I started cooking Hot Pot because I was at the book store one day and found a small cookbook on Japanese Homestyle Dishes by Susie Donald. In the back of the cookbook were several recipes for hot pot. I had some chicken that I needed to do something with and there was a recipe for Mitzutaki (Chicken Hot Pot). It was simple to make and tasted great. The Hot Pot cookbook that I really like is Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat. Their companion website for the cookbook Japaneshotposts.com is loaded with great information, instructional videos and links to other resources on hot pots.
Hot pot or nabe (nah-beh) is a fundamental style of Japanese home cooking. Hot pot by definition is simple, fast and easy to prepare and is typically enjoyed during the colder months of the year. They are entire meals cooked in one pot, the ingredients are poached in dashi (broth) and usually include vegetables, tofu, rice noodles and seafood or some type of meat. They evolved as simple wholesome, economical meals - peasant food if you will.
If you compare hot pot to western food, it is heartier than soup, but not as dense as stew. The pieces of vegetables, seafood or meat is cut larger so that you can pick them up with chop sticks. Hot pot is really a mingling of layers. The ingredients and accents (spices) cook in broth each imparting their essence to the liquid and other foods in the pot. This is what creates the Umami effect or for me that Grandma flavor. Its the mouthwatering savoriness that calls you to have another spoonful.
What kind of pot should you use when making your hot pot? To start with, you want a pot that is 4 1/2 to 5 quarts in size. The two best options are a Japanese clay donabe (doh-nah-beh) or a western style dutch oven that is enameled cast-iron. The donabe is an earthenware vessel that evenly conducts heat across the pot. It also retains heat better than any other pot. The donabe has a small hole in the lid to release steam. This prevents pressure from building up and lets you know when the pot is boiling. A cast-iron enameled pot is a very good alternative as they are incredibility sturdy unlike the donabe. Cast iron also uniformly and efficiently distribute heat across the pot. These pots don't have a hole in the lid to release steam like a donabe so be sure to leave the lid cracked alittle. You can also use a stainless steel pot but remember that stainless steel will get hottest at the point of contact with the burner. They don't circulate heat as well as a donabe or cast-iron so if you are going to use a stainless steel pot, try to use one that has a thick heavy bottom to more evenly conduct and distribute heat.
This is quick, flexible and forgiving cooking so you don't have to stress out about the exact type of pot. If you don't have a donabe, cast-iron or stainless steel pot you can use just about any type of pot that can take direct heat. Stock pots, oven proof casserole dishes, an old fondue pot, or your wok will work, you just have to keep a close eye on the pot. So make use of what you have on hand. Basic utensils for hot pot are a ladle, mesh strainer and a slotted spoon; again make use of what you have on hand.
Most times a hot pot will cook in 30 minutes or less. This is not a slow cooked western stew that takes hours to tease the essence out of the ingredients. Hot pots rely on fermented and dried ingredients. The dashi (broth) is cooked ahead of time and is cooked with ingredients that season the dashi. You can think of these components as "pre-cooked" since they're ready to rapidly release their concentrated flavors to the other ingredients creating that mouthwatering Grandma flavor (Umami effect) that is truly satisfying. There are no rigid rules just basic guidelines so grab what you have on hand, mix it with a few key ingredients, and let it happen.
So let's get started......
Anything Goes Seafood and Chicken Hot Pot
Dashi is the foundation onto which you will build your hot pot. Here is a basic recipe to follow:
Makes about 6 cups
8 cups of filtered water, plus 2 tbsp water
2 pieces of Kombu (6 inch), dried seaweed (kelp)
1 1/2 oz. dried shaved Bonito (about 3 cups), dried fremented and smoked skipjack tuna
Add water and kombu to large stock pot and let them steep for 30 minutes. Place stock pot over medium heat and bring to boil. Remove kombu and discard then add remaining 2 tbsp of water. Add bonito; stir once to incorporate and allow liquid to boil again. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Skim off any fat that floats to the surface, turn off heat and allow dashi to steep for 15 minutes. Strain dashi through a fine sieve. Do not squeeze the bonito flakes just discard them.
**You can use your dashi hot off the stove, room temperature, cold out of the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 2 months. You may be able to find store bought "dashi bags". They look like giant tea bags, these are good if you're in a hurry. Finally, DO NOT use dashi powder! For me, there is nothing like making your own fresh dashi. You just can't do any better!
***Anything Goes Hot Pot Ingredients***
**If you don't have all of the exact ingredients listed, no worries since this is open free form cooking. Add a little more or less of one ingredient, skip an ingredient or two altogether and just use what you have. However, the chicken has to stay!
4 cups dashi
1/2 cup sweet mirin
1/2 cup usukuchi soy sauce, light in color
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 pound napa cabbage, sliced
1 napa cabbage spinach roll, sliced (check out the video online or p.33 in the cookbook)
1/2 pound of firm tofu, cut into 4 pieces
2 alaska king crab legs cut into 4 inch pieces
4 little neck clams
1/2 pound shrimp, fresh or frozen and thawed
4 - 6 large sea scallops
1/2 pound red snapper, cut into 1 inch slices
3 1/2 ounces enoki mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
4 ounces oyster mushrooms, trimmed and pulled apart
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2 inch pieces then thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup chopped scallions for garnish
In a large mixing bowl combine the dashi, mirin and soy sauce, set aside for later. Add about two inches of water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add chicken thighs and blanch for 1 to 2 minutes, remove chicken thighs and allow them to cool, then cut thighs into bite sized pieces. Discard water that the thighs were cooked in, wash and dry pot.
Place sliced napa cabbage on the bottom of the pot. On top of the cabbage carefully arrange each of the remaining ingredients in a neat and separate bunch in the pot. Pour in the dashi mixture, cover the pot and bring to boil over high heat. When pot starts to boil turn heat down to medium, uncover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
Serve the hot pot in bowls and granish with scallions. You're ready to enjoy one of the best hot pot recipes!
**If you can find jumbo shrimp with the heads still on use these. They will add an extra dimension to the broth. If you're using frozen shrimp that have been cleaned and deveined they will be smaller in size, add these shrimp after the hot pot has simmered for 5 minutes. If the shrimp cook too long they will become hard and chewy.