A Beginner's Guide to Nabe

by Jillian Giandurco

A Beginner's Guide to Nabe

A pair of chopsticks reaching for noodles in a nabe hot pot.

Fall is almost here, and there’s no better way to get in the spirit than to warm up with a pot of nabe. Nabe is a type of Japanese stew that contains fixins like meat, fish, and vegetables, and if you want to learn more about the cozy cuisine before the temperature starts to drop, keep reading on!

 

What is a Japanese Hot Pot?

A pair of chopsticks grabbing a mushroom in a nabe hot pot.

Nabemono, or nabe, are soups and stews that are cooked directly at the table with a portable stove. Nabe literally translates to “hot pot,” which is why the dish is served as is in a donabe pot and should not be transferred to a plate. Moreover, it’s important to note that nabe is meant to be served while the ingredients are still boiling for maximum heat. Nabe can feature a range of different ingredients, like chicken, mushrooms, shrimp, tofu, eggs, noodles, and more, and can be enjoyed either with dashi soup stock or with a dip.

Different Dishes for Japanese Hot Pots

Despite their simple nature, not all Japanese hot pots are the same. Yosenabe, for example, can be made with just about any combination of meat and vegetables that pairs with soup stock, whereas sukiyaki is meant to be prepared with beef fat and soy sauce broth. If you prefer a thick, creamy base to your stew you can also choose to make soy milk nabe, and then there’s chankonabe, which is popular amongst sumo wrestlers due to its large portions.

Oden is also a type of nabe, and contains boiled eggs, radishes, eggs, and konjac, while you’ll only find chicken and vegetables in a pot of mizutaki. As for as proteins go, you can expect a shabu-shabu nabe dish to be made with thin slices of beef, and if you’re a vegetarian, you can swap the meat for tofu in a pot of yudofu.

Nabemono Recipe

If you’re ready to make the cuisine at home, the good news is there’s almost no wrong way to prepare a Japanese hot pot. You’re more than welcome to adjust the ingredients accordingly based on your preferences and dietary restrictions, but if you’re looking for an entry into the world of nabe, here’s what you should gather beforehand:

  • Dashi
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • ½ of soy sauce
  • 2 ounces of mirin
  • 2 ounce of sake
  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 lb of thinly sliced beef
  • 400 grams of napa cabbage leaves
  • Scallions
  • ½ pack of tofu
  • 2 servings of udon noodles

You’ll also need to get a donabe pot and portable stove for cooking. Once you’ve gathered the ingredients, add the dashi to your 500 ml pot of water, followed by the soy sauce, mirin, sake, and chicken broth. Next, bring the water to a boil, then add in your mushrooms and chopped meat and vegetables, and once the meat has cooked all the way through, you’re good to serve your Japanese hot pot. It’s that easy!

Yosenabe Recipe

If you want to go even bigger, give this yosenabe recipe a try:

  • Dashi
  • 40 ml of light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp of sake
  • ½ tbsp of mirin
  • Deveined prawns
  • Mussels
  • 150 grams of chicken thigh filets
  • 300 grams of napa cabbage leaves
  • ½ bundle of spinach
  • 50 grams of carrots
  • Scallions
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ pack of tofu
  • ½ pack of shirataki noodles

Group each ingredient together in a pot and add in the soup stock fixins (dashi, soy sauce, sake, and mirin) and turn the heat on. Once the base begins to boil, turn down the heat to medium-low for 5-8 minutes or until all the ingredients have been cooked through. After that, your yosenabe is ready to be served.

Quick Tips for Cooking Japanese Hot Pots

As you can tell, Japanese hot pots don’t require too much work or prep time, but there are some things you need to remember while cooking your next batch. For example, it’s easy to let your ingredients overcook due to the fact that they are served on a heated stove, so make sure to keep an eye on the status of your food and make adjustments to the levels of the heat as necessary. You’ll also want to skim the broth for foams and scum to keep your stew clean, which can be done while your ingredients boil.

Because everyone will be eating from the same bowl, you might find yourself crossing paths with someone else’s arm on the way to the pot. Remember to be mindful of your surroundings when you go back for seconds (or thirds, or fourths) to prevent spilling and making a mess.

Lastly, if you’re unsure of what to serve with your Japanese hot pot, it is recommended that you contrast the warmth of your meal with a cold beer or sake. And for the children, feel free to pour them a glass of iced barley tea (mugicha) or oolong tea. If you do prefer a piping sip with your hot soup, hojicha is definitely the way to go.