1.6.10 Hot Pot 101
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
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.
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.
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.