stock (fish stock)
extra sugar and soy sauce to adjust the flavor
1 or 2 very fresh eggs (optional)
Soak the yaki-fu in a bowl of water until it becomes soft. Cut the stems off of the shiitake and cut a criss cross pattern into the mushroom cap. Chop up the stems into small pieces.
Heat up your nabe or a large, heavy pot. Carefully peel apart the pork slices and place them along the bottom and sides of the pot so they brown a little. Throw in the green onions. When the pork is slightly browned in places, turn it over and sprinkle the sugar over everything. Add soy sauce, mirin, and sake. Let it sizzle a little to soak into the meat.
Add the Chinese cabbage and a quarter of the dashi stock to the pot. Cover until the cabbage is soft, about 5 minutes. If you have a burner to put in the middle of your dining table, you can move the pot now.
Squeeze the water out of the soaking o-fu when you put it in the pot with the mushrooms, chikuwa, o-fu, tofu, and mizuna. (Hint: If the o-fu is not soft by this time, squeeze it a little bit in the bowl to force the water into the dry pores.) Add another quarter cup of dashi, and heat until the mizuna wilts. Adjust the flavor with a little sugar and soy sauce if it's bland, but be careful not to add too much soy sauce. If you can, let the flavors of the sugar and soy sauce balance with the dashi and sake instead of overpowering them.
Eat by pulling out bits of food with your chopsticks and placing them in a small bowl with a bit of the sauce. If you wish, crack an egg into your bowl and scramble it up a bit before you add the food and sauce from the pot.