1.6.10 Hot Pot 101

Hotpot 790 xxx
photos by george billard
I'm winding down from my juice fast. Three days seems like enough this time. My emotions were very front and center today. This can happen when you fast. You become a little vulnerable. Seriously, I'm not being a drama queen. (I'm no Saint Teresa of Ávila, performing devotions of ecstasy, but allow me my little musings, won't you?) I've been working hard on some advertising projects for Target and I may need a few more carbohydrates for brain power. But I have definitely noticed how easy it is to get by on a lot less food. A LOT less. I'm going to try and remember that the next time I'm packing in three squares. OK, yes, I am talking about calorie restriction. (Gasp!) Apparently, it helps you live longer. Not entirely sure that's what I'm striving for; I'll settle for fitting into some of my skinnier jeans. I've just made a pot of very simple vegetable soup: onion, cabbage, celery, carrot, spinach and parsley. Big hunks of everything simmered together in water with a little salt, until it all gets soft. This is the perfect way to break a fast and it's actually quite delicious, clean-tasting and a little sweet. (Also good for when you're sick as it delivers a lot of vital green nutrition and doesn't tax your system.) It's best to come off a fast gently, although I've also been known to cram a fried chicken drumstick doused with Tabasco sauce in my mouth. This time, I'll hopefully segue to a hot pot for tomorrow evening, using my new donabe and a bunch of ingredients G picked up at Mitsuwa, the mecca for Japanese cooking (and eating) in Edgewater, New Jersey.
Bonito1 790 xxx
muy bonito
After that, we'll be in NYC for a couple of nights. G is working and it's also his birthday, so we have a fun evening planned—dinner at Co. (forbidden, gluten-ridden pizza! I already know that G will have the fennel-sausage and I will swoon again over the bacon-&-béchamel flambé, a better version even than the one at the Modern, and god knows what Stephanie and Philip will have, no slackers they) and then on to see Fela, the musical celebration of Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat sounds. I'll try to post from the road so you can see the beauty of Co.'s crispy pies.Until then, here is a recipe for the first hot pot we made with our donabe. I don't have that much experience with Japanese cooking, although I've done quite a lot of eclectic Japanese eating, both here and in Japan. Again, it's all about the right ingredients. I'm really loving my new cookbook, Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono (chef at Matsuri) and Harris Salat. It's very edifying and well written. They've even set up a website all about hot pots, and of course they both have blogs.

Many Japanese soups and sauces are based around dashi, a simple water-based stock imbued with potent umami flavor from kombu (giant kelp) and dried, shaved bonito. (I'm confused as to whether this last is mackerel or skipjacktuna--do you know?) Healthy, right? Seaweed AND oily fish?! What? You don't know what umami is? Jesus, this is a long post. Umami is the fifth taste (after salty, sweet, sour and bitter), sometime known as "savoriness." (So awkward; let's just say umami, OK? And I'm hereby abandoning the italics.)

Umami flavors contain specific amino acids that create a rich, meaty, savory taste, like that of many fermented, aged or protein-heavy foods, including parmesan, soy sauce and beef. It's sort of a je ne sais quoi flavor that you would totally recognize even though you might be scratching your head right now. The kombu comes as a big, honking piece, by the way, like something you just dragged off the beach. So go forth, visit Edgewater, New Jersey, or the Sunrise Mart in New York City, or look for a Japanese market in your area, and get the good soy sauce, the real mirin, the giant Japanese negi that they claim is nothing like either a leek or a scallion, and expand your kitchen horizon this month. New year, new you.

Tofu Hot Pot

from Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals
serves 4 (or cut everything in half for 2)
  • — Two 6" pieces of kombu
  • — 2 packages silken tofu, about 2 pounds, cut into 12 blocks
  • — 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms (about 8), stemmed and caps halved
  • — 1 negi, sliced on an angle into 2" pieces
  • — 4 ounces napa cabbage, sliced on an angle and larger chunks chopped into 2" pieces
  • — 8 cups water
  • shichimi togarashi (Japanese spice blend), for garnish
  • scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish

Place the kombu on the bottom of a hot pot (you can use a cast iron or copper soup pot, or an enamel Dutch oven), then carefully place the tofu over it, in the center. Arrange the mushrooms, negi and cabbage around the tofu. Add the 8 cups of water.

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Decrease the heat to low, uncover the pot, and gently simmer until the tofu is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Check often to make sure the liquid is not simmering too strongly, which can break apart the tofu. (Horrors!)

Transfer the hot pot to the dining table. Serve the ingredients (without the broth) in small bowls, drizzling the warijoyu and sprinkling on shichimi togarashi and scallions. Afterwards, you can stir some cooked white rice into the broth and have it like soup. Or just dish up everything, with the broth, into a couple of bowls, stir in some cooked rice (or not) and have at it.

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makes about 6 cups
Store in fridge for 3 days (or cut recipe in half)
  • — 8 cups water, plus 2 tablespoons
  • — Two 6" pieces kombu
  • — 1 1/2 ounces dried, shaved bonito (about 3 packed cups)

Add the 8 cups of water and the kombu to a large stockpot. Let it steep for 30 minutes.

Place the stockpot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove the kombu. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons water and the bonito and stir once to mix. As soon as the liquid boils again, decrease the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove any scum; as with other stocks it can adversely affect flavor. Turn off the heat and steep liquid for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Do not press on solids. Discard bonito flakes.

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This versatile condiment is also nice over steamed vegetables or fish.
makes about 3/4 cup
  • — 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • — 1/4 cup dashi
  • — 2 tablespoons mirin

Combine the soy sauce, dashi and mirin in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

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Bonito = skipjacktuna. (I asked my Japanese friend.)
Robin on January 6, 2010 at 9:30 am —
Nevermind I think it's mackerel.
Robin on January 6, 2010 at 9:40 am —
As far I can tell from extensive web plumbing, bonito is a type of fish in the mackerel family. But I'm sill not quite sure...
laura on January 6, 2010 at 9:47 am —
I remember this from "Old Man and the Sea" and so looked it up. "Bonito": any of a genus of marine game and food scombroid fishes. Scrombroid? WTF.
Vetivresse on January 7, 2010 at 8:16 am —